- Even when you click to enlarge, you still can't see much of this. You should go here to see it better. It's called Junk Field, and it's a new photograph by Adam Satushek.
It's somewhere in Wyoming, what you see here. Adam Satushek was relocating from Seattle to Boulder, driving along, and he saw this field of junked stuff. Trucks, tractors, farm equipment. He kept driving but his mind stayed back. He had to turn around and go back to take the picture.
He parked in an open turnoff he found on a little side road on the opposite side of the highway and shot with a 4-by-5 camera using a long lens, allowing the subject matter itself to dictate the aspect ratio of the final panorama he was going for—on either side of what you see are other things. So this is a portrait of the whole junk field, inasmuch as you can take a portrait of a "whole" junk field, given its layers and layers of invisible surfaces and hidden histories.
This final panorama is made of either four or five negatives stitched together digitally. Otherwise, he didn't change or add anything. He captured so much detail that it's eerie, because the scene just feels so far away as you look at it, even if you stand very close and take in the details. It feels stuck in time, too, like a photograph of a Civil War battlefield with the bodies strewn about. People keep asking him whether he manipulated the clouds, since they so perfectly embody cloudyness, pressing down on the earth with weight that takes up three-quarters of the 2-foot height of the print. The print is 7 feet long in the gallery (Platform Gallery, for another few weeks). You walk along it.
During art walk earlier this month, people were talking about it ("Did you see that...?")—it's a picture that stands out. It's iconic in its way. So I called the artist to ask about it.
Satushek said, by phone:
It worked out really well, I’ll definitely agree with that. I think the sky is a big part of it for me. I just could not have hoped for better clouds than that. It just wouldn’t have been the same image with blue skies or even less repetitive clouds. They kind of repeat and recede into the background in kind of a weird way that just happened to be how it was—in a way that mimics the crowded, repetitive arrangement on the ground, which is more random but it still has repetitions with objects, space, different areas where you do see the ground. ...It's kind of a wasteland, but an oddly organized one. An OCD wasteland.
Q&A on the jump.
Adam Satushek: I’m not interested in going out and taking beautiful pictures for that sake, I’m interested in taking pictures of our impact.
Are you an environmentalist photographer?
AS: You could say that. It’s definitely part of the concern. I am going back to school right now for environmental studies in Denver, so it’s definitely a big interest of mine. There definitely is an environmentalist side to my work.
What are the other sides?
AS: Um. That’s a good question. For me, I see a lot of oddity in my work, some would say irony, I’m not sure I’d quite use that word.
What word feels close to that but better?
AS: I’m not sure. Irony might be the right word. That word just gets used a lot. What could it be? I think more of oddity myself, when I look at it. I don’t think it’s ironic that we’re messing up the landscape, I think it’s interesting and odd and something to look at. But I don’t think it’s ironic because to me that implies something that you wouldn’t expect to happen, but I expect it.
Are you taking pictures of landscapes that you wish would change?
AS: No, I don’t think I am. I think I’m taking pictures of how I think they are, and how we should see them. I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful to see a landscape devoid of any impacts and just think how beautiful it is. I think it’s important to realize what we’re doing, and maybe some of these things could change, but not learn to accept it. I don’t see them from a point of needing to change that. Especially with that particular image, there’s nothing to change there. Other images in the show, like the one with the smokestack (scroll all the way to the right), I think that could change. I don’t think we need to be burning coal. But that’s kind of a whole 'nother big issue.
When I first wrote about your work in 2008, I talked about lofty things like minimalism, not political issues like environmentalism. Did I kind of misunderstand your work?
AS: I do think there is an aspect of it where I’m just showing things how they are. There might not really be a point. It’s just, this is the world we live in. There is kind of a deadpan, like I’m just observing and documenting, but the things I choose to shoot in that manner, I think are important things to look at.
You work for Bing, right?
AS: I do contract work for them. I work on the Global Ortho Project. We recently just finished a large high-resolution set for the United States, so now we have all the United States mapped in really high resolution, aerial data. And my main role for that has been color work, so color control. Just making sure that the imagery meets specifications and that it looks as pleasing as we can make it online, so kind of photography-type stuff. I probably can’t go much more into it than that [for corporate privacy reasons]. Color is mainly what I look at.
Does that mean that you’re good at getting the color in a picture to look like the color in the world?
AS: Yeah, that’s part of it, sure. And just my experience working with color in my own stuff.
Do you have any mixed feelings about high-resolution aerial mapping?
AS: That’s a good question. I’m not sure how much I can say except that I have the same concerns as many people—privacy concerns—but I also recognize that I have nothing to hide, so I'm happy to work on it. It can be kind of creepy how much stuff you can see sometimes, but it is what it is, and that’s kind of the way our world’s going, where you’re always being tracked, and people can see your front doorstep through aerial maps. Personally, I don’t worry too much about it.
You've sold one of the edition of five of Junk Field, right?
AS: Yes, I believe to a private collector in Seattle. [Confirmed by Platform Gallery.]
I'm glad it will stick around here. ... It's a really big picture. How big would you go?
AS: They’re already big enough that they’re a hassle to deal with. I have no problem with going bigger if it was feasible, but also I’m not sure. I think the work in my show currently is a good size. There’s a lot of details you’d miss smaller, and bigger, honestly I haven’t seen it bigger, but I imagine, too, then you might get lost in the details.