A few years ago during my undergraduate studies, I spent a few months researching the ability that art has to beautify almost anything.  From photography to sculpture to painting, art, when placed in certain locations, has the ability to make people overlook the consequences a daily routine has had on our Earth.  Now, this may sound confusing, what do I mean?  Photography has the ability to take something horrible, something detrimental, and by use of surrounding medium (light, compositional strategies, etc.) present that something in a beautiful and unrecognizable fashion.  Paintings can appear on the sides of buildings which are slowly falling apart, are uninhabited, and are eye sores to the community, and instantly beautify the building and create arguments as to why it should remain. 

                Now, without straying too far from the concept of this post, I want to get to the main point: our natural landscape has been terribly affected by our “needs” as humans for the Earth’s resources: gas, oil, coal, lumber, stone, etc.  Back in 2009 I wrote a research paper entitled, “The Ability Art & Photography have in the Beautification of Social and Environmental Horrors.”  My goal there was to discuss a series of personally proposed questions: Does it Truly Go Unnoticed?…Do we Just Not Understand?…or Do We Just Not Care?  The it I was referring to was the amount of forever changed landscapes littering the Northwestern United States as a result of our over-harvesting of natural resources.  This post will hopefully bring light to a few of those landscapes, which have since begun being exposed by numerous photographers.

            “David Hanson, a photographer born and raised in Montana, has spent the past 25 years, exploring and exposing the landscapes of Montana and the American West.  Hanson’s art provides a way of more comfortably showing us what most of us have not seen before, do not wish to see at the moment, and yet must see if we wish to save ourselves from the destruction we have brought forth to our Earth.  The power of his photographs is brought forth in their undeniably terrifying particularity.  His works are “representations of bad art” or what we mean as the ways and results of human activity upon our land.  The results of his photography appear abstract, unidentifiable, or unlike things we have ever seen.  These non-repairable, irreplaceable, vandalized landscapes are the results of our actions.  However, we continue to allow it to happen.” [1] 

            The photos I am including with this post show images taken by David Hanson himself, of the abandoned and forever-damaged landscapes of the Northwest, which have seemingly just been forgotten.  From the power plant and waste ponds of Montana, to the Excavation, deforestation, and waste pond of Northern Idaho, to the Metamora Landfill: Metamora, Michigan, and lastly the Sapphire Mountain timber clear-cut, Lolo National Forest, Missoula County, it is almost unbearable to just see the images and realize the changes that have taken place that WE as human beings could have prevented.  Beautiful landscapes have been destroyed and transformed into barren wastelands of which most are unusable.  These images don’t even need words, their appearance alone tell the compelling story that has been sitting and waiting to be discussed for decades:    

           All of these images come from Waste Land: Meditations an a Ravaged Landscape by David Hanson himself.  An interesting quote by Margaret Drabble was brought to our attention and I found it relation to this controversial photographic exploration very interesting: 

            “The past lives on in art and memory, but it is not static: it shifts and changes as the present throws its shadow backwards. The landscape also changes, but far more slowly; it is a living link between what we were and what we have become. This is one of the reasons why we feel such a profound and apparently disproportionate anguish when a loved landscape is altered out of recognition; we lose not only a place, but ourselves, a continuity between the shifting phases of our life.”

                 These landscapes of the Northwest have been transformed into unrecognizable wastelands that will forever commemorate what we have become, however with no available evidence of what we were.  An unsettled landscape that breathed life, now sits as an abandoned and unusable burden on our Earth, stripped of its resources, its nutrients, plant life, animals, and even the human beings who created the mess.  The past does live on through memories, but this is one shadow that can never be replaced.  As we progress into the future, with lifestyles, wants and needs, and unfortunate occurrences of cyclical proportions, we will see these horrific changes to our landscapes occur over and over as we continue to squeeze every remaining resource from our Earth.  It can be stopped.  It can be diverted.  It can be prevented.  But it takes people who are willing to change their “needs,” and artists much like David Hanson, who provide an artistic ability to capture these images of our past, and present them to our present generation, who ultimately are the ones who can make sure we don’t lose our landscapes.  Sooner or later, we need to realize that it is time for a new shifting phase of our lives to begin, one towards revitalizing the Earth that our ‘wants and needs” have destroyed. 
Please feel free to comment on this blog post and suggest any further readings or research that myself or other readers could pursue on this topic!  If you disagree with anything here, please comment as well!  I would love to generate a discussion if possible!

[1] Gallagher, Joseph C. Meditations on a Global Landscape: The Ability Art & Photography Have in the Beautification of Social and Environmental Horrors. Rep. 2009. Print.