Landscapes of American Power
Photography from The Walther Collection

10/12/2017 — 11/19/2017


About the exhibition

Landscapes of American Power: Photography from The Walther Collection explores the effects of American industrialization of the past century. At the current historical juncture—when American industry is increasingly cognizant of environmental consequences and shifting dramatically to automation, sustainable energy, and an information-based economy—Landscapes of American Power examines how two photographers, over a hundred years apart, documented the struggle to capitalize on energy resources and its transformative effects on the American landscape and its workers. Using contemporary as well as historical photographs, this exhibition looks at two key moments in America's industrial past.

Mitch Epstein, Kern River Oil Field, Oildale, California, "American Power," 2007

Central to the exhibition are fourteen large-scale color photographs from Mitch Epstein's acclaimed series titled "American Power" (2003–09), a documentary series that chronicles all aspects of the production and consumption of energy in North America. The series began in 2003, when Epstein was commissioned to photograph in Cheshire, Ohio – a town that had been thoroughly contaminated by the American Electric Power Company. Confronted with a massive cleanup and potential lawsuits, the company purchased the town for a lump-sum payment of $20 million dollars, and began demolishing homes and relocating residents. Having witnessed that event, Epstein embarked upon an unprecedented five-year journey crisscrossing the country, visiting twenty-five states, in search of the sources and consequences of energy production, from nuclear-power plants and hydroelectric dams to solar panels and windmills.

Vp 2506 WaltherCollection MakingofLynch 1917-20
Unknown compiler, The Making of Lynch, Harlan Co., Kentucky, 1917–20

An earlier project looking at the creation of American energy is the photography album entitled "The Making of Lynch" (1917–20). This small, homemade presentation album uses straightforward black-and-white photographs to capture the before-and-after transformation of a coal-rich valley in Harlan County, Kentucky. The images, which were taken by a professional photographer, record the two-year construction of the town of Lynch, including the construction of a school, a hospital, a post office, and workers' housing, as well as the mining infrastructure required to extract coal from the surrounding mountains. These documents of accelerated town-building are juxtaposed with scenes of the hand-hewn rural cabins and bucolic mountain scenery that they replaced.

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