Stunning Aerial Photos of Environmental Damage

Stephanie Valera
Published: May 13, 2013

The Lake Project 20, 2002

(Photo: David Maisel)

In Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime (Steidl, 2013), a collection of aerial photographs of environmentally impacted sites, David Maisel captures surreal images of open-pit mines, clear-cut forests, rampant urbanization and sprawl, and zones of water reclamation. Though beautiful, Maisel's images tell a tragic story about the American landscape, and humankind's conflicted relationship with nature. Black Maps presents more than 100 photos that span Maisel's two-decade career. Here, we take a look at some of the most arresting--from images of decrepit and active mines in Nevada to an eerie, dry lake bed in California.

In his Lake Project series, Maisel photographed Owens Lake, once a 200-square-mile lake on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in California. Beginning in 1939, much of the Owens River was diverted into the Owens Valley Aqueduct to bring water to Los Angeles, causing Owens Lake to dessicate. By 1926, the lake had been essentially depleted, exposing mineral flats and transforming the once-fertile valley into an arid stretch of land. The concentration of minerals in the remaining water of Owens Lake is so high that blooms of microscopic bacterial organisms result, turning the liquid a deep red.


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