Dead Trees Give No Shelter: Suburban Landscapes
My passion for the landscape informs my work as I photograph the man-altered environment and explore its cultural implications in suburban settings. I grew up in the suburbs. I fled the suburbs as soon as I could. I never understood why I had such a strong urge to do so until, as an artist, I started photographing them. When I think about how things have changed between then and now, I realize that my early response was much like that of photographers in the seminal New Topographics exhibit of 1975--the banal architecture, the conformity, the you-could-be-anywhere or nowhere feeling I had when I lived there. Today, however, something else is going on that is very different from what those artists experienced. The architecture may have been banal and insipid but when you look at their photographs, the neighborhoods were clean and well kept. When one looks at many suburbs in the U.S. now, one sees much more deterioration affecting the architecture that once was shiny and new. I have been photographing the changes for many years, coming back to some of the same buildings year after year, seeing no improvement; the communities living around the new reality of empty storefronts and abandoned buildings. So I have come to realize that my work, while encompassing the concerns--formal and otherwise-- of the New Topographic photographers, extends beyond them to try and understand what is happening in 21st century America where the optimistic, unfettered expansion that we experienced as a nation in the 1950’s seems to have reached a limit, with the car-oriented suburbs deteriorating at an ever-faster rate. What are the implications of this? Does our concept of progress still apply or have we as a nation fallen behind? Will we leave these buildings to rot, thus affecting everyone who lives around them? Or will we evolve, rethinking use, to create a new, vital environment? The answers are not clear. I see my work as the canary in the coal mine, perhaps signaling the beginning of the end of an era, unless we evolve as a country, rethinking use, to create a new, vital environment.