Rows of power structures linked together by lines of metal cable create a grid, which spans the vast space of the American West and defines our modern experience with open land. Ironically, their graphic, anthropomorphic shapes reverse our preconceptions of aesthetics as they reveal patterns of beauty within a subject culturally regarded as ugly.
I began photographing the power grid because I noticed its lines and towers interrupting every view. These photographs of the four-corners region of the Colorado Plateau illustrate the impact of what our need and desire for endless power generation does to a region, which is among the most wild and pristine areas in the temperate-zone world.
The West’s relationship with power was once very different. Painters in the American Landscape tradition of the 19th century, such as Thomas Moran and Alfred Bierstadt pictured vast scenery as romantic ideal. Their paintings rhapsodized open territory - calling to be settled by individuals who held a personal source of power—the power of self-reliance.
The advent of electrical power changed our relationship with limitless terrain. Any objection to the grid’s initial appearance was overshadowed by society’s embrace of the novelty and promise of this new kind of power. Where monumental objects in past eras were symbols of reverence for the otherworldly power of the divine, today’s pylons resembling toy robots are secular conduits of power. They have grown to be the tallest human-made structures between towns.
The grid transmits immense energy connecting remote locations to modern cities, growing to become a significant part of our visual geography. Almost universally disliked as blight on the landscape, we avoid acknowledging these structures, while we expand their presence monthly.
Seen from the distance of a highway, they are markers of the progress of a power that connects us to our dreams of permanent accessibility to convenience. Being in their proximity, evokes unease, at the sound of their buzzing power transference, a warning of their potential for personal injury. Living near towers is, relegated to those in society who have the least power, economically disadvantaged households and underserved communities.
These photographs are what the painters of the past would see as the landscape of today. The internal power of the self-reliant individual has been replaced by an external power, one that makes each of us inescapably dependent and has irrevocably ended our experience of the power that the sense of wilderness gave us.