Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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David T. Hanson
Born in Billings, MT, in 1948
Resides in Fairfield, IA

David T. Hanson has produced works of art pertaining to the environmental impact of man around the nation. Born in Montana, he received a B.A. in literature from Stanford University, and a M.F.A. in photography from Rhode Island School of Design. From 1983 to 2000, Hanson taught at RISD in the department of Photography and Landscape Architecture. He has received the John Simon Memorial Foundation Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists awards. "Waste ponds and evaporation ponds", one of his photographs from the Colstrip, Montana series, was featured in American Photography as “one of the 100 most important photographs of the 20th century” (Goldberg). Featured in many exhibitions throughout the country and the world, his works of art portray the destructive impact of man upon nature in breathtaking aerial photographs showing some of the most polluted regions. These aerial views were created with the intention of simulating what Hanson calls an “omniscient gaze,” very similar to what the military today would use for surveillance (Waste Land, 5). In 1997 Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape was published. It includes series of photographs completed in Montana, Colorado, and other western states.

Pictures in Gallery


Works Description

David T. Hanson’s Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape encompasses a collection of photographs portraying some of the hidden environmental hazards of the United States. Hanson’s photographs display the chemical wastes, the exhausted land resulting from coal mining, and various other consequences of industrialization and militarization.

The Waste Land series—one of four bodies of work represented in the book by the same title— is composed of triptychs, each work consisting of a geological survey map, an aerial photograph taken by Hanson, and a description of the site supplied by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These works expose the most polluted places in the United States, sites first corrupted by industrialization, then neglected by legislators. The photographs provide an awareness that is otherwise lacking. This is achieved by exploring seemingly innocuous landscapes such as the desolate city of Times Beach, Missouri, or the chemical waste ponds of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Adams County, Colorado.

Reclamation efforts have been arranged, such as the Superfund program, which was created by the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent further pollution and address past wrongdoings. However, the public knows little about these sites, since most of the pictured locations are hidden away amongst natural surroundings. Poor media coverage contributes to this lack of public knowledge, leaving these polluted areas mostly unheard of. Hanson brings sixty-seven Superfund sites to attention, thereby revealing the destructive impact of humankind upon the environment.

Selected Bibliography

Goldberg, Vicki, and Robert Bruce Silberman. American Photography: A Century of Images. San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1999.

Hanson, David T. Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape. New York: Aperture, 1997.