Critics’ Picks

Conoco Phillips Wilmington Refinery Looking South, 139,000 Daily Barrels, Terminal Island in Distance, 2006, pigment print, 40 x 50“. From the series ”Rancho San Pedro 04.28.06."

Conoco Phillips Wilmington Refinery Looking South, 139,000 Daily Barrels, Terminal Island in Distance, 2006, pigment print, 40 x 50“. From the series ”Rancho San Pedro 04.28.06."

New York

Michael Light

Hosfelt Gallery
531 West 36th Street
May 18–June 30, 2007

Michael Light, perhaps best known for 100 Suns (2003), his book comprising appropriated archival photographs of atmospheric nuclear tests, presents in his second exhibition at this gallery six new large-scale, limited-edition volumes of photographic series. These handmade tomes, as large as Helmut Newton’s infamous Sumo and likewise displayed on their own stands, are accompanied by framed prints of selected images, though the title of the exhibition, “Bookworks,” indicates that these pictures are best understood in the context Light provides. Both a photographer and an amateur pilot, Light here presents aerial views taken in and around the Bingham Mine—a copper mine that is the world’s largest man-made hole—and the Garfield Smelter Stack, both in Utah; the California desert; Los Angeles, seen by day and by night; the port of LA; and New York City.

The latter two series, Light’s newest and first shot in color, are studies of what Harvard landscape-architecture professor Alan Berger has recently termed drosscapes, those desiccated industrial-waste sites now forming toxic gray-brown necklaces around many American cities. Beginning at the fringes of each megalopolis, where low, white-painted warehouses and oil-refinery tanks spread across the land like mah-jongg tiles, the photographs march across the earth’s scarred surface, taking in Lego-like piles of brightly colored shipping containers, the concrete snarl of highways, and the gentle curlicue of tightly packed wannabe-suburban subdivisions en route to each city’s heart: Central Park and the interstate interchange of downtown LA. Narrative connections between the images are subtle. If Light’s earlier series, focused on the American West, could be said to possess a spiritual connection to Richard Misrach’s skyscapes, these series are akin to Edward Burtynsky’s panoptic studies. But whereas the latter photographer’s impassive eye seems always to judge, Light’s varied compositions explore with an open mind. That they seem less self-consciously knowing should encourage viewers to learn more.