The Aerial Abstract

The aerial photographs of David Maisel might seduce the eye with their beautiful strangeness before one realizes their darker implications: these are open-pit mines, toxic landscapes. The images from the Terminal Mirage series (all taken around the Great Salt Lake) appear especially abstract. When gazing at these images, how do we orient ourselves in terms of scale? Are the brilliant colors the result of human intervention, or the rich intensity of natural minerals, or some combination of the two? Maisel calls such landscapes “the contemplative gardens of our time.” His photographs are both captivating and unsettling, inviting us to reflect on who we are as humans and as a society, and to consider how we grasp such a complex and frightening beauty, how we turn it in our hearts and minds.

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.

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David Maisel is a photographer and visual artist whose works explore vestiges and remnants of civilizations both past and present. His work is exhibited internationally and is collected in major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, LACMA and the Victoria and Albert Museum. His work has been the subject of five major monographs, published by Nazraeli Press and Chronicle Books. Maisel was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1990. He has served as a Trustee of the Headlands Center for the Arts since 2011. He received his BA from Princeton University, and his MFA from California College of the Arts, in addition to study at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. David Maisel was born in New York City in 1961.