Grotesquely Polluted Landscapes … or Beautiful Art?

In an ideal world, there would be no burned-up lakes or horrifically denuded strip mines and David Maisel would be out of a job.

Environmental damage on the epic scale has become Maisel’s bread and butter ever since the photographer started chronicling blighted mining sites in the 1980s. Typically working from inside a Cessna airplane, he’s shot brilliantly colored but cyanide-stricken “leaching fields” in Southwest mines, the befouled lands around a Utah magnesium company that the EPA sued for hazardous waste and a huge lake that’s been sucked into a dry, toxic dust-spewing desert by the people of Los Angeles.

His oeuvre is full of these depressing odes to human progress and industrialization, although they don’t much appear like photos of mass contamination. With their curious juxtapositions of oil-paintlike shapes and hues, funnily enough, they almost look like what a CEO of a polluting chemical company might hang on the

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