It may be the things we don’t see,
the surprises we expect but never receive
that make tourism such a poignant affair.
-On the Beaten Track
Lucy R. Lippard
The romantic narrative of the landscape of the American West is not an accident. It was crafted by a tradition of mythologizing the sublime wilderness that has forged a collective American fantasy for adventure and conquest. My photographic practice calls attention to the genre of landscape photography and the empty promises made by its early use as propaganda that fueled a longing for images of the land, free of critical engagement. The pastoral photographs produced by the titans of the American landscape tradition rarely include the human form and are designed to elicit an emotional sense of awe that fails to acknowledge the human intervention in the shaping of these spaces and places.
And these iconic images are everywhere—from the souvenirs sold in National Parks to calendars hanging on our walls— they stake a claim in our psyche. The desire for proof of experience dates back to tourists borrowing hammers to chip away pieces of Plymouth Rock before it was memorialized behind ropes in 1880. The answer to this craving was met by mass-produced photographic curios that cross boundaries between personal memento and fine art object. These visual records trace a history of objectification and possession of the land that often excludes marginalized voices and sanctifies patriarchal systems.
I use a range of photographic processes from albumen prints to E-6 slides as I examine ways that commodification of land is both integrated into our infrastructure by way of Caltrans Vista Points and new singular events such as Super Blooms that bring a destructive volume of visitors to small towns in California. All the while, I sit at home inscribing my own daily efforts to reimagine what constitutes a more inclusive and intimate view of the Western landscape onto my Ansel Adams wall calendar.
Vista Point Project
The Calendar Project