Desolation Desert: Mining the Atacama. In his latest photographic series, Desolation Desert, David Maisel brings his focus to the massive mining operations in the vast territory of Chile’s Atacama Desert. The highest and driest desert on the planet, this sensitive eco-region of the Atacama is being transformed at an unparalleled pace and scale by extractive industries. Maisel’s aerial images of these sites are abstract, graphic, and painterly—offering viewers detailed, open-ended information that operates on a metaphorical level as much as a documentary one.
These pictures are intended to counter our misapprehension of the desert as a terra incognita, an emptiness upon which we impose notions of purity and boundlessness. Maisel’s new photographs show how the supposedly remote Atacama Desert is becoming part of a planetary fabric of urbanization, and at what cost.
Proving Ground, Air Force Target Grid Building 1-6, 2014
Proving Ground. An encounter with one of the most secretive of American military zones, Proving Ground is David Maisel’s investigation through photographs and time-based media of Dugway Proving Ground, a classified site covering nearly 800,000 acres in a remote region of Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert. From its inception during World War II to the present day, Dugway’s primary mission has been to develop and test chemical and biological weaponry and defense programs. After more than a decade of inquiry, Maisel was granted rare access to photograph the terrain, testing facilities, and other aspects of this deliberately obscured region of the American atlas.
American Mine. Natural resource extraction and its consequences are themes central to Maisel’s photographic practice for nearly thirty years. Through aerial photography, the interlinked series Black Maps, The Mining Project, and American Mine explore sites across the United States that have been radically and irretrievably transformed by open pit mining. These images encompass documentary and aesthetic perspectives in equal measure, seeking to frame and interpret issues of contemporary landscape and culture. Literally and figuratively, the Earth’s consumption is revealed.
The Mining Project considers sites like the Berkeley Mine in Butte, Montana, whose open pit is filled with severely poisoned water a mile deep and nine hundred feet wide. American Mine features open pit mines on the Carlin Trend, the most prolific gold mining district in the Western Hemisphere. Mines from this region are the source of devastating mercury emissions, released when ore is heated during the process of gold extraction. The series depict the calamitous practice of cyanide and sulfuric acid heap leaching, employed to extract microscopic particles of precious metals from mined ore, which often permit these deadly solutions to contaminate surrounding groundwater.
Oblivion. In his book Warped Space, the architectural theorist Anthony Vidler speaks of the “paranoiac space of modernism,” a space which is “mutated into a realm of panic, where all limits and boundaries become blurred…” These words come to mind when considering the urban aerial images of Los Angeles and its periphery shown in Oblivion. Certain spatial fears seem endemic to the modern metropolis, and Los Angeles defines this term in ways that no other American city can approximate. This amorphous skein of strip malls and gated developments, highway entrance and exit ramps, continues endlessly, without boundary or hierarchy.
The images in Oblivion underscore the cyborg nature of the city. Themes of development as a self-generating, self-replicating force that exists outside of nature are encoded in these photographs, which view Los Angeles as both a specific site and as a more generalized condition.
Houk Gallery, New York.
Haines Gallery, San Francisco.
Robischon Gallery, Denver.
Ellen Miller Gallery, Boston.