Jamey Stillings’ new book The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar is seemingly of the technical sort. To begin: pick up the book in your hands; you’re faced with an ostensibly vertical orientation. Then, open the cover—the title page immediately forces you to turn the object 90°. Is this a photobook or the most beautifully printed technical manual you’ve ever held? The metallic sheen of the binding leaves no doubt: four years spent photographing a construction site has left its mark on the maker.
A few pages later, you come across the titles of the plates. Each begins with a precisely marked # and an exact date, followed by a description of Unit Power Blocks, heliostat installations or alluvial slopes.
But who says technique and beauty should be opposed? Science and art? Nature and man? Any lingering doubt about these oppositions is erased as your eyes fall on the pictures. Beautifully presented, masterfully drawn aerial perspectives on the world’s largest “concentrated solar power installation.” Stunning contemporary land art that also happens to have the capacity to power “140,000 homes during peak demand.” Immense, technically perfect marks on the face of the earth, like super-sized drawings on the walls of a cave, Nazca lines updated to the 21st century.
The book—silvery and metallic, meticulously designed by David Chickey—is in itself a testament to the marriage of science and art. Lovingly printed by Steidl, each perfectly pitched and toned page shows us that technical expertise and artistic creation go hand in hand.
But what about more pressing divides, for example, that between renewable energy and a sustainable, yet preserved, environment? These photos silently probe such vexing questions, allowing us to reach our own conclusions. For example, the book’s first plate shows the future site of Ivanpah Solar: “virgin” land in the Mojave desert (though already marked by the first service roads). The last plate shows the glorious, renewable power production under way at the completed facility. What are we to make of this evolution? Is this an abomination, man’s latest act of hubris and destruction of the environment? Or is this a way forward, the sign of a more harmonious pact between humanity and its home?
Hard questions to answer but ones that Stillings’ photographs afford us ample opportunity to ponder now and into the future.
The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar
Photos by Jamey Stillings
Texts by Anne Wilkes Tucker, Bruce Barcott and Robert Redford
Design by David Chickey
Hardcover: 148 pages