These photographs come from a long-term and ongoing project concerned with how we perceive and are affected by changes in the places we inhabit.
Each of the three places depicted here, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and New Orleans, finds itself in a precarious position relative to the “natural” demands of its geographic location. Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded in 2005; as many of us now realize, most of the city is located below the level of the water that borders it. The probability of San Francisco experiencing a seismic event equal to or greater than the 1906 earthquake in the next 30 years, geologists tell us, is greater than 50 percent. And Las Vegas, still one of the fastest growing cities in the country, has no feasible long-term plan to keep its development from outstripping its ability to supply its inhabitants with fresh water. Due to where they are physically located, these cities in 50 years will most likely look nothing like they do now.
Coincident to or perhaps because of its location, each of these cities has developed an identity that represents a diversion from the cultural norms associated with mainstream America. Many Americans I know prefer that what happens in Las Vegas stays there. San Francisco wears proudly its identity as a place of alternative lifestyles and liberal foment. New Orleans, known as the Big Easy for the ease with which musicians could find work, displays front and center its difference from the rest of America during its celebration of Mardi Gras.
What should be an obvious truth, that a place’s physical location and features have a profound affect on the lives and outlooks of its inhabitants, is often overlooked. Saying we live “in” a place, rather than “on” or “with” it, concedes how entirely a place encompasses us physically. It acknowledges the pervasive affect the place’s external imperatives have upon our psyches, our perceptions of self and others, and the desires we pursue.
Now that popular consensus is embracing the fact that our world is growing warmer, the uncertain futures these three cities face today may well be harbingers of change facing the places we all live in. Has a sequence of events already been set in motion that will irrevocably alter how and where all of us will be able to live? And if so, how will this fact affect how we relate to each other and to the places we inhabit?
These photographs describe relationships between elements in the landscape that are specific to a particular day, hour, and fraction of a second. Some were made seven years ago, some just a few months ago. What is important to keep in mind is that each triptych (or multiple image panoramic) presented here comprises a series of individual and distinct photographs. Each individual “frame” within the triptych is its own point in time and each corresponds to a distinct piece of film that I exposed and developed. Taking in the scene presented by the triptych is analogous to how each of us encounters a prospect. By pausing slightly and regularly we set into motion a mental “imagining” in order to see things more completely.
I hope each piece’s particularity, its reference to a specific location in time as well as space, stimulates speculation about how different that place appears at this very moment, were you able to behold it for yourself. And more exciting is to ponder what it might look like tomorrow, next month, and 50 years hence.