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Other titles in the Creating the North American Landscape series:
Recent Terrains: Terraforming the American West (Creating the North American Landscape)
Synopses & Reviews
In this book of sixty black-and-white panoramas, photographer Laurie Brown documents the changing landscape along the western edge of Southern California. These stark, compelling images reveal a world scraped and reshaped by construction equipment — boulders pushed aside, stretches of earth flattened and then measured with surveyor sticks. High-tech housing developments rise in these places, lines of identical homes that simultaneously offer a pleasing vision of order and a numbing prospect of sterile conformity. Recent Terrains: Terraforming the American West is a thoughtful sequence of photographs that consider how the planet's surface has been transformed to meet the needs of our consumer society.
The term terraforming originated in Kim Stanley Robinson's science fiction trilogy about the colonization of Mars, in which that planet is reshaped for human settlers. The panoramic format of Brown's photographs is partly inspired by space photography — with their long and low perspectives of the horizon, these photos give us views of our own planet as it might be seen by the Mars explorer. But if many of the images look like alien landscapes, they reveal a familiar shift in American geography: the wild, agricultural terrain of our early frontier gives way to densely built suburban communities.
Brown's photographs are neutral about what they record, dramatizing some of the tensions and dualities that comprise our society's complex relationship to nature. She shows the invasion of unspoiled territory by the high-tech developments we so often label with the pejorative term suburban sprawl. At the same time, however, she uncovers surreal stillness and beauty in the built environment, searching for a postindustrial idea of the sublime.
Taken during the last decade of the twentieth century, these photographs serve as an archive of change at a specific place on the coastal edge of California at the turn of the millennium. But these images have larger relevance for all of us, exploring our ideas about what constitutes a home and what defines our sense of community.
The book is divided into three sections, each prefaced by a poem by Los Angeles poet Martha Ronk; it concludes with an essay by renowned writer and conservationist Charles E. Little. Recent Terrains is a major photographic work — a thoughtful, serious book of time and place.
In 60 black-and-white panoramas, Brown documents the changing landscape along the western edge of Southern California. These stark, compelling images reveal a world scraped and reshaped by construction equipment, with boulders pushed aside, stretches of earth flattened, and high-tech communities springing to life. 60 duotones.
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