What

 

This project aims to be an artistic expression, experimentation and exploration of landscapes as art and photographic representation. It takes as its specific subject a landscape in Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni, to explore several topics: different time scales in aesthetic representations of climate change; the relationship between capitalism and landscape photography; the perceived authenticity of an art piece versus a photograph. The project was partly inspired by my study of photo essays and critical works on the artificial construction and commodification of a “pure nature” landscape - its ubiquity in advertising and tourism, its role in conveying ideologies of ownership or dominance.

If the landscape photo is, in fact, inherently social, and as such never an objective capture of reality, what then is hidden behind the “natural” photograph? Who are the people behind the seemingly objective technology? What is in the text of the photo? For instance, can that text, if expanded, ever convey the different time scales of a landscape, that is, the geological “deep time” of a place separate from what is part of, or constructed by, human history? My goal is to use a subjective expression to create something that would evoke, even provoke, the viewer to ask: and what ideas are behind this photo?

Compiled here are illustrations and photo essays on the landscape images I took of the Salar de Uyuni with a small Canon in southwest Bolivia four years ago. Some are replications of photographs done by hand, others replications of photo images modified, transformed, and destroyed. I recast these places with more familiar forms of representation — a drawing, a meta image, an abstraction — to show the ideology, desires, understandings that are tied to the larger cultural, economic, social, and political systems and are reflected in the viewer and photographer.

By doing this, I am taking what-has-been and reconstructing it into another what-has-been, a what-is, and a what-will-be — all in real time. Thus, these aesthetic representations are palimpsests, recreations that change the very nature of the original photographs themselves.

Much of this website is also devoted to laying out the intertwined environmental, economic, political, and cultural issues in modern-day Bolivia, specifically in the Salar de Uyuni area. Although this project is mostly in the realm of humanities and art, an undertaking to create forms of representation in geological epochs of humans effecting this particular environment requires an extensive inquiry into Bolivia and the Anthropocene itself. As I wrote in a journal one day,

"When you ask the question, ‘Whose idea or face is behind the image?’ you find yourself looking up more than just ‘Who lives in the Salar de Uyuni?’ You soon find yourself looking up its geological formation – its market value – its lithium concentration – its lithium extraction via multi-nationals – batteries – 500,000 gallons of water per ton of lithium – water shortage – effects on surrounding residents of Uyuni – how this has happened similarly and differently in Chile and Argentina – the Salar de Uyuni's harsh fragility – Bolivian mining history in Potosí – Gold and Silver – neo-colonialism – the Quechua-speaking of Uyuni, the Uru – their popular braids – their ‘attractive poverty’ – what the tourist doesn't see – what the tourist unintentionally or intentionally perpetuates – the EU elite in my 4X4 jeep – the commodification of white land – the ‘white gold rush’ – and the absence of mining and digging and back-breaking work and thirst and pollution and indigenous bodies and human faces hands and flesh bones behind the misleading still-flat image of a pretty landscape in translation."