Ciphers aims to examine the ramifications of building trends and growth machines that systematically generate more car-dependent, low-density developments.
Viewed from above, such patterns of suburban land-use readily disclose their disruptive spatial logic. The images capitalize on and extend the fundamental estrangement that comes from aerial photography, here recorded at steep angles, often nearly straight down. It is through a “sprawl encounter” with these land-use details that these perspectives can attain abstraction, become typological, glyphic — and provoke unease, leaving viewers with the sense of having seen the writing on the wall.
Complementing the widespread belief in the possibility of catastrophe climate change, my photographs also offer concrete insights as they trace the evidence of an energy-inefficient, urbanized existence. They challenge our comfort in the normal by jarring us loose from deeply held beliefs — the assumption that growth is unlimited and always beneficial — though most American planners have simply been following the path of least resistance, channeled in the postwar years by national legislation. Relying on maps, they drew subdivisions that ignored the laws of nature — rather than drawing a connection between the built environment, building practices, and climate change. Thomas Pynchon describes such sites as “less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts – census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to their own freeway”.
By documenting structures of prosperity in a technically highly-developed society, I set out to provide a telling glimpse of the present impasse of finding habitation for everyone on the planet while also preserving it – and to inspire a yearning for an ecological symbiosis between nature, society, and the built form.
Co-Founder and Executive Director
The High Line, New York
A video installation compiled from footage shot from a helicopter over California’s fire-prone regions was made in collaboration with Planet Earth cinematographer Michael Kelem.