Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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But so full is the world of calamity,
that every source of pleasure is polluted,
and every retirement of tranquility disturbed.

—Samuel Johnson, 1752

Throughout the academic year 2005–06, the College of Arts and Sciences at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, celebrates Environmental Explorations, a liberal arts theme meant to foster awareness of the biological, social, and cultural conditions that influence our world and shape our environment. This exhibition was conceived as a focal point and a showcase for Environmental Explorations.

The ecological degradation unleashed by the industrial revolution is increasingly leading concerned photographers to bear witness to the profound transformation of our world. While natural calamities wreak havoc upon the environment, this exhibition, its catalogue, and the related Web site underscore human-induced threats and damages.

Intended to reaffirm the urgency of a global response, Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate features fifty-six provocative testimonies by Edward Burtynsky, John Ganis, Peter Goin, Emmet Gowin, David T. Hanson, Jonathan Long, David Maisel, David McMillan, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, John Pfahl, and Mark Ruwedel.

Removed from the realm of domesticity, the selected works look beyond our individual rapport with the environment, our household water usage, recycling efforts, and fuel consumption, in order to foreground the impact of societal behaviors, industrial practices, corporate priorities, and governmental policies. Favoring industrial complexes, mining sites, dried-up lakes, landfills, waste ponds, nuclear test sites, and other exclusion zones, these artists aspire to convey the big picture. By assuming a certain distance from their subject, they draw attention to the reckless stewardship of our planet.

Emphasizing three recurring preoccupations, this exhibition aims to foster a collective process of soul-searching. While certain pictures explore the scarification of the earth's surface resulting from human interventions, others address the exploitation and management of natural resources. Also featured are photographs of exclusion zones that focus on the afterlife of sites deemed irretrievably damaged. Together these images reveal a pattern of monolithic degradation.

This exhibition is co-sponsored by Meadow Brook Art Gallery/Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, and CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival. Major funding for the project was generously provided by the College of Arts and Sciences at Oakland University.

Claude Baillargeon, Exhibition Curator
Assistant Professor of Art and Art History
Oakland University
Rochester, Michigan