In a series of photographs exhibited at the Nevada Museum of Art’s The Altered Landscape exhibition earlier this year, contemporary photographer and public artist Jim Sanborn fit in with a long line of modern landscape photographers who have examined how human and natural worlds intersect. In his work, Sanborn, who is said to come after the 1970s wave of “New Topographic” photographers, actually overlays human design over natural scenes, expressing in artistic form how people continually shape the environment.
Sanborn, who was born in D.C. and has shown his art and photograpy around the world, discussed the process he undertook to create his series of “topographic projects and implied geometries:” “These images were produced by direct, large format, light projection. The projector, powered by a mobile generator, was moved from site to site. All of the pieces were photographed at night using long exposures. On moonless nights, the landscape was lit with searchlights. The landforms themselves are quite large, requiring the projector and camera to be, on average, 1/2 mile away from the subject landscape.”
The exhibit at the Nevada Art Museum, which featured Sanborn’s work along with some 50 other contemporary landscape photographers, sought to inspire a dialogue on the “human activity on natural landscapes” and move away from the idealized images of pristine wilderness created by Ansel Adams and promoted by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations. Cultural critic Dave Hickey said: “These photographers aspire to portray nature differently and, in doing so, portray another nature altogether.”
Spanning 30 years, the exhibit shows the work of the New Topographics photographers, who wanted to show landscapes, even highly degraded ones, as they really are. They created images of “natural landscapes marked by tract housing projects, mining and military installations, and artificial waterways,” says the Nevada Museum of Art. Jim Sanborn and his compatriots then further departed from Ansel Adams by altering colors, creating montages, and using visual jokes to “suggest levels of humor and irony related to our contemporary landscapes.”
Image credit: Jim Sanborn