Manufactured Landscapes

Not necessarily a post-card Seattle picture

This happens to be a “picture” I see often, at least when the clouds let me see Rainier behind the industrial facade. Maybe I just like the Duwamish River because it is the one I see most often, and feel some deep pity for. It was once a living thing. Now it is just a place where we built a city, a port, an economy. Seeing the Duwamish every day some times reminds me of what I felt when I saw the Mississippi in Louisiana, where the river is subverted to human desires and the many industries that thrive there. Maybe I just have a thing for rivers?

The industrial Duwamish in south Seattle

The Duwamish River, in south Seattle, is a U.S. federal Superfund cleanup site and one of the most developed industrial landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. The area is dotted with cargo container barges, cement factories, shipping and receiving warehouses, and other industrial facilities. Believe it or not, fish swim up this river to spawn, and people fish on this waterway every summer.

Under the spell of Bernd and Hilla Becher

My current expression through still photography, at this moment in time, remains heavily influenced by the highly acclaimed German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. The husband-wife duo (Bernd has passed on) influenced perhaps the most acclaimed and financially successful photographers of the past 20 years, through their late-in-life work at the “Dusseldorf School of Photography.” The Bernds’ now famous protégé‎s/students include Thomas Ruff and Andres Gursky. The latter is now on record for selling the world’s most expensive photographic print.

The Bernds were deeply enmeshed in showcasing industrial forms, which they arranged later in books and exhibitions as typologies. (Please read my post about their work and their influence.) They also were telling a story of the economy of the times and the industrial West, just as at was on its downward spiral, before the rise of industrial China and India.

My most recent photographic series on Tacoma and the Duwamish River industrial area of Seattle are in some ways indebted to this thinking, about how the industrial ports of the Pacific Northwest are the lands devoted to the overwhelming power of global trade, the last vestiges of Northwest industrial activity, and the world of high-paid blue collar work that is on the verge of extinction in the United States.

Here is the first of two provocative YouTube videos on the Bechers’ work and thinking, in their own words (you can see part two after part one finishes).