Monday, April 23, 2012

American Power and the Photographs of Mitch Epstein

Coal Power Plant Cheshsire by Mitch Epstein

Mitch Epstein is an American photographer whose photographs are in numerous museum collections, including New York's Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, and The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. has also worked as a director, cinematographer, and production designer on several films, including DadSalaam Bombay!, and Mississippi Masala.

Epstein has done many photographic essays of sites within the United States and to India where he took photographs for his book, In Pursuit of IndiaFrom 1992 to 1995, Epstein photographed in Vietnam,  that resulted in his book titled, Vietnam: A Book of Changes.

He wanted to investigate energy production and consumption in the United States so from From 2004 to 2009 he traveled throughout the States and photographed many energy production sites. He found while compiling this photographic essay that power companies do not like to be photographed and was often stopped to be questions by their security staff. Epstein was also interrogated by the FBI while standing on a public street pointing his camera at a power facility. A series of large-scale prints resulted from these photos, have been exhibited worldwide and have resulted in a monograph called, American Power, published by Steidl. 

“American Power”  indicates how our thoughts on industry and pollution have evolved. In the early 1930s, the Ford Motor Company commissioned a series of work from Charles Sheeler. One of Sheeler’s best paintings from that period is Classic Landscape  (see above), now at the National Gallery of Art. Sheeler presents industry as progress: The dominant, left-to-right, past-toward-future line that leads us into the painting is a railroad track that zips by American’s agricultural past, as represented by grain silos, on its way toward America’s future: industry." (from Modern Art Notes).

In the compiling of this book questions of power, both electrical and political are raised. "His focus is on energy – how it gets made, how it gets used, and the ramifications of both. From 2003 to 2008, he photographed at and around sites where fossil fuel, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar power are produced in the United States. The resulting photographs contain Epstein’s signature complex wit, surprising detail, and formal rigor. These pictures illuminate the intersection between American society and American landscape. Here is a portrait of early 21st century America, as it clings to past comforts and gropes for a more sensible future. In an accompanying essay, Epstein discusses his method, and how making these photographs led him to think harder about the artist’s role in a country teetering between collapse and transformation." (from Steidl).

Watch the podcast and read more about Mitch Epstein at Modern Art Notes


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