The new show, "People Places Power: Reframing the American Landscape," at the Van Every Gallery at Davidson College features a potent mix of large-scale photographs interpreting the relationships between humans, their buildings and their landscapes in 21st-century America.
Here, the mythically sublime American landscape of the 19th century has been transmogrified into hostile, even repellent terrains inhabited by uncertain people.
Some of the photographers express themselves with political statements, documenting the cumulative impact of decades of corporate avarice and environmental indifference. Others focus on more personal themes.
Interiors - of defunct factories and cheap housing - have their own impact. Andrew Moore's historic Detroit is shown disassembled in the vividly colored C-Print," "Model T HQ, Detroit," revealing a lurid green carpet of decay in the former assembly room. Here, the odd, vivid color leads the eye into this strange abandoned space.
Moore's depiction of the massive "gothick" interior of the Rolling Hall is even more unsettling. It recalls a disturbing echo of Anselm Keiffer's vituperative paintings of vast Nazi ruins from World War II.
One of the most compelling landscapes, of a tiny neighborhood adjacent to devastated landscape, is Mitch Epstein's "Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia," which grabs you at first glance with its lush green sod, soft lighting and white clapboard siding. But then you realize that this home lies in the shadow of a vast, polluted plant. Epstein restrains his work to stand just this side of propaganda, yet his anger is clear as he documents the use and misuse of power in the American landscape.
The work of other featured photographers is just as intriguing. Victoria Sambunaris portrays a futile fragment of suburbia in the vastness of the desert surrounding Wendover, Utah. David Taylor follows suit with big-sky landscapes from Arizona that dwarf human agency, while Lisa Kereszi shows us Las Vegas unmasked without the seductiveness of nighttime.
Dru Donovan brings home the hostility of the Alaskan climate with his Camp 12 classroom cowering in a menacing landscape of ice.
David Hilliard and Gail Halaban, by contrast, take us from the external to the internal landscapes of human relationships. Hilliard's multi-panel portraits deal with intimacy and distance, while Halaban uses the transparency of high-rise condominiums to reveal the intimacy of strangers behind the cityscape's glass walls.
Despite evidence of our self-destruction, many of the images are breathtakingly, poignantly beautiful. But with this beauty comes the understanding that they foretell a frightening future.