What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Posted in Vol 13 No 2 by bsaab on April 28, 2010

Galveston, Texas

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We all know the tale of the three pigs and their homebuilding projects. Maybe you sang the camp song about the wise man who built his house upon the rock while the foolish man chose a nice sandy beach site. As children, we thus learned the basics about how and where to build. But, as with many lessons taught in childhood, we figured we knew a better way. Architects and engineers are perhaps most susceptible to this pattern — they are, after all, taught how to design their way around any problem.

And so, through a combination of incremental individual decisions and a shared focus on short-term gain, we have sometimes built in places that really make no sense, in ways that defy the greater forces of nature. We drive by them, perhaps we visit them on vacation, and we take advantage of their contributions to today’s economy. We don’t see the big picture.

But Alex MacLean does. From his plane, thousands of feet up, the details recede. Patterns emerge. Folly is revealed. “Mitigation packages” become unimportant. An internationally celebrated photographer, MacLean takes advantage of this rare vantage point, his aesthetic sensibility, and his deep knowledge of environmental issues to promote a better understanding of the American landscape and wise land-use.

The following images are drawn from MacLean’s new book, Over: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point. Even more than his previous books, this collection of photographs has an urgency, focusing on topics such as water use, sea-level rise, waste, automobiles, and electric generation to demonstrate the vulnerability of our built environment and the fragility of the natural environment.

What’s wrong with these pictures? Nothing. They tell you everything you need to know.

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