The Hawaii of our collective imagination is a vision of paradise on Earth. With its colorful flora and fauna, tropical climate, active volcanoes and stretches of ocean shores, its rich topography attests to nature’s countless wonders. Yet while images of pure, untouched beaches and lush rainforests continue to define the island, the hefty demands of its popularity, topped off with the growing needs of a rising population, have created a much graver reality—one where Hawaii’s diverse ecosystem is under threat. The Invasive Species of the Built Environment gives a very different view of the island through a series of fragile landscapes, wounded by human intervention.
Interested in the connection between land, material and performance, Leah Schrententhaler’s work explores our relationship with our surroundings. In this project, the Hawaii native casts a concerned eye on the shifting terrain of her motherland, highlighting the effects of our somewhat exploitative attitude towards the island’s resources in a bid to make us think about preserving and protecting the natural world. “The industrial growth happening in Hawaii goes beyond simply manipulating the landscape; it destroys the historical records and spiritual places that have existed there for generations,” explains Schrententhaler.
The photographs focus on spaces where man-made infrastructures have been imposed on the natural environment. Using silver gelatin prints, she used a laser cutter to remove the structure from the landscape. “The remaining spaces aid in seeing what Hawaii would be like without these impositions,” she says. But much like the lasting effects of development, the damage has already been done; the empty spaces of the print act like scars on the island’s history, signalling the irreversible destruction enacted on its landscape. In their stark and graphic rendering, the dissected prints draw attention to the extent of our impact on the natural environment.
Editor’s Note: We discovered Leah Schretenthalter’s project when she was selected as a finalist for our LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2018. Check out all the other projects by our emerging talents here.