Jamey Stillings (USA)
The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar
How can you live and breathe on this planet without wishing to be its guardian? Without wanting to preserve it for future generations? Without appreciating its uniqueness in the known universe? In art, as in life, perspective is an essential ingredient of understanding. And understanding is a journey, not a point of arrival; understanding evolves as we add time, experience, and knowledge.
I grew up watching each space flight—Mercury, Gemini, Apollo—that sent astronauts to orbit the Earth, taking geology and marine biology field trips in primary school, backpacking throughout the Pacific Northwest, bicycling along country roads in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, helping organize Earth Day events in high school, and studying The Limits to Growth (a 1972 book that forecast the effect of exponential growth on finite resources) in college. It is in my DNA to care about our species and the future of Earth’s amazing and diverse ecosystem.
We can learn from the consequences of our past actions to anticipate the future consequences of present actions. Human beings have a unique capacity to grow.
With this in mind, I have chosen to document renewable energy development in the American West with the goal of eventually chronicling this evolution on a global scale. Those who work in renewable energy seek solutions that point toward a sustainable future—one that respects our children, and their children, and their children. Progress will not happen without challenges, failures, shortcomings, and contradictions, but developing renewable energy represents a positive direction forward, regardless of one’s belief or not about human-caused climate change.
My first flight over the future site of Ivanpah Solar initiated this project. From 2010 to 2014, I photographed a fourteen-square-kilometer section of the Mojave Desert as it was transformed into the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant. Nineteen helicopter flights and several ground-based visits later, I see Ivanpah as symbolic of the promise and challenges we face in building a sustainable civilization for ourselves and future generations.
Each trip built upon previous visits, fresh imagery layering upon and interacting with earlier work. The stark geometric forms of boundary fencing, service roads, and reshaped earth gradually intersected with, transformed, or subsumed the organic forms of desert vegetation and the erosion gullies cutting through alluvial slopes to the dry lake basin below. Steadily, the structures of a solar power plant emerged.
Over thousands of years, Homo sapiens has evolved to dominate, but not control, the Earth’s ecosystem. We utilize the Earth’s diverse and precious resources to both constructive and destructive ends. Developing renewable energy capacity, whether on rooftops or as large utility-scale projects around the world, represents an important phase of constructive transformation. We cannot predict the future impacts or the relative success of such efforts. By observing and documenting the changes, however, I want to create imagery that is relevant to both our collective present-day conversation and historical perspectives in the future about this era on Earth. The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar is the first chapter of a larger project called Changing Perspectives, which will document renewable energy development globally.
Each use of Earth’s land and natural resources represents a choice, conscious or not, about how we want to live on this finite planet. Compared to the dinosaurs, which inhabited the planet for 135 million years, we have been here but a short time. I am committed to the view that we have a future—I hope, a very positive future—on Earth. I look forward to a continuing conversation.
Jamey Stillings’s career spans documentary, fine art, and commissioned projects. He earned a B.A. in art from Willamette University and a M.F.A. in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology, and has created work for a diverse range of national and international commission clients. Stillings’s work is in the collections of the United States Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Nevada Museum of Art, Reno; Joy of Giving Something (JGS) Collection; and several private collections.
Select publications that have featured his photography include The New York Times Magazine, TIME, Smithsonian, LensWork, NeueEnergie, New Scientist, and Newsweek Japan. Stillings received PDN’s 2015 Epson Creativity Award; had his new book selected by TIME for its list of Best Photobooks of 2015; is a featured speaker at the 2016 SPE National Conference; was a TEDxABQ speaker in 2014; and was awarded an Eliot Porter Grant in 2013 by the New Mexico Council on Photography. He had solo exhibitions in 2014 at the Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, Colorado, after winning a Critical Mass award from Photolucida in 2013, and at Etherton Gallery, Tucson.
Stillings has published a monograph, The Bridge at Hoover Dam (Paso Robles, Calif.: Nazraeli Press, 2011), and the recent book The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl Verlag, 2015).