For many years, much of my photographic work has focused on the natural and cultural landscape. Sometimes I use a geographical feature or a political boundary as a starting point for a body of work But it's when I'm on site, observing what's there, that I gradually find my point of view. Where and how I make a specific photograph is often determined by a detail that suggests how lives are lived and how land is affected. Photography is better suited to description than to explanation. Whether I'm looking at a massive concrete dam or a random plastic chair, my aim is to draw the eye into the image, while provoking the mind to ponder its significance.
When I was a small child, my mother took my siblings and me on a three-month, 8000 mile road trip around the American West. I believe that epic trip affected me deeply; it introduced me to the wider world, while establishing the West, in particular, as a destination. We never traveled again, but I spent hours poring over maps, planning imaginary trips. Maps still fill me with a sense that anything is possible.
In 1975, I was living in New York City and working on a Ph.D. in anthropology. Then, a camera I'd acquired offered a different path. I left academia and began exploring the city with my camera. In the Garment District one day, I felt a great rush at the bustling street life and the rapid-fire shooting it required. I had found the subject of my first photographic series.
But the West still beckoned. I began traveling there to photograph in the 1980s. Even now, l thrill at the unobstructed vistas that the western landscape affords. Yet it is the human presence on the land that stops me in my tracks. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1991, I was amazed to find a mountain range, wih a road along its crest, bisecting this sprawling city. My response was the series, "'Mulholland: Nature & Culture in Los Angeles". A few years later, in my series, "Downstream: Encounters with the Colorado River", I documented the natural beauty and the human exploitation of this once mighty river. More recently, with my series, "Dakota Survey", I used a compositional strategy to reference nineteenth-century decisions about land use in what was then a vast prairie grassland.
Although my engagement with the West continues, I have also made series in the Northeast and in other parts of the world. With my most recent work, "Into the Woods", I am for the first time introducing elements into the landscape for the sake of the photograph. This may be a change in approach, but I also see it an an extension of what I've been doing all along.
My work has been collected by and exhibited at major American museums. It has been published in numerous books and museum catalogs. My book, Downstream: Encounters with the Colorado River, was published by the University of California Press in 2008. In the last few years, much of my work has been archived by the Beinecke Library at Yale University.