Huffpost Arts

David Maisel's Photographs Of Open Pit Mines Are Eerily Beautiful

Posted: Updated:

At first glance, David Maisel's gorgeous photographs seem to celebrate the natural beauty of an otherworldly landscape. With bold blues and expressive reds, the images appear to capture unchartered river formations and mystical mountain passes that couldn't possibly belong to Earth.

But Maisel's photographs are not celebrating the natural beauty of another planet. His various series illuminate the strangely magnificent aerial appearance of environmentally impacted sites in the United States. He focuses on lands that have been transformed by water reclamation, logging, military tests and mining, producing overwhelmingly stunning artworks that ultimately depict spoiled, desecrated beauty.

mine

David Maisel, The Mining Project (Butte, Montana 9), 1989, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

Maisel began his aerial project in the mid-1980s, capturing snapshots of the country's changing environmental landscape by turning an eye to open pit mines. He has continued the project for three decades, documenting the relationship between sprawling humanity and the natural lands that it envelops in series like "The Mining Project."

"With the mining sites, I found a subject matter that carried forth my fascination with the undoing of the landscape, in terms of both its formal beauty and its environmental politics," Maisel writes on his website. "The active and abandoned tailings ponds I have photographed, for example, are strangely beautiful -- yet they are also chock full of cyanide, which is used in the recovery of microscopic particles of gold from the waste tailings of copper mines."

mining

David Maisel, The Mining Project (Inspiration, Arizona 9), 1989, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

The resulting images reflect an aesthetic not endemic to photography; rather his sharp geometric contrasts and decadent hues are reminiscent of abstract painting. Staring into the saturated photos, there's a startling sense of ambiguity that only heightens the tense entangling of ordered beauty and man-made destruction.

"[His] photographs derive their effectiveness through formal choices involving color, scale, perspective, and abstraction, which amplify their seductive nature, and conjure the elusive sublime," explains Natasha Egan, director and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, in a press statement for one of Maisel's upcoming exhibitions.

maisel

David Maisel, The Mining Project (Clifton, Arizona 7), 1989, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

"The Mining Project" will be on view at Haines Gallery in San Francisco from September 5 to October 26, 2013. Scroll down for a sneak preview and let us know your thoughts on the work in the comments.

maisel

David Maisel, The Mining Project (Butte, Montana 5), 1989, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

minging

David Maisel, The Mining Project (Butte, Montana 3), 1989, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

maisel

David Maisel, American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 1), 2007, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

maisel

David Maisel, American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 18), 2007, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

maisel

David Maisel, American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 2), 2007, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

maisel

David Maisel, The Mining Project (Butte, Montana 7), 1989, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

maisel

David Maisel, American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 8) 2007, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery

Suggest a correction