Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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Picture by Gabor Szilasi

Mark Ruwedel
Born in Bethlehem, PA, in 1954
Resides in Long Beach, CA

Born in Bethlehem, PA, in 1954, Mark Ruwedel studied at Kurztown State College, PA, and at Concordia University in Montreal. While in college, he began exploring photography after discovering the work of Lee Friedlander, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams. Through their influential works, Ruwedel gained an insight into the potential of photography as a means to pursue his own interests in natural, rural, and urban landscapes. As a result, Ruwedel undertook an ongoing photographic project designed to explore the impact of human technologies and cultures on land.

Focusing upon landscapes where remains of history are still apparent, Ruwedel has produced a body of work that shows “historical memory and geological evidence. It uses essential human tools of the imagination…to situate us in a new relationship to our place and time…. [his] work is a reminder of both our earth’s durability and its fragility” (Love, 57).

Ruwedel has held several teaching positions, including, since 2002, his current appointment as Assistant Professor at California State University, Long Beach. His work can be seen in 35 international collections. In addition, he has contributed to over 40 solo exhibitions since 1982. His publications include Mark Ruwedel: Written on the Land (2002) and The Italian Navigator (2001).

Pictures in Gallery


Works Description

Mark Ruwedel’s The Hanford Stretch, a photographic record of his canoeing journey through the titular segment of the Columbian River, explores the effect of radiation poisoning generated by nine nuclear reactors active from 1944 to 1971. During this period, river water was gathered to cool the reactors and immediately regurgitated into the current, contaminating wild-life and significantly degrading the surrounding environment. As a direct result of the reactors, over 1,400 sites were irrevocably poisoned within the 570 square miles of Hanford Works.

Ruwedel captures his subject in the 19th-century model of exploratory photography, accomplished through the use of a large camera, precise yet self-evident framing, and the incorporation of titles hand-written on the mats framing the photographs. While 19th-century photographers documented expeditions into uncharted physical territory, Ruwedel’s work suggests a metaphorical exploration of a world made alien only after man’s interference. The twelve photographs in the series present a rustic tranquility that would seem unthreatening if it were not for the ominous smokestacks in the distance and the fish corpses on the shore. A once fertile watershed now poisoned by nuclear contamination, the Hanford Stretch is a harrowing testimony of the potentially lethal vagaries that litter man’s technological boundaries.

Selected Bibliography

Love, Karen, Ed. Mark Ruwedel: Written on the Land. North Vancouver: Presentation House Gallery, 2002.

Ruwedel, Mark. The Hanford Stretch, Columbia River. Montreal: Self-published, 1993.

________. The Italian Navigator. Montreal: ART 45; Toronto: Stephen Bulger Gallery; Paris: Galerie Françoise Pavoit, 2000.