Drawing primarily from the vast permanent collection of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, American Geography charts a visual history of land use in the United States. From the earliest photographic records of human habitation to the latest aerial and digital images, this compilation offers an increasingly nuanced perspective on human intervention in the American landscape by exploring how photography shaped conceptions of the land in the name of conservation, expansion, and exploitation. Divided by region, the 345 photographs in American Geography address ways in which different histories and traditions of land use have given rise to different cultural transitions, such as the growth of industry in the Northeast, agricultural developments in the Midwest, the legacies of slavery on the economies of the South, and the mining of natural resources as well as environmental crises in the West. Many of the photographers and writers included in American Geography also address how particular aspects of land use in the US, including the displacement of indigenous peoples and the rise of the tourist industry, has resulted in unique and often contradictory conceptions of land in the United States, especially around notions of the conservation of supposedly uninhabited wilderness.
For anyone lucky enough to be in-the-loop for this publication, which was originally slated to be a museum exhibition prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a number of hosted online events/talks which highlighted the different regions represented in this book.
Featuring work from Robert Adams, Dawoud Bey, Barbara Bosworth, Debbie Fleming Caffery, William Eggleston, Mitch Epstein, Terry Evans, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Emmet Gowin, Lee Friedlander, Dorothea Lange, An-My Lê, Trevor Paglen, Wendy Red Star, Mark Ruwedel, Victoria Sambunaris, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, and Carleton E. Watkins, among others.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
SFMOMA Curator Emerita Sandra S. Phillips provides an essay tracing the history of photography alongside the history of land use in the United States. National Book Award-winning author Barry Lopez writes a stirring introduction to the book, and Sally Martin Katz, Curatorial Assistant at SFMOMA, provides extended captions for a number of photographs. The publication also features original texts by a range of scholars who respond to key issues around land use in all parts of the US, including Beverly Dahlen (poet), Hilary Green (University of Alabama), Layli Long Soldier (poet and writer), Jenny Reardon (UC Santa Cruz), Richard White (Stanford University), and Richard B. Woodward (art critic and writer).
All Images provided and used by permission of Radius Books. Rights reserved by all respective artists.