Skip to Main Content

Victoria Sambunaris: A Taxonomy of a Landscape (February 19, 2020)01:01:50

After Graham Harman’s introduction, Victoria Sambunaris describes growing up in the changing hybrid rural and industrial landscape of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her student work documented corporate and government campuses on the East Coast. She describes how her first trip West didn’t result in any photographs, but each year since 2000, she has driven, alone, on expeditions to explore landscapes and how people exploit and structure them. She identifies as inspirations US government investigative projects such as the Hayden Geological Survey, and the Farm Security Administration project that employed photographers like Dorothea Lange. She also cites “new topographics” photographers Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, and Bernd and Hilla Becher; and movies like Terence Malik’s Badlands (1973).

Sambunaris shows a range of work, including her photographs of the Bingham Copper Mine and Wendover in Utah; the Trans-Alaska Pipeline; Hercules Canyon and Silver Peak lithium mine in Nevada; the uranium disposal cell in Mexican Hat, Utah; the Kīlauea caldera and volcano and Haleakalā crater in Hawaii; and the underground cavern in Luray, Pennsylvania.

Sambunaris describes an expedition following the I-80 from New Jersey to California, guided by John McPhee’s history of the geology of North America, Annals of the former world (1998), which led her from limestone quarries in Pennsylvania to talc mines in Montana. She documented landscapes created by volcanic activity in Idaho and the still-active volcanic landscape of Yellowstone National Park. She notes how documentary photography of Yellowstone itself has a long history, going back to William Henry Jackson and the Hayden Geological Survey in the 1870s and Carlton Watkins in the 1880s. In 2009, Sambunaris traveled perimeter of the U.S./Mexico border, from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, documenting how it cuts a path through urban sprawl, farms, and remote uncultivated deserts.

At 52:00 she shows video clips of lasso tricks, blasting at a coalmine, and slate mining.

She discusses her 2011 Taxonomy of a Landscape exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Museum, which became a book published in 2013. That year she also began documenting the impact of the petrochemical and shipping industries on marine life, specifically in the Houston Ship Channel. Most recently, in the “Landmark” series, she has been documenting aggression and contamination on native lands in New Mexico and Arizona.

Sambunaris concludes with a quote from Pierce K. Lewis: “Our human landscape is our unwitting autobiography, reflecting our tastes, our values, our aspirations, and even our fears … .”