Benjamin Stern

Benjamin Stern

Work from the series Topologies.

“Spring begins in Wisconsin when the snow starts to melt off the fields, and the streams flood their banks. During these times, I remember running up and down the hill by my house as the cars occasionally drove by. Spring was the time I tried to control the floodwaters in an attempt to keep a consistent water level in the stream. I created dams of leaves and dirt all the way up the street in an attempt to prevent the water from running into the stream. No matter how hard I tried to hold the water back, I never succeeded. When I look back at the things I once did in my childhood and compare them with larger events occurring in today’s society, I start to understand and question people’s and my own interactions with the environment.

Humans have always tried to control and manage the land to some degree, and photography has played a large role in the effort. Throughout the evolution of photography, photographers have been using the camera to record sites and events and show them to groups of people. Due to the reproducibility of a photographic image and the ability for the image to be widely recognized by culture, many individuals and institutions have employed this influential tool to project their points of interest.

I feel that landscape images throughout history have helped define for us what a landscape is. In the United States, landscape images were used in the 19 th century to justify westward expansion, aid in the development of the railroad, and draw investors to the “untamed” land. Photography also influenced the passing of laws to protect areas of land from being stripped and altered for other uses. In addition, photography has been used to document cities as they expand into the deserts, fields and woodlands. Landscape photographs have allowed for the aestheticization of the land, as well as investigation of its history. These investigations and processes of photography still continue today. Since photographs are everywhere, our cache of visual information is continually updated. Images we see daily shape our ideas and influence our thoughts.

I choose locations to photograph by investigating the evidence of human interaction within the spaces I select to observe. My investigation is based on the arrangement of these spaces and apparent changes through time. In order to document locations in the landscape with extreme detail, I use a grid method that is similar to the arrangement of longitude and latitude lines that map the earth. Hundreds of close-up images of the chosen area of land are combined, creating the exact photographic reproduction of the site. Apparent in the images is evidence of human interaction revealed through marks on the surface of the land. The topological approach to photography gives us insight into how land has been used, organized, and controlled through time.

Land use is something we all take part in on a daily basis, but is not necessarily something we think about all the time. The spaces I am investigating show how I have interacted with the land, as well as make reference to the interaction with land by other individuals. They can give us insight into human values, priorities, and other interests in the land. Through the topological studies of an area, one cannot only read the landscape for events that have occurred there, but they can also start to understand the people that have inhabited the areas. J.B. Jackson, a critic of modern architecture, refers to this type of landscape as “vernacular landscape.” I am interested in the vernacular landscape and what the marks reveal about human interaction with it.”

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