The Course of the Empire: Landscapes by David Sanderson

“Canvas & Metal - Landscapes by David Sanderson” is on view at the LCU Pioneer Gallery (located in the library) until April 25th, 2017.

Landscape photographer David Sanderson’s digital images of National Parks are extremely well-crafted, often composed of over sixty composite images to capture incredible views, almost like viewing the IMAX version of a photograph. Sanderson travels often to North American National Parks, and his photographic works have been used for National Park publications, as well as Arizona State educational publications. The work on view is contained in three series: the large composite images, rock formations lit at night, and “regular” landscape snapshots.

Ansel Adams lived his first 8 years under the presidency of Roosevelt, the man who would almost single-handedly procure and safeguard the public’s access to the sacred places Adams would later photograph. Sanderson continues as a worthy successor to this tradition, but it remains to be seen whether the access granted to admirers of our country’s raw beauty will be preserved by the current administration, or be diminished by it. “False Kiva Afternoon Panorama”, reads like Albert Bierstadt’s “The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” or really any of the Hudson River School paintings. There is a romantic air to Sanderson’s images- though the sublime in the American landscape is no longer unprecedented, this unadulterated view of our public lands feel precious. Sanderson, like me, is fetishizing the Grand Canyon, Northern New Mexico, Big Bend, and Moab. This is particularly effective romanticism, which feels like a bold gesture- an allegorical “Course of the Empire” for my consideration.

False Kiva Afternoon Panorama

It’s impossible to get 30-year National Park Service veteran Maureen Finnerty’s words on proposed EPA and National Park budget cuts out of my head--”These cuts are extreme and will result in the degradation of park resources owned by all Americans.” The most absorbing work in the exhibition are Sanderson's large photographs that are heat-fused onto aluminum, resulting in shiny, sealed, delicious images of “must see” places in the American West. These are the photographs I’m at once drooling and heated over as I think about what mining or development could do to them. And yet, the most provocative works in the exhibition are the more casual photographs, like that of a yucca plant in Big Bend.

The public and private lands in Big Bend are subject to a physical wall, though Bud Kennedy says it best: “Only a president from New York could think we need to spend public money building a 30-foot-high wall where nature already built a 1,000-foot-high mountain canyon.” In a decade, these landscape photographs could function as historical documentations. For now, they serve as invocations, spurring me on to plan a trip to visit these places sooner rather than later.

*The author's opinions are her own.

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