David McMillan, Portrait of Lenin, Pripyat School, Ukraine, 1997, From the series The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 1994, Chromogenic print, Collection of the artist.
Peter Goin, Liberty Pit, Ruth, Nevada, 1986, Chromogenic print, Collection of the artist.
John Pfahl, Bethlehem # 16, Lackawanna, New York, 1988, From the series Smoke, 1988-90, Chromogenic print, Collection of the artist.
Museum of Contemporary Photography
National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive
Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography
and the Environmental Debate
June 27-October 13, 2008
The drama and danger of man’s degradation of planet earth plays out in the latest exhibition at Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (CMCP) and co-sponsored by Oakland University Art Gallery, Rochester, Michigan and CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival, Toronto, Ontario.
Captured through the lenses of 12 North American photographers, Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate explores large ecological issues caused by industrialization. With the goal of reaffirming the urgency of a global response, the exhibition features 56 testimonies of North America’s most celebrated photographers — Edward Burtynsky, John Ganis, Peter Goin, Emmet Gowin, David T. Hanson, Jonathan Long, David Maisel, David McMillan, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, John Phahl and Mark Ruwedel. Together, their works bear witness to the transformation of our world and underscore the recklessness of human stewardship.
Taken from a variety of visual perspectives and using a wide range of techniques, the works look beyond the realm of domesticity, such as recycling, household water usage, and fuel consumption, to emphasize effects of social behaviours, industrial practices, corporate priorities, and governmental policies. By focusing on industrial complexes, mining sites, dried-up lakes, landfills, waste ponds, nuclear test sites, and other exclusion zones around the world, they focus on the bigger picture of human encroachment on the environment.
Earth’s Surface explores the scarring of the earth’s surface through human intervention. Examples include David T. Hanson’s Wasteland Series, which amalgamates topographical maps, aerial views and government reports, to draw attention to the worst toxic sites on U.S. soil. His works are an unambiguous indictment of current industrial practices. Emmet Gowin and David Maisel also use aerial photography to expose ravaged landscapes to reveal the paradoxical relationship between degradation and beauty.
Resource Industries addresses the management and exploitation of natural resources which figures prominently among the concerns of all these environmental photographers. They show man’s insatiable hunger for energy. John Ganis’ portrayal of the Alaska pipeline illustrates how the aluminum-sheathed conduit invades an otherwise majestic frontier like some bionic earthworm. Edward Burtynsky’s monumental depiction of the Three Gorges Project – the “leviathan” dam designed to harness hydro-electric power from the Yangtze River is charged with the portent of imminent events. It demonstrates man’s blind faith in progress propelling a risky enterprise that not only engulfed the age-old serenity of this ancient riverscape, but also ignored the potentially cataclysmic repercussions of tampering with nature.
Exclusion Zones focuses on the afterlife of sites deemed to be irretrievably damaged. These are illustrated by exclusion zones which are proliferating around the globe. Significant tracts of land once devoted to the promise of progress, such as the development of nuclear energy plants, have since become so polluted that they are rendered uninhabitable and a danger to the human race. David McMillan’s portrayal of Chernobyl is a classic example of a once-thriving community that has faded beyond recognition. Mark Ruwedel’s series on The Hanford Stretch consider man’s mark on the Columbia River, the home of nine nuclear reactors between 1944 and 1990.
These photographers’ shared concerns reflect the multiple links to be found between their various bodies of work. In the exhibition, certain notorious sites are depicted by more than one photographer, emphasizing both a plurality of perspectives and the degree of danger they contain. Ultimately, all these works reveal a pattern of monolithic degradation.
“While the exhibition does not attempt to present a comprehensive survey, these images paint a chilling portrait of the growing dangers faced by the human race,” said exhibition curator, Dr. Claude Baillargeon. “Collectively, these images call for the necessity of concerted actions against the ‘shattering’ of the earth.”