Since photography’s early days, photographers have explored human relationships to the natural world at countless angles, from Ansel Adams’ glorifications of the national parks to The New Topographics’ flat, and often typological views of industrial and suburban development. While at times, it might appear that this terrain has been done to death, Christopher Rodríguez’ series Between Artifice and the Sublime offers a sad, yet refreshing meditation on our constantly evolving place in the American landscape. Where Adams held promise and optimism, and Shore, Baltz and others portrayed human sprawl with cold description, Rodriguez’ work takes a somewhat fatalistic approach, looking at what he sees as an “exhausted vision” of the contemporary American Landscape.
The images, shot all over the United States via a series of road trips over the course of 5 years, offer a discordant range of visual influences and reference points, from 18th century landscape paintings to contemporary street photography and even some airy abstraction. While these styles that might sound disjointed on the surface, they result a surprisingly elegant and poetic narrative. By addressing multiple genres at once, Rodriguez is able to avoid dogmatism while simultaneously tackling serious and potentially loaded political material. This is largely a strength of Rodriguez’ editing process, which relies on using time to distance him from the images after they are initially shot. “By sitting on the images for a little while,” says Rodriguez, “when I see them again they are out of context and it helps me judge them more objectively, without biases I might have had while I was shooting…so what ends up happening is I isolate images based on the larger ideas that are important to me without really worrying about the type of photographic genre that it is.”
For Rodriguez, technological simulations have displaced the pure experience of the natural world. While this isn’t an entirely new idea on its own, he perceives the viewing of the land through iPhones and other hand held devices as being uniquely disruptive to the communal experience of nature. “The landscape doesn’t have the same kind of power that it used to have over our cultural consciousness.” Rodriguez tells us. “Our country has collectively shifted its value away from landscapes and towards man-made technologies and the experiences they offer.” With some level of ambition, “Between Artifice and the Sublime” is an attempt to disrupt this interruption and create a means of looking at, and experiencing the land with new anticipation and mystery.
Bio: Christopher Rodriguez has exhibited nationally and internationally and recently published his first monograph, Sublime Cultivation. Originally from New Orleans, he earned his B.Arch from Louisiana State University and then received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts. He is recently married to his wife Larissa, and lives in Brooklyn. His work, Between Artifice and the Sublime was recently published as a limited edition artist book and can be purchased here: