David Maisel: Black Maps lecture

One of the wonderful things about living in (or near) Los Angeles is the proximity to cultural activities. What, Los Angeles has culture? Sort of.

The Annenberg Space for Photography IRIS lecture series is a free lecture series featuring a different notable photographer each week. It amazes me that these lectures are free, given the quality of the series. It is a great experience to have these photographers share their perspective and photos.

Last Thursday, I was able to attend the lecture of David Maisel: Black Maps, a lecture that appealed to me because of the aerial photographs and because of my background in geography.

His aerial images are intriguing, focusing on the strange beauty of environmental impact as seen from 500-14,000 feet above the Earth. The images aren't titled in a way to give a preconception of how one should feel about image, allowing the viewer to process their image on their own. The images were from some of his earlier projects (roughly 1983-2007), and althought I found something beautiful and saddening in each image, the most interesting to me was The Lake Project, which is focused on the imagery of the dying Owens River and Owens Lake on the Eastern side of the Sierras (see map below).

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Owens+Lake,+CA&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=30.819956,79.013672&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Owens+Lake&ll=36.436157,-117.960047&spn=1.953353,4.938354&t=h&z=8&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

This area is rich in history because of the water wars that ensued when Los Angeles was starting to grow. As an Angelino, I must admit that I have forgotten about the historical aspect of how we get our water, and it was saddening to see the reminder.

What most interested me about this lecture is found in the title "Black Maps", which refers to a poem by Mark Strand:

"Nothing will tell you where you are/Each moment is a place you’ve never been"

As Maisel pointed out, one is unable to read these images, and one would not be able to read a map that is completely black.

As a geographer and mapmaker, it was so very hard for me to wrap my head around the notion of a map being completely black. As a practical mapmaker that works in the real world, I think, "That's a waste of ink!". But I get his point. Looking at these images, there is not way to tell which way is North or South, East or West. Looking at these images, I could not tell where in the world (or universe) these images were being made.

I like the idea that he married geography and photography in this project, in that having a sense of geography, one has a sense of place. When I look at images of the world, I usually get some idea of where in the world they are located (urban, rural, Venice, Australia, etc.). When looking at Maisel's images, I don't have a sense of geography, and therefore no sense of place.

Of course as a geographer, I would have loved for him to be able to link on his website a Google map of where all of these places are located that he photographed, but that is not to be at this time.

Thanks for stopping by.