November 8, 2013
Photographer Bernhard Edmaier is a geologist by training, and it is this knowledge base of the processes that create geological features that he leans on when selecting locations to shoot. For almost 20 years, he has hunted the world over for the most breathtaking views of coral reefs, active volcanoes, hot springs, desert dunes, dense forests and behemoth glaciers.
“Together with my partner Angelika Jung-Hüttl, I do a lot of internet research, including Google Earth[searches], study satellite images of planned destinations, maintain close contact with local scientists and commercial pilots, deal with various authorities and negotiate flight permits,” says Edmaier. “It can take months of research until the moment of shooting has arrived.”
Then, on that long-awaited day, the German photographer boards a small plane or helicopter and instructs the pilot to position him in just the right spot over the landform. He often has that perfect shot in mind, thanks to his planning, and he captures it out of the side of the side of the aircraft with his 60-megapixel digital Hasselblad camera.
From a logistical standpoint, Edmaier explains, “As my favorite motifs, geological structures, are mostly very large, I need to shoot my images from a greater distance. Only from a bird’s eye view can I manage to capture these phenomena and to visualize them in a certain ‘ideal’ composition.” Then, there are, of course, aesthetics driving his methods. “This perspective perfectly allows me an exciting interplay of concrete documentation and somehow detached reduction and abstraction, with more accentuation of the latter,” he adds.
Looking at an Edmaier photograph, your eye might trace a fracture, fault, rock fold or pattern of erosion like it would the stroke of a brush until, without any geographic coordinates or other means of orientation, you find yourself thinking you could be gazing at an abstract painting.
In his new book, EarthART, published by Phaidon, the aerial genius presents a broad survey, from the islands of the Bahamas to the alpine meadows of Italy’s Dolomites and Germany’s Alps, the rugged desert of California’s Death Valley to a bubbling mud pool in New Zealand ominously named “Hell’s Gate,” in 150 images organized–quite beautifully–
by color: blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet, brown, grey and white.
“Each photograph is accompanied by a caption explaining how, where and why these spectacular colors occur: from tropical turquoise seas to icy blue glaciers; from lush green forests to rivers turned green by microscopically small algae,” reads the book jacket. Edmaier was particularly enamored with the Cerros de Visviri, a mountain range on the Chile-Bolivia border that he calls “an orgy of all shades of orange.” The oranges, yellows, reds and browns are the result of a chemical alteration of the iron in volcanic rocks turning to iron oxide and iron hydroxide.
The book reads like a plea not to take these colors and geologic wonders for granted. In the introduction, Jung-Hüttl, a science writer, describes how the Earth’s hues developed over 4.6 billion years:
“Our planet was first a grey cloud of cosmic dust, then, following collisions with meteorites and comets, a glowing red fire ball of molten rock, the surface of which cooled off gradually before solidifying to form a dark crust. Enormous quantities of water vapor in the early atmosphere, which was acid and without oxygen, led to intense precipitations on the young earth, which in turn led to the creation of oceans over the course of several millions of years. In the cold regions, the white of the ice fields was added to the blue of the water…The widespread shades of red, yellow and brown first occurred when the earth was half as old as it is today, that is to say around 2 billion years ago. These shades are the result of chemical rock weathering, which only became possible once small amounts of oxygen had become enriched in the earth’s atmosphere…Much later, around 500 million years ago, the first green land plants settled on the banks of the waters and spread gradually across the continents.”
Edmaier thinks most humans have a very anthropocentric view of the world. “In our imagination, the Earth or Earth’s surface is something eternal or with very little changes. But the opposite is true. Infinite processes are continuously remodeling the surface and interior of the Earth. But only a few processes are directly observable,” he says. The photographer specifically chooses landscapes that have not yet been touched or altered by humans.
“Most of these spots are fragile, nature-created formations which, in the long run, will be unable to resist man’s unstoppable urge to exploit. They will alter and ultimately disappear,” says Edmaier. “So, I would be happy if at least some viewers of my images decide for themselves that the remaining intact natural landscapes are worth preserving.”
October 16, 2013
Stephen Young is geography professor at Salem State University. He studies vegetation change on Earth using satellite imagery and displays his photographs outside his office.
Paul Kelly, a colleague of Young’s, is a herpetologist. He studies snakes’ scales under a microscope to determine which species are closely related evolutionarily. His classroom walls are decorated with scanning electron micrographs.
“I saw some similar patterns there,” says Young. As a joke, last year, he put a landscape image on Kelly’s door. The biologist mistook it for an electron microscope image that his office mate had created, which got the two talking and comparing imagery. “We found that we had this similar interest in understanding scale and how people perceive it,” Young explained.
The two scientists have since created and collected more than 50 puzzling images—of polished minerals and glaciers, sand dunes and bird feathers—for display in “Macro or Micro?,” an exhibition currently at both Salem State University’s Winfisky Gallery and Clark University’s Traina Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. Kelly notes, “After I saw Steve’s images, I could think of things that would look something like his satellite images from knowing how tissues and organs are built microscopically.”
But what do you see? Is the subject something massive, viewed from space, or something miniscule, seen through the lens of a microscope? Test yourself here, with these 15 images curated by Young and Kelly.
Answers can be found at the bottom of the post.
1. Macro or Micro?
2. Macro or Micro?
3. Macro or Micro?
4. Macro or Micro?
5. Macro or Micro?
6. Macro or Micro?
7. Macro or Micro?
8. Macro or Micro?
9. Macro or Micro?
10. Macro or Micro?
11. Macro or Micro?
12. Macro or Micro?
13. Macro or Micro?
14. Macro or Micro?
15. Macro or Micro?
“Macro or Micro?” is on display at Clark University’s Traina Center for the Visual and Performing Arts through November 1, 2013, and at Salem State University’s Winfisky Gallery through November 6, 2013.
H/T to Megan Garber at the Atlantic for the formatting idea. Check out her “NASA or MOMA? Play the Game!”
1. Macro: Lakes surrounded by steep sand dunes in the Gobi Desert in China’s Inner Mongolia (Data downloaded from the European Space Agency. Additional image processing by Stephen Young.)
2. Micro: A polished mineral surface (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)
3. Macro: The Matusevich Glacier in East Antarctica (Original image: NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team. Additional image processing by Stephen Young.)
4. Macro: Sand dunes in Algeria’s Sahara desert (Landsat Thematic Mapper data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility. Image processing by Stephen Young.)
5. Macro: Cumulus clouds over the South Pacific Ocean (Image created by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC, additional image processing by Stephen Young.)
6. Micro: A rotten human tooth (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)
7. Micro: The surface of a snake eggshell (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)
8. Micro: The interior of a leopard frog’s small intestine (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)
9. Macro: The Ganges-Brahmaptutra river delta in South Asia (Raw data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility and processed by Stephen Young)
10. Micro: A polished sample of boron (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)
11. Macro: White lines cutting through China’s Gobi Desert (Image downloaded from Satellite Image Corporation and cropped by Stephen Young)
12. Macro: Sea ice forming around Shikotan Island, at the southern end of the Kuril Islands, north of Japan (Image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon using data provided by the NASA EO-1 team. Downloaded and cropped from NASA’s Visible Earth website.)
13. Micro: The surface of a leopard frog’s tongue (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)
14. Macro: A Landsat thermal image of western Australia (Raw data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility and processed by Stephen Young)
15. Macro: A Landsat image from North Africa (Raw data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility and processed by Stephen Young)
September 16, 2013
Ocean acidification has taken up an unlikely mascot: the shelled pteropod. While “charismatic megafauna,” the large creatures that pull at our heartstrings, are typically the face of environmental problems—think polar bears on a shrinking iceberg and oil-slicked pelicans—these tiny sea snails couldn’t be more different. They don’t have visible eyes or anything resembling a face, diminishing their cute factor. They can barely be seen with the human eye, rarely reaching one centimeter in length. And the changes acidification has on them are even harder to see: the slow disintegration of their calcium carbonate shells.
Even without the threat of more acidic seas—caused by carbon dioxide dissolving into seawater—pteropods (also called sea butterflies) look fragile, as if their translucent shells could barely hold up against the rough ocean. This fragility is what attracted artist Cornelia Kavanagh to sculpt the miniscule animals. Her series, called “Fragile Beauty: The Art & Science of Sea Butterflies,” will be on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall starting September 17.
“By making visible that which is essentially invisible, my pteropod sculptures could dramatize the threat of ocean acidification in a refreshing new way, causing the pteropod to become a surrogate for a problem of far-reaching implications,” says Kavanagh.
Ocean acidification is expected to affect a panoply of ocean organisms, but shelled animals like corals, clams and pteropods may be hardest hit. This is because the animals have more trouble crafting the molecular building blocks they use to construct their shells in more acidic water.
Pteropods and other shelled animals that live near the poles have an even bigger challenge: they live in cold water, which is historically more acidic than warm water. Acidification is expected to hit animals in colder regions first and harder—and it already has. Just last year, scientists described pteropod shells dissolving in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica. These animals aren’t just struggling to build their shells; the more acidic water is breaking their shells apart.
While Kavanagh’s sculptures were made before this discovery, she still tried to portray the future effects of acidification by sculpting several species of pteropod in various stages of decay. Some of her pteropods are healthy, with whole shells and “wings”—actually the snail’s foot adapted to flap in the water—outspread. Others have holes in their shells with folded wings, so the viewer can almost see them sinking to the seafloor, defeated.
Before starting this project, Kavanagh had never heard of pteropods. She wanted to make art reflecting the impacts of climate change, and was searching for an animal with an appealing shape for abstraction. One day she stumbled upon the image of a pteropod and was sold. She found the animals both beautiful and evocative of the work of Modernist artists she admires, such as Miro, Arp and Kandinsky.
She based her aluminum and bronze sculptures off of pictures she found in books and on the internet, blown up more than 400 times their real size. But when she finished sculpting, she panicked. “While I tried to symbolize the danger pteropods faced by interpreting their forms,” Kavanagh says, “I became increasingly concerned that my sculptures might be too abstract to be recognizable.”
She contacted Gareth Lawson, a biological oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who studies the impacts of acidification on pteropods. To her relief, when he looked at pictures of her sculptures, he was able to easily identify each down to the species. After that, the pair teamed up, writing a book together and curating a show in New York, called “Charismatic Microfauna,” with scientific information alongside the sculptures.
“What drew me to [Cornelia's] work in particular is the way in which, through their posture and form, as a series her sculptures illustrate pteropods increasingly affected by ocean acidification,” says Lawson. “Through her medium she is ‘hypothesizing’ how these animals will respond to the changed chemistry of the future ocean. And that’s exactly what my collaborators and I do, albeit through science.”
September 12, 2013
Throughout his career, photographer Edward Burtynsky has been on a quest to capture the impact humans have on the natural landscape. “Nature transformed through industry” is how he puts it. Burtynsky has photographed e-waste recycling facilities in China, nickel tailings in Ontario, railways cutting through the forests of British Columbia, quarries in Vermont and mines in Australia. He has also turned his lens to suburban sprawl, highways, tire piles, oil fields and refineries.
“I think it’s been a bit of an evolution,” says Burtynsky, about his body of work, “and it is always a challenge to kind of go to that next phase and try and solve a whole new set of problems.”
This fall, the acclaimed Canadian photographer is releasing a powerful trifecta: a new book, a documentary film and multiple exhibitions all on the theme of water.
From 2007 to 2013, Burtynsky journeyed across the United States, Mexico, Iceland, Europe and Asia documenting our dependency on the natural resource. The series of aerial photographs depicts the many ways humans literally reshape the Earth—from waterfront development in Florida to dryland farming in Spain, hydroelectric dams in China and ancient stepwells in India to desert shrimp farms in Mexico—in an effort to harness water for their own needs. In some of the images, most memorably those of Owens Lake and the Colorado River Delta, water is conspicuously absent, showing quite dramatically the consequences of our engineering.
The photographer’s new book, Burtynsky – Water, released by Steidl this month, features more than 100 of the photographs. Similarly, Watermark, a 92-minute documentary Burtynsky co-directed with Jennifer Baichwal, premiering at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival and showing in Canadian theaters this October, is chock full of footage from his travels.
There will be multiple opportunities to see the large-scale photographs on display as well. The Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and Howard Greenberg Gallery, both in New York, are showing Burtynsky’s work from September 19 to November 2, 2013. Then, “Edward Burtynsky – Water,” a 60-plus piece exhibition organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art will make the first stop of a multi-site tour at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, from October 5 to January 19, 2014.
I had the opportunity to speak with Burtynsky about his motivations for Water, his thought process in choosing the locations he featured and some of the challenges he faced in the shoots. He also told me why he thinks this series is his most poetic to date.
You have photographed strip mines, tailing ponds and quarries. What made you turn to water as a subject?
At the Corcoran [Gallery of Art], I got the chance to work with Paul Roth, who is a curator, and we did a big show on oil. I had been working on oil on and off for 12 years. Finishing the oil project, I started to think about where to go next. Water seemed to be even more important than oil in terms of a vital resource. Without oil, it is going to be difficult, but we can do work-arounds. There are at least alternatives. But there really is no alternative to water.
Yes, there are the oceans. We can imagine a way to desalinate it, but industrial desalination, pumping water over great distances and the pipelines involved are very costly. We may have to resort to piping it to keep certain cities alive, but a far more clever idea would be to not expand into deserts very much and to be able to maintain and manage the existing water we have as best as possible to not be wasteful. Water is a finite resource like anything else. It can be over-used, abused and can disappear.
The locations you shot for Water span the globe. How did you decide on them? What criteria did you have?
Visually, it needs to have some substance. All of these images are representing a much larger human activity. The dam that represents all dams. The farm that represents all farms. It is really about representing these different themes of agriculture; aquaculture; the source of water; waterfront as real estate and waterfront as spiritual cleansing, like the Kumbh Mela festival in India; and water as a form of entertainment—beaches in Spain or the surfing derbies in Orange County at Huntington Beach.
Then, it is about looking at water where we’ve got it wrong, where something has happened, like Owens Lake, where the Los Angeles aquaduct was diverted back in 1913. [The diversion led to] the whole drying up of Owens Lake and a toxic lake bed that causes all kinds of dust storms that rain down on other towns in the area. The Salton Sea was another area under distress, because all of the pollutants coming in from the Imperial Valley and the Central Valley going into the Salton Sea were causing all kinds of algal blooms, where all the oxygen has been sucked out of it and all of the fish that swim into it die.
What was the greatest length you went to in order to perch yourself up in the air for a shot?
Probably the most complicated is putting my Hasselblad [camera] onto a remote helicopter that could carry the load and all of the technology we had to figure out to get a camera in the IP so that I could see what I was framing. To be able to remotely fly a helicopter, see what I am shooting and compose and shoot from about 1,000 feet away looking at a screen—to me, that was a bit nerve-wracking. I think the helicopter was insured for $150,000, and I had a $60,000 get-up on it. We had $210,000 hovering up there, above water [over a marine aquaculture site in China]. Nobody lost anything, but it was a pretty pricey little payload up there doing that work.
You stress the aerial perspective. Why is it important to lose the horizon within the frame?
Sometimes I keep it and sometimes I lose it. Usually, I only keep a thin amount of it. Most of the time I am looking at the ground or human systems on the ground. I am interested in how we change the land and turn land into things that we need, whether it is farmland, a quarry, a strip coal mine or an oil field. We take that area over and we do what we feel necessary to get what we need to get from it. I needed to get up to see the effect.
You can try and photograph a farm from the road, but you’ll see stalks of corn or stalks of a wheat and you don’t get the sense of scale of that operation. You can never get a feeling for how broad and how wide farming reaches. Getting up in a helicopter or getting up on tall lifts became an apparent way to tell the story of water. It calls for a large view and a greater distance—to understand what is actually happening, how water is being directed and what is changing that land, a desert into cropland.
In the book’s introduction, you say that “this project encompasses some of the most poetic and abstract work of my career.” How so?
In some of the Spanish dryland farming pictures, there is definitely a reference to [artist Jean] Dubuffet, even the colors of Picasso. There are some colors that I remember in Guernica. Even the way the space is broken up and used. [Richard] Diebenkorn had done a lot of what almost looked like aerial perspectives of landscape. I found them interesting works to look at.
There were a lot of moments when I felt the locations and the subject allowed me to kind of approach it with the eye of a painter. I have always kind of treated my film cameras, my 8 by 10 or 4 by 5 and now with a 16 megapixel, as a way to fill the canvas or that frame. What do I fill that frame with? I am constantly putting myself in that crucible. What do I make an image of next? That is always, to me, the great challenge of what I do. The actual making of the image is always quite fun—challenging, but fun. The heavy lifting has been done. I know where I want to go and what it is I want to shoot. Now, I have to nail it. Now, I have to find it. To me, it is deductive reasoning and a bit of detective work to get to the right spot, to maneuver yourself into that place with the right light and at the right time and the right equipment to get the shot that you really wanted.
I was at one point socked in China, when I was doing the rice terraces, for eight days and then left with nothing. It was just fog for eight days. The forseeable report was the next week all fog. I needed two kilometers of clear air to get the shot that I wanted. The time of the year and the place wasn’t going to give it to me. I had to leave. Then, I went back a year later and got one day when the light was great in a six day shoot. That was it.
The series surveys the many ways that humans control water—through marine aquaculture, pivot irrigation and geothermal power stations. What was the most interesting thing you learned?
I never before bothered to ask myself, where does water come from? And, an astrophysicist filled me in that it was from ice asteroids bombarding the Earth. Any ice that still hits our atmosphere gets drawn in by gravity, so water is still coming to the Earth. Small ice chunks and asteroids are still probably hitting our atmosphere and raining down as water.
I asked, why are the oceans salty? That was interesting, because the hydrological cycle and the water that hits the mountains and works down to the watersheds every time dissolves a little bit of salt. That salt stays in solution and ends up in the ocean. The ocean evaporates, and the water still comes back on land. So, the oceans are continually salinating, getting more and more salty over the billions of years.
The minute we humans take water away from a watershed, meaning redivert that water, there is a price being exacted somewhere downstream. It is either the flora and fauna; the life that lives downstream expects that water at a certain temperature and if you dam it, the water comes down warmer, which changes the whole ecosystem downstream. Every time we divert water there is a winner and a loser; the person who got the diversion wins and wherever the water was going and that part of the watershed loses. If you remove that obstruction, it goes right back to what it was very quickly. When you remediate it, it is almost immediate.
It was interesting finding out that 40 percent of the major rivers of the world don’t make it to the ocean. One of them became a very powerful metaphor in the book and the movie, which is the Colorado River Delta in Mexico. The Sea of Cortez hasn’t seen a drop of the Colorado now in over 40 years. I mention that to a lot of Americans and they don’t even know that. The delta used to be verdant with brackish water and all kinds of life in it. The whole delta, the massive, 1,000-square-mile Colorado Delta, is now a bone-dry desert.
What statement do you hope to make with the photographs?
It is not as much about a statement as it is a raising of consciousness. After seeing and delving into this body of work, whoever goes through that will in a way think differently about the role that water plays. Maybe we shouldn’t take it as much for granted as we tend to do as urban citizens who turn on a tap and it’s always there. It’s when that water is coming out of the tap, that there is a slightly elevated and more conscientious view of the importance of that liquid.
With the manufactured landscapes of my previous project in China, what I had hoped was that when someone sees the “Made in China” tag on anything that they are buying, that “Made in China” has a different impression. The series showed a lot of the manufacturing facilities in China and what that looks like. Now there is an image you can associate with “Made in China.”
I am hoping that these are images attached to the idea of water, so that next time you are experiencing it, whether swimming in a lake or a pool or drinking it, maybe the next time you are buying bottled water, you may ask yourself, is this a good idea, or should I just be refilling my water? The monetization of water is to me a very troubling and scary proposition. You have to have money to drink water, I think that’s wrong. I think water is a right to life. If you charge for water, then logically speaking you should be able to charge for air next.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
I consider myself an advocate for sustainability and a concerned citizen. We [as humans] now clearly have control of the planet, and this is the first time in the history of the planet that the fate of the planet is tied to what we do to it. We have never been there before. It is a question of whether we can act quickly enough and decisively in the right direction to avert the worst of what may be coming. That is a question that just remains to be seen.
An activist, not necessarily. I pull myself back. I prefer to address it more through stills and imagery, now motion picture, and through the writings in my book, to bring awareness and to raise consciousness that this is something that we need to pay attention to. This can come back and get us. For me to move freely through subjects and countries, I would be severely restricted as a card-carrying activist. I am better off as more the poet than the activist. I am going into sensitive places. If those countries or those corporations thought that I was interested in indicting their activities, then why would they let me in? It is pragmatic.
I also believe in the long run it [the imagery] is a very interesting way to bring people to their own conclusions, to understand what the problems are and to own those. I’m not telling them how to think about it. But, if they spend the time to understand what I’m doing, I think logically they will arrive at concern. In that way, if they arrive at it themselves, they will own it in a more powerful way.
“Water” is on display at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and Howard Greenberg Gallery, both in New York, from September 19 to November 2, 2013. The traveling exhibition “Edward Burtynsky – Water” begins its tour at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, from October 5 to January 19, 2014.
August 29, 2013
Two and a half years ago, Carl Warner was building whimsical “foodscapes.” The British still life photographer has a knack for making coconuts look like haystacks; ribeye beef joints, like rock outcrops; and potatoes and soda bread, boulders. He even sculpted a London Skyline with a Parliament of green beans and a rhubarb-spoked London Eye.
Warner, however, has since moved on from food to another medium: the human body. “I’ve always been fascinated by the form and structure of the human body, so this was an experiment to see if I could create landscapes that would be as equally deceiving as the Foodscape work,” says the photographer.
Each landscape in the new series appears to include several bodies, and yet actually is created from photographs of a single person. “The scenes can simply be one shot of a part of their body or multiple shots that are composited together to make a more intricate scene,” Warner explains. “Once I have posed, lit and photographed the subject, I then take the image in to post production in order to grade and finesse it. I simply add a sky to the scene to give the image a sense of scale.”
The texture of his models’ skin and the shapes that they can make—a bent knee or elbow, an arched back and a flexed abdomen, for instance—give Warner the elements he needs to piece together a barren desert or rocky Moab-like setting. He sketches out a composition before each photo shoot, but inevitably, during the shoot, he sees other poses, which he incorporates into a new drawing. He shoots these unexpected elements to fit his new vision, often using both tungsten and flash lighting equipment to highlight the contours. “I try to re-create the feeling of natural sunlight in the studio, which enhances the sense of realism within the landscape,” says Warner.
In Photoshop, Warner pieces together the models’ limbs and contortions into finished landscapes. The photographer gives each scene a clever name: Valley of the Reclining Woman, Pectoral Dunes, Elbow Point and, my personal favorite, The Cave of Abdo-men.
Of course, the work comes with its challenges. “With the Foodscape work, I have a great palette of shapes, forms, textures and colors because of the variety of ingredients, but the human body has only the variety of skin types and ages,” says Warner. “There are probably only a certain amount of shapes and poses I can get from a body, and so the work may well be limited by the kind of landscape I can create in terms of structure and form. They are already limited in as much as they can only resemble desert or rocky terrain without vegetation.”
There is a sensual, almost carnal quality, no doubt, to the “bodyscapes.” Warner admits that the desert orgy scene from the film Zabriskie Point was a big inspiration for the series, though, he says, “I don’t consider these images to be about erotica.” Rather, there’s something almost geological about his work, where the folds and wrinkles mirror creases and gnarls in rock and sloping legs conjure images of weathered hills—organic representations of features devoid of life.
“These images are a different kind of portrait where the bodies we live in are being portrayed as a place we can visit,” says Warner. “I think that there is a sense of spiritual contemplation and peace about looking at ourselves in this way.”