Slide Show: David Maisel

Renowned photographer David Maisel challenges our notions of beauty and toxicity with his unsettling abstract aerial photos of altered landscapes.

David Maisel’s photographs in this issue of Orion are from Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime, a new monograph from Steidl Publishers.


  1. They are beautiful- a lack of true understanding of the landscape as they are seemingly removed from the context of landscape. What are they, where are they? What is happening in this photo?

  2. Without perspective, we don’t know that these images are necessarily toxic. Nutrients disperse in odd ways and nature moves in beautiful colors that are not always toxic. the show would be more effective with explanation of the ecology happening, because I think the question is, does the picture appear less beautiful when you know it’s an assault on nature.

  3. Almost anything in the abstract can made to seem beautiful. Hitler’s mustache magnified a thousand times might appear to be a strange, lovely woodland.

    What I like about Maisel’s photographs, their compositional qualities aside, is how they show the vast scope of the poisoning. I trust that he typically does provide a context for them.

  4. Yeah, I agree about the lack of a “true understanding of the landscape” in these beautiful but possibly misleading images. By themselves, they are a bit necromantic. With context, they could be something more than “pretty faces”. What is most needed is a sense of scale. To show a wound as a lovely juxtaposition of colors is not terribly helpful. But to show how vast the wound and something about what was there before, could possibly wake somebody up to take action. And that’s the important part…the waking, the action.

  5. Thank you for this presentation. Last week I saw an exhibit of works by Richard Diebenkorn and these could be a comparable source for creative contemplation. I think the display here also could open discussion about aesthetics and the environment. Which can be modified or sacrificed for the other? Is such a decision necessary at times?

  6. Without context it is impossible to find story. They are beautiful abstract images,with an eerie landscape quality. they are disturbing. I don’t know why. Maybe it is the color combinations.

  7. I agree with all the other comments; context is essential in order to appreciate the magnitude or otherwise of the destruction. Context is what will create reaction. Other than that, beautiful ‘abstract’ photographs.

  8. As a photographer and an artist, I feel very strongly that if we as artists want to be effectively part of the conversation about the future of the planet we have to step outside the rarified air of pure art and make an effort to communicate with a larger audience.

  9. Please note that “context” is provided by the title of the Steidl monograph. In that context, Is there anyone reading this now who has NOT experienced views such as these? -inhaled the choking stench? -considered the range of short and long term damage? -the direct impact on human and other life forms?

    Of course the viewer is obliged to work a little bit, but the message, despite the abstract “beauty” in this series is clearly “See and contemplate what we have done -and are continuing to allow to be done to our world!”

  10. agreed. my error. I was more speaking for myself. The impact of Mr. Maisel’s images is undeniable.

  11. from a purely abstract viewpoint, these are awesome photos. knowing what they are
    makes them unsettling – especially the photo
    that at first i thought were fjords in scandinavia which turned out to be the toxic mining of arizona. powerful images.

  12. Thanks, Lorraine and all. The print edition of the magazine gives more context to the photos than this brief slideshow can, but if you click on ‘captions’ at the bottom right corner of the slides, you’ll get at least a bit more info on each image.


  13. Hello Rosemary,I was just thinking about you and diceded to Google your name. Lo and behold, you have a blog. We used to board our horses together and the last time I saw you was at your house. You were selling all things Moroccan. I bought a rug from you. My sister Cris and I are still riding. I had to put Cargo down a few years ago and now have a new horse, 10 year-old breeding stock paint gelding. We are still at the ranch on Foothill. Hope you are doing well. Are you still riding? Love your photographs.Pam

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