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The Great Salt Lake in Utah, the site of the aerial photographs that comprise the Terminal Mirage project, is a “terminal” lake, meaning that it has no natural outlets. This physical property results in the Lake’s exceptional richness in sodium, magnesium, potassium, chloride, sulfate, and other elements — many of which are common to traditional photographic chemistry.
Some 40,000 acres of commercially operated evaporation ponds surround the Great Salt Lake’s perimeter, formed to extract these minerals from its waters for industrial use. These grids of human-made ponds become a labyrinth laid over the surface of the Lake and its shoreline.
This series is a major chapter of my Black Maps project, in which I utilize an aerial perspective to photograph radically altered terrain that has undergone extreme environmental transformation; they show us evidence of our Anthropocene Era.
The abstraction in these topographic images conjures mid-century modernism and color field painting, in particular the work of Rothko, Diebenkorn, and Frankenthaler. That parallel is intentional, as I am interested in revealing how landscape contains and reflects the goals and impulses of the past century’s modernist quest.
Looking down onto these zones, where human activity has replaced the natural order, what I see is at once seductively beautiful and terrible. The images in Terminal Mirage are intended to expand our notions of what constitutes landscape and landscape art in this era of the post-natural world.
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Terminal Mirage 05, 2003
Terminal Mirage 07, 2003
Terminal Mirage 09, 2003
Terminal Mirage 23, 2003
Terminal Mirage 06, 2003
Terminal Mirage 14, 2003
David Maisel is an artist working in photography, video, and painting. In his multi-chaptered aerial photographic project, Maisel creates abstracted images of radically human-altered environments such as open pit mines, clearcut forests, water reclamation zones, and militarized landscapes of the American West.
Maisel is the recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2008 Artist Residency from the Headlands Center for the Arts, and a 2007 Scholar Residency from the Getty Research Institute. He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Center for Cultural Innovation.
Maisel’s work has been the subject of seven monographs, including Proving Ground (Radius, 2020), Mount St Helens: Afterlife (Ivorypress, 2018), Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime (Steidl, 2013), History’s Shadow (Nazraeli, 2011), Library of Dust (Chronicle, 2008), Oblivion (Nazraeli, 2006), and The Lake Project (Nazraeli, 2004).
His work is exhibited internationally and is held in more than fifty public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Getty Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others.
Maisel received his BA from Princeton University and his MFA from California College of the Arts. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Press + Articles
These Beautiful Photos Show The Horrific Legacy Of Humans
The Strange Beauty of David Maisel’s Aerial Photographs
Smithsonian Magazine (article)
Uncharted Territories: Black Maps by David Maisel
Time Magazine (article)
The Aerial Abstract
Orion Magazine (article)
A Shocking Look at America’s Altered Landscapes
Slate Magazine (article)
About The Cover
Photograph Magazine (article)