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Posts Tagged ‘Southwest’

Two photographs I edited today: The first a freshwater lake at Belleplain State Forest in south Jersey, the second a dry wash canyon in northern New Mexico, an ancient seabed now a semi-arid desert. The contrast between these two images triggered my thinking about how a single natural  resource such as water determines us. The native peoples of the American Southwest have seen the rise and fall of entire cultures driven by aridity. Here are the photos, and something like a Chautauqua in their wake:

Northern New MexicoHow does water affect the places we choose to live and our sense of habitation within that place? So many popular communities around the country are at the water’s edge; the beauty of the sea, the vastness of the ocean compel our imaginations. Their abundance has fed our bodies for generations by supplying a clean and renewable food source. Now the twin macro-scale disasters of the BP Deepwater Horizon gulf oil rig blowout in 2010 and the radioactive seepage of Japan’s Fukishima nuclear plant, coupled with decades of other sustained non-point insults from human activities leaves us with a huge question mark as the ocean’s inhabitants  demonstrate the consequences by sickening, dying and disappearing. Each summer once crystalline waters curdle into a stinking soup in Florida Bay, smothering the coral reefs along the Keys beneath algal blooms the consistency of jello. My generation has born witness to  these radical changes in the order of magnitude by which human activities have overtaken nature.

The famous springs of central Florida that poured freshwater at rates measuring billions of gallons daily are predicted to run dry within the decade as development investors continue to sink wells to bottle water, water golf course and irrigate cattle pastures.  The Great Lakes, having sustained industrial insults for decades pre-EPA, recovered dramatically at the end of the 20th Century. They  now face renewed assault as energy and mining investors consider transporting heavy tar sands crude viaBelleplain State Forest, NJ lake freighters and opening the world’s largest open pit iron mine along the shores of Lake Superior. The Elk River drowned in chemicals last month in West Virginia, where mining now blows off mountaintops to extract coal from open pits. All across America hydraulic fracturing-fracking– cracks shale deep underground to release natural gas, threatening local water tables’ integrity while at the same time contaminating millions of gallons of fresh water with drilling chemicals  and then pumping the entire toxic mess that results back underground. That water is gone from the surface life cycle for good. And is replaced by…nothing. There is no alternative. On this planet or any other within reach.

It seems to me a kind of blind madness that globally mankind continues to assault the life-sustaining system of this one hospitable planet we can call home, without any viable means to restore them. We are bad at imagining scale and good at denial; pollution and degradation formerly were localized, contained, infrequent horrors, like Love Canal. The majority of the world’s wild open places were untainted sanctuaries, life preserving wells from which we could draw the future to repopulate damaged places. This is no longer the case. At every turn the natural world has  sustained and continues to aggregate collateral damage in the name of human infrastructure and profit, yet the value of those irreplaceable and finite  natural resources is nowhere figured into the economic equations of the profit machine.

Today in the headlines, California and the West’s cataclysmic drought, a “500” year event. Towns will be without water. For the first time, backup systems from surrounding communities fail to meet the need, so trucks must come from afar bearing potable water to sustain residents. Crops have gone unplanted, animals and lawns, a perished afterthought. Those people have been stopped in their tracks, their attentions now riveted on their dry cups. Were investors or industry or politicians to come and attempt to add a teaspoon of contaminants to any of those precious tankers of water, the people would seize and restrain and punish them. And so it should also happen at the macro scale. The margin for humanity’s errors isn’t nearly as large as we presume.

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Inspiration for us all today. Thanks to large format B&w photographic master Clyde Butcher’s post stream on Facebook about his and wife Niki’s current shooting expedition to the Southwest US for mentioning his visit with large format color master photographer Fatali. Did not know the latter’s work but my eyes have been opened, his images are stunning. I’m humbled and inspired  by the magnificent works of both men. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do, and discover as many lessons about seeing.

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