Harvard Art Museums: Devour the Land: American War and Landscape Photography since 1970


This fall, the Harvard Art Museums present the special exhibition Devour the Land: American War and Landscape Photography Since 1970, a groundbreaking photographic exploration of the impacts of militarism on the American landscape. Featuring approximately 160 photographs by 60 artists, the exhibition reveals the national footprint of the US military, the vast network of industries that support and supply its work, and the consequences and responses to this activity.

The photographs on display bear witness to a vast geography of environmental damage: millions of acres of land contaminated by nuclear power plants and weapons manufacturing and testing facilities, places where military waste is actively detonated and burned, disused bases that have been abandoned, and a staggering number of sites across the country that the EPA has declared to be in dire need of cleanup (known as Superfund sites). Some of these places have become infamous for human health and welfare issues, such as Cancer Alley, a 150-mile polluted industrial corridor along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Others are intentionally hidden, like the hundreds of prisons within three miles of Superfund sites. The contaminated water and raw sewage from these prisons endangers local communities, which are often rural and poor. Additionally, the photographs document the militarization and devastation of Indigenous lands and the subsequent displacement of Indigenous peoples.

Devour the earthorganized by the Harvard Art Museums, is organized by do the best, Curator of Photography Richard L. Menschel at Harvard Museums of Art. The exhibition will be visible until January 16, 2022, exclusively at the Harvard Art Museums.

“We have devoured the land,” said Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman. He was referring to his infamous March to the Sea during the American Civil War (1861-1865), for which he ordered troops to “inflict more or less relentless devastation” – to eliminate the land resources and infrastructure that supported the Confederates. Army. Sherman also described the militarization of the environment as a means of waging war.

Following a trajectory that has its origins in the time of the civil war, Devour the earth begins with the 1970s and early 1980s, a dynamic period for both environmental activism and landscape photography. American photographers began to rethink the dominant view of American lands that Ansel Adams had promoted through his collaborations with the Sierra Club, which presented nature as isolated, pristine, grand, and without inhabitants. For some, including the photographers involved in the Long Island Project documentary initiative, or those featured in the 1975 watershed exhibit New topographies: photographs of a landscape modified by man— it meant being mindful of everyday life, including how people were connected (or disconnected) to the land and the environment. For others, it was about appropriating a model based on environmental activism and engaging in the act of bearing witness.

While continuing to portray the destructive consequences of military activity on American soil, photographers working today also explore how preparations for war and the aftermath can sometimes lead to startling examples of ecological regeneration and change. Describing affected regions across the country, their work raises questions about public oversight, land use and management, human rights, government rights, the ethics of technology and the function of governance. photography as art and as a document. Through six thematic sections – Silent Spring, Arming America, Slow Violence, Regeneration, Other Battlefields and Resistance – the images brought together in the exhibition present a collective portrait of the emergence and expression of these concerns in American photography.

“The military plays a very complicated role in our society, and I want to remind people of what’s happening in the country where we live as Americans and what we do has consequences,” the curator said. Makeda Best. “And part of the story is asking which lands and which jobs and which lives are expendable and which are not. I ask visitors to ask themselves how they can devote their creative energy to solving these environmental problems.

The 60 artists featured in the exhibition bring a variety of practices and approaches to their work. They range from professional photographers and photojournalists to lesser known and emerging photographers:

Ansel Adams Mark Goodman Barbara Norflet
Robert Adams Emmet Gowin Timothy H.O’Sullivan
Federica Armstrong Joshua Dudley Greer Oscar Palace
Lewis Baltz David T. Hanson mark power
Mariona Barkus Sebastien Hidalgo Eli Reed
George Norman Barnard zig jackson jeff rich
Nina Berman Stacy Kranitz Studio Jack Rodden
By Brandin Jin Lee Pierre Schlessinger
Sheila Pree Bright Freda Leinwand Bryan Schutmaat
Mima Cataldo Kirsten Luce Ellen Shub
Robert Del Tredici Dorothee Marder Sim Chi Yin
Terry Evans Elaine Mayes Mimi Smith
Nancy Floyd Dona Ann McAdams Joseph Janney Steinmetz
Lucas Foglia Steve McCurry Sharon Stewart
Robert Frank Laurent McFarland Robert Toedter
LaToya Ruby Frazier Susan Meiselas Etienne Tourlentes
Andrew Freeman Richard Misrach Phil Underdown
Sharon Gilbert Andre Moore Pierre van Agtmael
Ashley Gilberton Ron Morris Alex Webb
Pierre Goin Patrick Nagatani Will Wilson

Several of the artists featured in the exhibition share their activism and views in interviews published in the accompanying catalog. Others will participate in the programming and/or a series of video interviews broadcast on the museums youtube channel throughout the exhibition.

The majority of the works on display come from the collections of the Harvard Art Museums, including many recent acquisitions. Additional works are on loan from other Harvard repositories, North American public institutions, and private collections.

“Together, these images speak to the unexpected and often unknown ways in which war has transformed the environment over the past half-century,” said Martha Tedeschi, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of Harvard Art Museums. “Despite the increasingly urgent threat to the natural world and the fact that our own military occupies the unenviable position of being one of the main polluters,

Devour the earth is the first photographic exhibition to focus on this issue. We are grateful to the lenders and artists who helped us tell this critical story. »

An accompanying installation is also presented in the Lightbox Gallery, an experimental digital research and development space located on level 5 of the museums. Using the Lightbox’s large interactive screens, visitors can explore some of the portfolios represented in the exhibition in more detail: Nina Berman’s Hazard Recognitionby Peter Goin Nuclear landscape portfolioby David T. Hanson Wastelandand Barbara Norfleet The landscape of the cold war. A free poster is available in this space for visitors to take home; it overlays a map of the United States with key developments in environmental policy and activism over the past 50 years.

A Spotify playlist spanning nearly nine decades of environmentalism in music extends the exhibit experience. The playlist, available via the Harvard Art Museums profile on Spotify (hvrd.art/spotify), features songs from Johnny Cash, Mos Def, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Xiuhtezcatl, Midnight Oil and others.

Devour the earthorganized by the Harvard Art Museums, is organized by do the bestCurator of Photography Richard L. Menschel at Harvard Art Museums.

On view until January 16, 2022, exclusively at the Harvard Art Museums.

Learn more about www.harvardartmuseums.org/devourtheland

Harvard Art Museums

32 Quincy Street

Cambridge, MA 02138



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