Critics’ Picks

Lucas Foglia, Acorn with Possum Stew, Wildroots Homestead, North Carolina, 2006. From the series “Re-Wilding,” 2006.

Lucas Foglia, Acorn with Possum Stew, Wildroots Homestead, North Carolina, 2006. From the series “Re-Wilding,” 2006.


“Human Nature”

Houston Center For Photography
1441 West Alabama
April 3–May 14, 2009

It’s a common cliché that technology denotes progress, waxing and waning with empires and cultures, yet perhaps the most interesting moments occur when cultures skip whole epochs of development; or when man distorts nature’s cycles and unintended consequences destroy entire ecosystems. Documenting the breadth of responses to the twenty-first century, the photographers featured in “Human Nature” have traveled from Lapland to Capetown capturing poignant and quirky scenes. Pablo Lopez Luz’s Vista Aerea de la Ciudad Mexico, XIII, 2005, is an engulfing view of Mexico City’s sprawl crawling to the west. The aerial view depicts the concrete jungle with the immeasurability of an ocean: Streets, shanties, courtyards, and homes roll in an undulating wave of human construction as far as the eye can see. In another work, Lou Vest, a pilot working on the Houston Ship Channel, documents his environment in the petrochemical capitol of America. Night Run, 2008, is the pinnacle of the exhibition––a trip through Hades. The still images in the work were shot from the bridge of a ship every six seconds. Vest stitched these frames together into a slow boat ride under the oil-black sky, and the stop-motion video captures shoreline petrol fires and the sickly yellow glow of spectacularly lit refineries. Vest’s eye is unerringly simple and terrifyingly unsettling.

Environmentalist fervor meets religious radicalism in Lucas Foglia’s back-to-the-land series “Re-Wilding,” which incorporates Mennonite, early American, and hippie cultures. Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele illuminate the preservation and evolution of indigenous Norwegian culture on the tundra with several images titled Facing Climate Change—Sámi Reindeer Herdsmen, 2006. In contrast with the rest of the exhibition, Drummond and Steele’s rushing herds of reindeer juxtapose stillness with chaotic action. Robert Voit’s 2006 “New Trees” series offers oddly perfect faux trunks and evergreen leaves that disguise transmission towers from South Africa, England, California, and the American Southwest as hilarious conifers, palms, and cacti. The diverse contemporary photographers in this exhibition document change in technological societies and the environment; they offer well-intentioned and ill-fated attempts to harness or harmonize with the only earth we have.