For over 20 years, David Maisel has documented American landscapes from a birds-eye view, revealing the context of abstract environments severely impacted by human intervention. Maisel sees this body of work as a collection of "Black Maps". As grim testaments to what we've done, they are uncomfortably beautiful. Strip mining, clear cutting, leaching fields, firestorms, and other devastations look like patchworks of unbelievable color separated by the brushlines of tiny vehicle tracks.
The images are often paired with descriptive text which connects the tragic environmental context to its surprising visual equivalent. Inspired by the writings of Robert Smithson, Maisel "began to consider my pictures ... not as simply documents, but as poetic renderings that might engender contemplation of these sites and what they mean to us. In this work, and in work produced in subsequent years, I seek to frame the complexities of an environmentally impacted landscape with equal measures of documentation and metaphor, beauty and despair."
The Lake Project, deals with Owens Lake, once a 200 square mile lake which in 1913, was diverted into the Owens Valley aqueduct to become a water source for Los Angeles residents. Drained by 1926, the exposed lakebed "has become the highest source of particulate matter pollution in the United States, emitting some 300,000 tons annually of cadmium, chromium, arsenic and other materials." Maisel's images of the crimson oozing gashes of poisonous minerals are unsettlingly like the bloody stigmata of religious iconography.
According to the artist, he is "not attempting to make literal records of environmental destruction. Rather I seek to reveal the landscape in something other than purely visual terms, the photograph transcribing it as an archetypal space of destruction and ruin that mirrors the darker corners of our consciousness." As testaments to the unremediated consequenses of post-industrial life, David Maisel's photographs highlight the importance and art of confessing our sins.
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