Engineered Ruins : Water in the American West, is an interesting series of images by Buzzy Sullivan that caught my eye for how (Sullivan) intentionally uses 19th century process to create a compelling series of contemporary images. His choice of process is instrumental to the project and not used as a novelty to bolster uneven or uninteresting photographs, but instead transforms these contemporary situations into historical documents that reference the exploration, expansion, domination, and eventual ruin of the American West.
The title of the work itself, Engineered Ruins : Water in the American West, leaves us to wonder what of these images has been engineered or created and what has been found or post-engineered. Ultimately, however, the distinction is unimportant, it’s the wide spread waste and devastation that lingers with us and in the landscape. In many of the photographs the remnants of a couch or chair remain, perhaps referencing how we comfortably sit back and watch as these unfortunate events continue to unfold.
Engineered Ruins : Water in the American West is an exploration of the rapidly changing landscape of the American West, devastated by the depletion and manipulation of water and water rights. This work focuses on the engineered remains of California: I pose a series of questions about the sustainability of agricultural and population booms in the semi arid state.
The series of images that make up Engineered Ruins : Water in the American West, were shot as 8”x10” Wet-Plate Ambrotypes, the same photographic process used by the post-Civil War photographers who traveled with government-sponsored surveys to document the largely uninhabited (by Europeans) West. Their 19th Century images created a national sense of what could be owned and exploited. My photographs emulate my predecessors’ images, allowing viewers a vantage point to contemplate how our society has managed some of the most environmentally fragile areas of our country.
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