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EBurtynsky Pivot Irr AZ

This is a pivot irrigation system near a suburb south of Yuma Arizona.  Nice composition and colour.

When people build things to do a job, fill a need, make some money, their last thought is ever ending up in an art show.  But the truth is, like it or not, the visual effect of human intervention on the landscape is often stunningly beautiful.

Ed Burtynsky Greenhouses Spain

These are greenhouses in the Almira Peninsula in Spain 2010.  Muy Bonito–tight but dynamic structure, plus subtle colour and texture variation.

Of course the beauty of these interventions comes at a price, and sometimes that price is very high: a lasting stain on the canvas we all inhabit, or worse, a fatal infection of some irreplaceable part of what keeps us alive.

Edward Burtynsky Water Baja

Above is Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station, Baja Mexico, 2012.  As an image, it has a hyper-electric, saturated intensity.  As a piece of evidence, it is deeply disturbing.

All three photographs above by Edward Burtynsky whose work can be viewed here  and here


Louis Helbig stelcosteelmillo2

Stelco Steel Mill Nanticoke Ontario.  When a gifted, technically super photographer takes on the job of showing us who we are and what we are doing, the results can’t help but be both beautiful and alarming.  That’s after all what we are.

louis helbig Residual Bitumen tarpondsb2410061a

Residual Bitumen, Suncor South, Alberta, Canada.  How do we reconcile that this image of a careless (?) industrial after-effect has some of the same aesthetic qualities as the muscular/spiritual abstract paintings we flock to see in modern art museums?

Above aerial photographs by Mr Louis Helbig, based in Ottawa, but flying all over the country.  Look here


David Maisel Fall_Borox9_MAISEL

Back to Spain, this time above a Borox field with photographer David Maisel.  These fields, like “a grey sea in a desert” says Mr Maisel, are in a mining and agricultural region of La Mancha.

David Maisel AM_Carlin_NV18_MAISEL

Up next, open pit mines in Nevada on the Carlin Trend, a highly productive gold mining district. The downside is mines from this region are the source of mercury emissions released when ore is heated during refinement. Also shot by David Maisel.

David Maisel 3_TERMINAL_MIRAGE_19

This is one of the edges of Utah’s Great Salt Lake where zones of mineral evaporation ponds lie. Industrial pollution creates haunting other-worldly effects than only the artistic imagination can match. More David Maisel here


Mojave night Imperial Sand Dunes

This glowing mound is a portion of the Imperial Sand Dunes in the Colorado Desert Region of Southern California, at night, crawling with recreational vehicles, some of the 1.28 million visitors who visit the area annually.  We know this is not good, but holy crow it looks like an a electric volcano.  Source


alex maclean on black iceaerial4

Photographers keep flying over the land and recording the remarkable things we do when we think no one is watching–and the findings are so often both stunning and rattling.  Alex S. MacLean captured this: Motorcycle Racing on Black Ice, as well as the three images that follow.

alex maclean snowmobile tracks ice AB

Here he records snowmobile tracks on ice near industrial sites in Western Canada.

alex Maclean tracks_of_tomatos

Looks like calligraphy. But it’s tomato fields North Central OH, 1990

Alex Maclean tumbler Frosted Fields Souutheastern MA

And this beautiful image is a shot of something probably very very wrong.

Lots of amazing photos by Alex S MacLean on tumbler and his own site


Edward Burtynsky Nickel Tailings Sudbury 1996

Above Edward Burtynsky, Nickel mine tailings, Sudbury Ontario 1996, found here

There is a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery just now (May 2014) featuring a fine selection of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs.  We may not be doing him full justice, but we believe he sees and n fact seeks the beauty in the interventions that we the people make on the earth one way or another every day.  His VAG show is called A Terrible Beauty.

Should we feel guilty about finding something poisonous beautiful?  Should we feel guilty in failing to acknowledge the beauty of something clearly dangerous to the earth?  To hold contradictory ideas in the mind was once thought a virtue.  For now, all we can say is: it’s the truth


rousseau Boy on the Rocks

If  you ever find yourself in front of a painting by Henri Rousseau, as we did some weeks ago, you are bound to feel a bit queasy, as we did, because you will probably be, as we were, simultaneously charmed and spooked.  First you smile, then you cock your head and give it a shake.


The world depicted by M Rousseau makes no sense, and in spite of that, or most likely because of that, it is beguiling, seductive, addictive. The more you look, the less you know for sure.  His manual skill is adept and refined in many places (branches, leaves), and then you come across something that you think must have been done with his eyes closed and the brush attached to his elbow.

rousseau old-man-junier-s-trap-1908

rousseau football

The composition and perspective are always completely wrong, but never in a way that suggests he actually knows what would be right, and the events, if that’s what they are, are simply wacky.


He seems to be making it up as he goes along, an improvisation by someone who knew the rules well enough to break them without breaking the spell cast by the people and places he has painted. Our awareness that  things are terribly wrong here adds a tension that may be crucial to the enchantment.    Maybe.

rousseau rabbit-1908

So few people in any field carve their own path, and of those, so few leave behind anything that strongly connects with anyone. M Henri Rousseau is an original whose work stands firmly within the palaces dedicated to the masters of modern art, yet this work seems to be alive and alien in a way that almost nothing else in that palace is.


The giants Picasso and Matisse are part of the family now and can be safely invited to dinner.  M Rousseau?  He is still the outsider who got in, and his work has never been tamed.  Keep your eye on that one.


To those of us who have spent our lives in a moderate climate–ours is moist, mild, misty, and lush–it is stunning to encounter the desert for the first time.   Pic above is a desert in Peru looking to swallow up the highway, found here.

The desert eats me, Uyuni tour

We are here to say that people can lose their heads over this landscape, falling quickly and hard. The torrid attraction to desert heat and space happens not only to ordinary boys and girls off on a road trip (like this smitten traveller in Bolivia seen here ) but to all sorts of exotic creatures, including architects and artists.

Desert vacation home architizer

If you want to do more than just look and swoon at the desert, if you want to live there, find yourself an architect who’s got the desert bug.  Above is called the Four Eyes House by California architect Edward Ogosta, more here .

desert house olson kundig idaho desert house RosaMuerta R Stone DesertNomadHouse R Joy

Say “Desert house” to many an architect and you’ve got them where you want them.  Here you don’t have to worry about the zoning restrictions, the neighbours, or where to put the lumber, trucks, and tools while you are building.  This freedom, combined with the sheer harshness of the physical factors, has produced some beautiful results. Above three desert designs are by Olson Kundig Architects, Robert Stone, and Rick Joy, all found here.

Ant Farm Cadillac Ranch 1974 Photographed 1977

Artists too have found freedom and inspiration in the desert–the flat open space must seem liberating to any artist who feels confined by the canvas and the studio. Above is Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo Texas as it looked when produced in 1974 by an art gang named Ant Farm.  See here.

desert christo oil barrels

The artist who in our time has set the standard for getting out of the studio, Christo, has wrapped up big things (bridges, buildings) all over the world and now intends to place a very big thing in the desert landscape of the United Arab Emirates , as reported here

michael heizer_city

And this is American artist Michael Heizer, image from here.

michael-heizer city wide

Mr Heizer has devoted a good slice of his life and imagination and hutzpah to creating, not a sculpture, not a monument, but a city in the desert of Nevada.  Above image from Treehugger and more from the NYT 

And if you like art and light and you don’t know what James Turrell has been doing in the desert, you need to go here now.

turrell roden crater

Above is an entry into James Turrell’s Roden Crater project found here  

But don’t go getting the idea that it is just the 1% of the artistic club, the superstars, who get their hormones and imaginations all swept up in the desert.  Lots of everyday free spirits with a gluegun and a hammer and a glint in their eye do too.

noah purifoy

This is a portion of the life work of one Noah Purifoy, now known as the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art exhibit near Joshua Tree CA. Visit here.

Many of the freest spirits who lust for the desert end up at the Burning Man Festival every late August/September.

burning man 2010 boston big pic 15 

Held in northern Nevada in Black Rock Desert, it is about art and life and transportation and fire and lust and freedom and a lot more.  Only a desert seems capable of hosting such a collection of desires. Pic by Jim Bourg/Reuters via

burning man 2010 Boston Big Pic

Before the burning, time for tea.  This image is one of many at the Big Picture site at

Some of the sculpture is wondrous, such as the piece shown below in this photograph by Frederick Larson of the SF Chronicle.

burning man sculpture 2008 F Larson the Chronicle

The desert seems to be able to accommodate and excite all varieties of humanity. It’s not just the unclothed and untamed who fall for it, but the super sophisticates who find something unexpected and rich in the plain hot flat emptiness if it.  How about you?

desert noel2

Mr Noel Coward, 1954 photo by Loomis Dean for Life Magazine seen here

How will you spend the first day back at work now that the summer holiday season has slipped away for another year?  Just having a job is a reason to feel pretty good for lots of us, when you think of the alternative.  But let’s face it, some jobs are just more photogenic than others.  Above photo found here of someone’s great Granddad looking pretty nifty at a Buick auto factory in 1930.

These guys look like they don’t mind working for a living too much, but maybe they’d rather be on a raft drifting down the Mississippi. They are Doffers (Doffers??) at a cotton mill in Macon Georgia, 1909, photographed by Lewis Hines. More here.

Women have a long tradition of factory work in North America, and people were always taking pictures of them.   These at a Cadbury’s candy bar factory in the 1950’s seem to have things well in hand.  Why no men? Maybe they didn’t trust them around all that chocolate.

This color photo of a young woman working in an airplane plant is from a recently released archive of US government commissioned photos from 1939 to 1944 now in the Library of Congress.  Flicker set here.

Here is another hard working woman.  Never mind the dishes, I’ll wash the locomotive.  See Flickr set above.

Artists work hard and they have a deep respect for hard work.  Some, like American painter and photographer Charles Sheeler found art and mystery and beauty in the hard working factories and plants of industrial America.  Above from a great collection presented at the Detroit Institute of Art.  More here.

In Europe, Bernd and Hilla Becher have been roaming the countryside for years in search of industrial buildings–the places where hard, bone-grinding work happens day after day. Their work is in a class by itself and provokes wonder and amusement, with a fair bit of bewilderment too.  For us, these 3  images above  are portraits, and like the best portraits of people,  we keep looking.  And looking.  You can see more at Artnet here

But let’s hope wherever you go to work this week, you will face  less potential danger than the man above.  Pic from here. 

Work hard, yes, be photogenic if you can, yes.  Don’t let the work own you.  Be free.

Not many of us get to have our own pool, but that doesn’t mean we don’t think about it, especially during the hot hot days of summer.  It’s part of the dream life (along with endless storage space and a fridge that is always somehow full of what we want most).  Some wonderful photographers have captured images of the dream.  Do they satisfy? or stoke the flame?

Above photo by Bill Anderson, 1957, from the Collection of the Palm Springs Art Museum included in the book and exhibit Backyard Oasis, more below.

Above pool is located in the Napa Valley of California.  Imagine starting your day with a dip in that. Photo Michael Moran, 1990, included in the now classic “Pools” by Kelly Klein, Rizzoli.  Brought to us by herself, Martha Stewart here.  

Another cool pool collected in Kelly K’s great book.  Monterrey, Mexico. photo by Mardo de Valdivia, 1985. Found  as above

Ms Klein has a new book set for release in October 2012.  Included will be the above pool attached to a house in Peru. Photo by the architect of the house and pool in Peru, Jean Pierre Crousse, as seen in Architectural Digest.

It is California, of course, that seems to have a pool in every back yard, at least in our dream life.  And dream life is real life for a lot of Californians.  A remarkable recent book called “Backyard Oasis–The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography 1945 – 1982” gives us a glimpse of the private/public life of pool-happy Californians, some famous, some just totally blissed out.

Above from the book: Silvertop – Hollywood Dawn, 1972 by Leland Y. Lee.  Just outside the frame, we guess, is a justifiably blissed out, maybe famous Hollywoodian ready to start their day.  “Action!”

For some the Backyard Oasis extended to the local watering hole.  Preserved in this 1960 photograph by Lawrence Schiller. Find this and others from the book in this LA Times feature here.

Another photo by Bill Anderson (Edris House, ca. 1954, Collection Palm Springs Art Museum © Palm Springs Art Museum).  Now be honest, if you started your day here, would you really pack up, get dressed, and go off to do…something else?  If so, why?

To see more pools from the Backyard Oasis (and lots of other eye-catching stuff), check out this stylish site   And for more of the Palm Springs pool experience in B + W see the city’s swell daily photo site. 

We probably should pick up our towel and go now.  Pool life is wonderful, but if you let it get a hold on you, you just might find it a bit difficult to clean up your room or finish that year-end report or finalize that fourteenth-floor conference room lighting design.  So our advice is to dip in from time to time to take in the vitality and the beauty of it, and then turn around and go back to what you were supposed to be doing.

OK, but that’s enough, OK?  Hey, hey you….


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