Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Awfully Beautiful

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Awfully Beautiful

Article excerpt

The lurid colors are the first hint that something is amiss. Even at its most blousy, nature rarely sports such flash. The reds are too red, the greens too green, the blue an otherworldly shade of cerulean. A geode might, perhaps, look that way, or the inner heart of a gem, or ... a cyanide pond laced with sulfuric acid.

Throughout his 30-year career, photographer David Maisel has been preoccupied with places of destruction: the mines, clear-cut forests, failed industrial projects, and far-flung urban sprawl that define much of the American landscape. His interest in such spaces began as an undergraduate, when, flying over the wreckage of Mount St. Helens, he noticed that the nearby logging lots were in worse shape than the areas hit by the volcano. The bird's eye view has been his metier ever since. In taking to the air and photographing from high altitudes he is able to capture the scale and scope of the damage we have done to the world--probably the only perspective capable of depicting the magnitude of our wreckage.

The results are stunning. From above, the desiccated remains of California's Owens Lake--an environmental disaster brought about during a botched water diversion project--have the eeriness of an inkblot mixed with blood. Photographing the American Mine in Carlin, Nevada, Maisel turns the tailing ponds and leaching pits into pools of pure color. The dioxin-laden industrial salt ponds of Nevada's Great Salt Lake are a wondrous mix of gauzy tones and sharp geometric lines. …

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