This week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast spotlights “Petrochemical America,” a new book by artist Richard Misrach and landscape architect Kate Orff. The book examines the industrialized Mississippi River corridor between Baton Rouge, La., and New Oreleans. The region is infamous for its density of petrochemical plants and for high rates of disease, particularly cancer.
The book features Misrach’s pictures, commissioned by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and landscape architect Kate Orff’s Ecological Atlas, a series of narratives that establish a relationship between Misrach’s photographs, the region and man-made and ecological forces. An exhibition of Misrach’s and Orff’s work is on view now in the project room at Aperture’s New York gallery through October 6. Misrach’s ‘Cancer Alley’ pictures are on view at the High through October 7. (The book is also published by Aperture. Amazon lists it at $30 off.)
Misrach’s work is in the collection of virtually every major museum in America. He is best known for his large-format color pictures of dramatic, often disastrous human interventions in the landscape. He has also made moving photographs of disasters, such as the 1991 East Bay Fire and the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina. I reviewed Misrach’s extraordinary post-Katrina book “Destroy This Memory” here and here.
On the second segment, Orff discusses her contribution to the project. She is the principal of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design office. Her practice revolves about how to encourage and enact sustainable development and biodiversity through landscape. She teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and her work has been exhibited in museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The art: Top: Pirkle Jones, Town of Monticello, Early Spring, 1956, from the series “Death of a Valley,” 1956. Bottom: Unknown photographer for Eastman’s Originals, Berryessa Lake, Monticello Dam, California, 1960.
The news: "The Green Elite: The Top 10 States for Renewable Power," by Jordan Weissmann for TheAtlantic.com. Each of the top 10’s leading source of power is hydroconventional.
The source: The Pirkle Jones picture is from the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The photo from the Eastman’s Originals Collection is in the special collections of the University of California, Davis, and was accessed via the indispensable Calisphere.
Critical note: In 1956 Pirkle Jones and Dorothea Lange collaborated on one of most underrated documentary projects of the post-war era: The evacuation and subsequent destruction of the Napa County town of Monticello, Calif. so that the federal Bureau of Reclamation could build Monticello Dam and create Lake Berryessa. Today the dam provides electricity to northern counties of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Jones-Lange project, titled “Death of a Valley,” was featured in a special issue of Aperture magazine in 1960.
The art: Richard Misrach, Untitled, from the series “Destroy This Memory,” 2005.
The news: The Atlantic’s Alan Taylor-edited In Focus picture-blog featured Julie Dermansky’s pictures of Alabama after the tornadoes yesterday. Dermansky shot and Taylor included plenty of devastation porn, but both photographer and editor were particularly drawn to the messages people spray-painted onto homes, automobiles, plywood, cardboard and wherever else. Many of them are religious in nature.
Dermansky’s photos reminded me of photographer Richard Misrach’s post-Hurricane Katrina project. Titled “Destroy This Memory,” Misrach’s project built a 69-photograph narrative out of the messages New Orleans residents spray-painted onto available surfaces after the storm. The result is a strikingly clear, direct storyof devastation, pain, loss and hope. Aperture published Misrach’s photo-narrativeas a book last year (Misrach’s royalties go to the Make it Right Foundation). In addition, Misrach gave complete sets of the series to five museums: The the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the National Gallery of Art, MoMA and SFMOMA.
The source: Aperture Foundation.