Martin Stupich (USA)
Landscape after Industry
I was born in the Midwest’s Rust Belt during its last good years, living in the din of blast furnaces and thundering forges. In the orange-gray haze of airborne grit, hundred-acre factories just blocks from our house spewed unending train- truck- and boatloads of shiny appliances,tractors, power plant turbines, and chrome-armored automobiles.This was the landscape of my childhood, natural to me, and the only world I knew.
I was a student when I first saw the celebrated Ansel Adams pictures of The Tetons and Yosemite, and their perfection struck me not as beautiful, but as sentimental and implausible. In my routine work at art school, I was immersed in the pictures of Goya, Rothko, and Robert Frank. In that company, Adams’s flawless vistas were as odd to me as the Rococo landscape paintings in my art history books. His sylvan “nature” was not a world I called home.
Today, no landscape on the planet is pristine; no environment is unaltered. “Changing Circumstance” is the new natural. Smog over the Ross ice shelf; swelling Pacific islands of trash 3,000 miles from the nearest shore; a lattice of oil and gas pipelines trenched across U.S. National Parks* and under remote western deserts; “eco-tourism” highways bulldozed through Bhutanese villages—this is human nature at work in the natural world. Photographing helps me to understand it all.
The industrial landscape is one of the strongest statements of our culture and our hubris. Industrial landscapes are the hieroglyphics that we have pressed into the land. I began the ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) project at the time of the implosion of its great towers. I have spent five years looking at this space, this place, because it is disappearing; later the detoxified, reclaimed environment will have a soccer field, and these pictures will be the history of what was there. I want us to face what we do, the horrible and the beautiful.
I see my photos not as a rigid indictment, but as part of a larger conversation about our choices—a collective autobiography, a catalogue of our cultural priorities, a mirror reflecting our optimism and audacity. Images made along the way can help us learn from our past as we navigate the shifting landscape we depend on and claim to cherish.
*Authorized by the 2015 National Energy Security Corridors Act (H.R. 2295).
Martin Stupich was trained in painting and sculpture in Milwaukeein the 1960s. In the early 1970s, he studied photography with EmmetGowin in Ohio. After two years as a steel worker, he earned amaster’s degree in photography from Georgia State University as astudent of John McWilliams. He then began a career photographingindustrial landscapes, supported by early grants from the NationalEndowment for the Arts and jobs with the U.S. Department of theInterior; he later worked as a photographer documenting sites fromPanama to Puget Sound for the Army Corps of Engineers.
In 2011 he began an ongoing relationship with the SmithsonianInstitution, which has commissioned him to document its museumbuildings, the Washington Monument grounds, and the historicNational Mall. In El Paso, his ASARCO (American Smelting andRefining Company) project, entering its final phase, is exploring thecomplex cultural landscape on the Rio Grande borderlands wherethe states of Chihuahua, Texas, and New Mexico meet and theircultures merge.
Throughout Stupich’s career, his work has spanned bothcommerce and art. His photographs of NASA launch pads are shownin galleries in Tokyo, and his industrial panoramas reside in officialstate archives inside dense historical reports.
He has undertaken projects from Cape Canaveral to Kurdistan,each one reaffirming his belief that all landscape is cultural, andthat good photographs made of a given landscape can contribute tothe useful literature of this place and time.