When we transform our environment we transform ourselves. That statement is seldom contested and is perhaps self-evident. Yet the nature and exact measure of change is more difficult to assess. This issue puts forward—in pictures and text—a few potential scenarios for where we have been and where we are going.
We now have sufficient historical perspective to realize that this seemingly self-automated mechanism has, like the old "automatic" chess player, a man concealed in the works; and we know that the system is not directly derived from nature as we find it on earth or in the sky, but has features that at every point bear the stamp of the human mind, partly rational, partly cretinous, partly demonic.
San Quentin Point, by Lewis Baltz, is akin to a magnetic field. The photographs, considered as a totality, reorder several trains of thought, adjust a number of elements of photographic history, provoke redefinitions of the medium in which they were made, and—to this reader/viewer—possess an unusually acute personal resonance. Like all substantial works of art, San Quentin Point realigns surrounding phenomena and establishes a new symbolic landscape.
Catherine Wagner is an omniscient narrator; her work is characterized by its clearheadedness and what has been called her “neutral noneditorial stance.” These qualities served her well when she was commissioned by the Canadian Center for Architecture to record the construction of the 1984 Louisiana Exposition in New Orleans.
Not long ago I had an opportunity to visit the aircraft carrier USS America, moored discreetly just over the horizon off the Lido in Venice. I was staggered by the immensity of this floating fortress, several football fields (always the proud all-American yardstick!) in length, the bristling armaments and electronic eyes and ears, the fleet of sleek aircraft.
Somewhere, at the terminus point of an artist’s life of work and contemplation, waits the Museum, impassive and perfect. Within its massive walls and long corridors the storms of past controversy are forever quelled; History, the Museum’s handmaiden, has long since separated its wheat from the chaff, delegating all artists and artworks to their respective niche (or lack thereof) in the panoply of artistic heritage.
It is not difficult for me to imagine that a village that seems to have grown right out of the earth but is about to be razed and replaced by ungainly apartment towers could be my ancestral home. Nor is it hard for me to believe that those peasants who are eagerly building these complexes and will eventually enjoy their modern conveniences are my cousins.
Colstrip, Montana, is the site of one of the nation’s largest coal strip mines, along with a coal-fired steam-generating plant and the modern-day factory town that has grown up around it. Colstrip is in southeastern Montana, just north of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.
As men of enlightenment, and of God, were beginning to conclude that the Noah myth of the Deluge was no longer a credible explanation for the tons of petrified bones of gargantuan reptiles, for the lush fern forests and the dragonflies with bodies the size of ax handles found turned to coal in the deepest mines, the earth was beginning to look a lot older than the three thousand years assigned by the Bible. Poe seriously fantasized that the poles were the points of great whirl-pools that drained deep into the earth, with the water seeping throughout the globe in underground caverns and watercourses to emerge as the headwaters of the earth’s great rivers (especially the Nile, whose mysterious source had eluded Western civilization since the time, of Caesar).
In 1969, Vito Acconci quietly performed a solitary piece walking along a street in downtown New York. He had decided to try to walk without blinking his eyes. When he finally did blink, he took a black-and-white photograph with a simple instamatic camera.
When television made its official debut at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, it was heralded as a key feature of “The World of Tomorrow.” People thronged to the RCA pavilion in Flushing, Queens, to see the new invention that promised to bring moving pictures and synchronized sound into every living room across America.
Composites, by Nancy Burson. Published by Beech Tree Books/William Morrow, New York, 1986. Working with two computer scientists, Richard Carling and David Kramlich, Nancy Burson has produced a book called Composites—a series of computer-generated, simulated photographs of faces that do not exist.
In high school, I used to amuse myself while the teacher droned by holding my index fingers about twelve inches in front of my nose, with the tips touching. By gazing straight ahead past my fingers, a third, double-tipped finger appeared between the two; when I slightly separated the tips, the third finger floated there in the middle distance.
IN TIME: Earthworks, Photodocuments, and Robert Smithson's Buried Shed
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, earth art contributed to the erosion of the popular distinction between photographs and works of art by bringing photographs into previously inaccessible galleries and museums, where an audience ready for almost anything scrutinized them as if they were paintings or sculptures, drawings or prints.
LEWIS BALTZ has spent the past ten years documenting the urbanization of the American landscape. He graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1969. His previous exhibitions include Industrial Parks (1974), Nevada (1978), and Park City (1980).
Cover photograph by René Burri courtesy of and permission from Magnum Photos. P. z excerpt from The Myth of the Machine, Vol. II: The Pentagon of Power, by Lewis Mumford. Published by Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, Inc. P. 3 photograph by August Sander, courtesy of Sander Gallery, New York.