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Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime

David Maisel

Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime is the first in-depth survey of the major aerial projects by David Maisel, whose images of radically altered terrain have transformed the practice of contemporary landscape photography. In more than 100 photos that span Maisel’s career, Black Maps presents a hallucinatory worldview encompassing both stark documentary and tragic metaphor. Maisel’s images of environmentally impacted sites consider the aesthetics of open pit mines, clear-cut forests, rampant urbanization and sprawl, and zones of water reclamation. These surreal and disquieting photos take us towards the margins of the unknown and as the Los Angeles Times has stated, “argue for an expanded definition of beauty, one that bypasses glamour to encompass the damaged, the transmuted, the decomposed.”

Black Maps comprises six suites:

  • “The Mining Project” and “American Mine” depict open-pit copper and gold mines, tailings ponds, and cyanide-leaching fields throughout the American west.
  • “Terminal Mirage” is a series of aerial images made around the periphery of the Great Salt Lake, depicting evaporation ponds, mineral harvesting, and chemical weapons storage sites.
  • “The Lake Project” shows the ravaged playa of Owens Lake, a formerly 150-square mile natural glacial lake that was drained in order to supply water to the desert city of Los Angeles.
  • “Oblivion” depicts the megalopolis of Los Angeles in tonally-reversed black-and-white images.
  • “The Forest Project” depicts clear-cut logging sites and abandoned log flows in northern Maine.

In each, the alien, disquieting subject matter is a point of departure for Maisel to compose images of surreal, graphic beauty. With introductory essays by leading names in art, photography, and land-use studies today, including Julian Cox, Natasha Egan, Geoff Manaugh, Alan Rapp, Kirsten Rian, Joseph Thompson and Kazys Varnelis, Black Maps is a singular document of this major American artist’s work, and a complex statement on the relationship between nature and humanity today.

  • Black Maps coincides with major exhibitions across the United States, including CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder, 9 February–11 May2013, and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 1 June–1 September 2013.

David Maisel was born in New York in 1961. His photographs have been exhibited internationally, and are included in many permanent collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Maisel was a scholar in residence at the Getty Research Institute in 2007, an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2008, and a recipient of an individual artist’s grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a trustee of the Headlands Center for the Arts. Maisel’s book Library of Dust was the subject of a major symposium held by the New York Institute for the Humanities in 2009; The New York Times said of Library of Dust, “(it) may well be this year’s most haunting book of images.” His work has been the subject of three monographs: The Lake Project (Nazraeli Press, 2004), Oblivion (Nazraeli Press, 2006), Library of Dust (Chronicle Books, 2008), and History’s Shadow (Nazraeli Press, 2012).