Emmet Gowin: Changing The Earth
Not long after Mount St. Helens erupted in the state of Washington in 1980, Emmet Gowin chartered a light plane, flew into the immediate wilderness area devastated by the active volcano and recorded his first aerial landscape photographs. Intent on both seeing and documenting the consequences of a vast natural disaster, Gowin continued to return to the region in the years thereafter, creating images that revealed how flora and fauna began to thrive anew in the dramatically reorganized landscape. He witnessed how the earth set to healing itself. Then, one day, when bad weather prevented him from flying over his central subject, something unexpected happened. As Gowin has said of that moment:
"In 1986, returning, I thought for the last time, to Mount St. Helens, I took a side trip to Yakima, Washington, and a flight that changed my whole perception of the age in which I live. In less than two hours flying over the Hanford Reservation, a pattern of relationships and a dark history of places and events emerged. Still visible after forty years were the pathways, burial mounds, and waste disposal trenches, as well as skeletal remains of a city once used by over thirty thousand people who built the first reactors and enriched the first uranium. Etched and carved into the body of the desert landscape below was a whole history of unconscious traces. The making of the atomic bomb had cost a great deal in knowledge, money, time, and hardship. It had also cost the total destruction and poisoning of a landscape and placed a great river, the Columbia, at grave risk. What I saw, imagined, and now know, was that a landscape had been created that could never be saved. I began in the next year to search for the other signs of our "nuclear age": missile silos, production sites, waste treatment and disposal sites - in short, the realities that I had unconsciously forgotten."
Since that momentous flight in 1986, Gowin has logged hundreds of hours aloft with his camera, creating thousands of photographs that chronicle a wide variety of landscapes that have been profoundly altered by humankind. The ninety-two images presented in this exhibition and its catalogue offer a carefully edited glimpse of the military test sites, missile silos, weapons storage and disposal sites, toxic water treatment facilities, mining operations, pivot irrigation agriculture, off-road motor traffic, and more that Gowin has visited and photographed in our own country.
Also included are images the artist has more recently made abroad of other landscapes, such as the scarred battlefields of Kuwait, new golf courses under construction in Japan, and the chemopetrol industries of the Czech Republic. You will surely find Gowin's still-growing visual portrait of our changing earth both beautiful and alarming to contemplate. His steady artistic efforts have quietly yielded a stunning creative gift of concern for our species to receive, one worth careful scrutiny and discussion as we all consider better ways to dwell in peace and preserve the remarkable worldly environment and resources that nurture all life as we know it.