Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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David Maisel
Born in New York, NY, in 1961
Resides in Sausalito, CA

David Maisel attended Harvard and Princeton Universities, where he studied with Emmet Gowin, who is also featured in Imaging a Shattering Earth. One project involved logged forests, while another focused upon Mount Saint Helens. In 1984, David Maisel graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

Since graduating, Maisel has developed an impressive résumé, including 13 solo exhibitions. His first solo exhibition, in 1992, featured his Black Maps series at the Opsis Foundation in New York City. Maisel has also contributed to 27 group exhibitions, including this one. Maisel's artwork is featured in 15 major collections nationwide, all listed on his web site. He has also published two books: The Lake Project (2004) and Terminal Mirage (2005). In 1992, he earned the Opsis Foundation Photography Award. From 2002 to 2004, he was vice president of the Board of Directors for Photo Alliance, "a Bay Area non-profit institution devoted to the support and creation of contemporary photography."

David Maisel's photography often consists of birds-eye views of the earth, which depict beautiful, albeit unsettling scenery, a common theme wherein he reveals how man wounds the earth. He states, "I began to consider my pictures…not as simply documents, but as poetic renderings that might engender contemplation of these sites and what they mean to us…. I seek to frame the complexities of an environmentally impacted landscape with equal measures of documentation and metaphor, beauty and despair” (Green Museum).

Pictures in Gallery


Works Description

The Lake Project, designed by David Maisel himself, with an introduction by Robert A. Sobieszek, is an oversized monograph. Unlike many other artists, David Maisel’s twenty-six aerial photographs do not contain descriptive titles, but only numbers. One reason for this may be that he provokes viewers to ponder his images, without wanting to give away too much information in the title. These photographs were taken in 2001 and 2002 at Owens (Dry) Lake located on the flanks of the Sierra Nevada in California.

The drying of Owens Lake started in 1913 when the Owens River was diverted to bring water to Los Angeles. Since then, the lake has produced massive amounts of windblown dusts including carcinogens like nickel, cadmium, and arsenic. These elements are what caused the lake to form such colors as deep red and bright blue and different textures. All of the photographs in this book are of environmental destruction, featuring landscapes that have been seriously damaged by human intervention. The large size of these surreal and quite sublime photographs is at odds with the microscopic and two-dimensional space they represent. At times, they seem to have no horizon, no up or down, no near or far. Cate McQuiad, a Boston Globe correspondent, writes of the project: “These photographs look more like abstract paintings than like landscapes, and they take on many of the formal qualities of painting” (Salvaging Beauty). Hauntingly gorgeous, they capture beauty and despair, while provoking profound feelings.

Selected Bibliography

"David Maisel's complete CV." 2005. Weblink.

"David Maisel." Green Museum Organisation, 2004. Weblink.

Gaston, Diane. "Immaculate Destruction: David Maisel's Lake Project." Aperture 172 (Fall 2003): 38-45

Maisel, David. The Lake Project. Tucson, AZ: Nazraeli, 2004.

_________. “Lake and Bake.” Grist. 19 Jan 2005.

McQuaid, Cate. “Salvaging Beauty from a Valley's Destruction." The Boston Globe. 2 January 2004.

“Owens Lake Art Exhibit on Display in Boston.” Speeding Bullet. 28 January 2004. Weblink.