THE NEW YORKER JUNE 17 & 24, 2002
For six years Karen Halverson followed the Colorado River downstream from the Rockies toward the Gulf of California. Her colorful photographs describe the rough country that the water cuts its path through (the river's goosenecks in Canyonlands National Park) and the way that the water has been tamed by man (Lake Powell filled with party boats, Hoover Dam at dusk). Like Joel Sternfeld's work, Halverson's exudes a quirky American romanticism. A picture titled "Near Palo Verde, California" (1995) shows a rogue pool chair floating in the deep-water landscape.
Klotz/Sirmon Gallery, 511 W. 25th Street
Zoom September/October 2002
Karen Halverson is one of America's few women landscape photographers. Her Colorado River Series Downstream documents the length of the river from its source in the Rockies to the point where it empties into the Gulf of California. Although there are some traditional pristine landscapes in the series, the majority of the works shows "the hand of man" on nature and the river. The river is diverted, channeled, dammed, and even runs through a pipeline! The mighty Colorado River, which carved the Grand Canyon, though still grand in places, can also be no more than a much diminished, "managed" trickle. Karen Halverson has a strong sense of irony and wry wit which is clearly on display in these pictures, yet the scale of the prints underscores the power of the forces in conflict in today's frontier": Nature vs. Engineering, and results of unrestricted development. These pictures are dispatches from the front line of the war for the environment.
The Los Angeles Times May 9, 1996
Karen Halverson :: Mighty Colorado
Karen Halverson's supersaturated color photographs at Paul Kopeikin Gallery update the grand, panoramic pageantry of the American landscape by unsentimentally depicting awesome mountains, valleys and plains spanned by the Colorado River. Cutting a 1700-mile course through six states and two countries, this vital waterway is punctuated by six major dams (including the Hoover), dozens of reservoirs and several gigantic man-made lakes, like Powell and Mead. It's also the site of myriad water sports, parks, promenades, and picnic areas. Halverson's bold 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 foot pictures eschew the simple "nature -is-good, civilization-is-bad" moralism of much documentary photography. For every fertile valley filled with amber waves of grain, the peripatetic photographer captures on film, she includes a bevy of awkwardly bobbing houseboats. Each towering canyon wall is likewise balanced against an endless string of electric towers. Most majestic vistas are juxtaposed with rows of plastic pool furniture, distant oil wells, metal umbrellas or transplanted palm trees.
Lush and realistic, Halverson's best prints do not oppose nature and culture. Instead, they suggest that every individual is simultaneously dwarfed by the natural environment’s unfathomable vastness and by the massive, mind-boggling feats of post-industrial engineering that crosses this terrain.
A sense of humor softens the absurdity evinced by Halverson's photos, especially the one in which a scrappy golf course lies behind a synthetic fence at the edge of a cliff that drops precipitously to a river below. Farther in the background, radio towers, an electricity generating plant, a canyon-spanning bridge and a dam are all set in a dazzling landscape of purple mountains, crystalline rivers, and shimmering lakes.
In this picture, nothing is more natural than anything else. Rejecting the still prevalent 19th century idea that people don't belong in the landscape, Halverson's art shows the world as it is: a terrifying and impersonal vastness in which life as we know it hangs in the balance.