Tag Archives: photography

Remnants of the Biosphere

BLDGBLOG, written by Geoff Manaugh, just published this blog on Remants of the Biosphere.

Photographer Noah Sheldon got in touch the other week with a beautiful series of photos documenting the decrepit state of Biosphere 2, a semi-derelict bio-architectural experiment in the Arizona desert.

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“The structure was billed as the first large habitat for humans that would live and breathe on its own, as cut off from the earth as a spaceship,” the New York Times wrote back in 1992, but the project was a near-instant failure. The entire site was sold to private developers in 2007, leaving the buildings still functional and open for tours but falling apart.

Sheldon’s images, reproduced here with permission, show the facility advancing into old age. A vast biological folly in the shadow of desert over-development, the project of Biosphere 2 seems particularly poignant in this unkempt state.

The largest sealed environment ever created, constructed at a cost of $200 million, and now falling somewhere between David Gissen’s idea of subnature—wherein the slow power of vegetative life is unleashed “as a transgressive animated force against buildings”—and a bioclimatically inspired Dubai, Biosphere 2 even included its own one million-gallon artificial sea.

In this context, Biosphere 2 could be considered one of architect Francois Roche’s “buildings that die,” a term Roche used in a recent interview with Jeffrey Inaba. Indeed, in its current state Biosphere 2 is easily one of the ultimate candidates for Roche’s idea of “corrupted biotopes“; the site’s ongoing transformation into suburbia only makes this corruption all the more explicit.

Watching something originally built precisely as a simulation of the Earth—the 2 in “Biosphere 2″ is meant to differentiate this place from the Earth itself, i.e. Biosphere 1—slowly taken over by the very forces it was naively meant to model is philosophically extraordinary: the model taken over by the thing it represents. It is a replicant in its dying throes.

Lu Guang’s China

Chinese environmental photographer Lu Guang won the 2009 W. Eugene Smith grant in humanistic photography for his for his project, “Pollution in China.” (For more information and photos see NYTime’s Lens blog , and China Hush).

Tianjin Steel Plant, She County, Hebei Province, March 18, 2008

A family of five children who emigrated to Inner Mongolia from the nearby Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region to find work in the Heilonggui Industrial District, April 10, 2005. The oldest child is nine years old; the youngest is less than two. Photographs by Lu Guang

The W. Eugene Smith award recognizes photographers “who have demonstrated a deep commitment to documenting the human condition in the formidable tradition of compassionate dedication that W. Eugene Smith exhibited”

China scholar, Orville Schell describes Lu Guang’s photos in China’s Boom: The Dark Side in Photos

I have seen some woeful scenes of industrial apocalypse and pollution in my travels throughout China, but there are very few images that remain vividly in my mind. This is why the photographs of Lu Guang are so important. A fearless documentary photographer who lives in China’s southern province of Zhejiang and runs a photo studio and lab that funds his myriad trips around China, Lu photographs the dark consequences of China’s booming but environmentally destructive economic development in ways that stay with you. Evidently Chinese officials seem to agree, because they often try to censor his photography, forcing him to use an alias. …

Some of his arresting images show plumes of pitch black and garishly colored yellow and red smoke belching out of factory and power plant chimneys – almost all caused by the burning of soft coal. They are reminiscent of the eerie, unnatural images and colors that blink out of a television set when the tint controls are turned all the way to one side.

His pictures of open-pit coal mines that have been illegally gouged into the Mongolian steppe, and the attendant mountains of tailings that tower beside them, bespeak a landscape so despoiled that millions of years of restoration will not be enough to heal it.

Everything you see in Lu’s photographs—whether desolate mines, gritty plants spewing out toxic smoke, grimy miners, poisoned bodies of water or tundras of trash—grows out of China’s use of coal. In fact, 80 percent of China’s electricity comes from coal (in contrast to about 50 percent for the US). And electrical power has provided the Chinese economy with the energy it needs to maintain 10 percent growth rates for more than a decade.

In other words, coal has been China’s bounty and salvation, enabling tens of millions of people to rise up from grinding poverty, and allowing the government to build a whole new system of ports, highways, airports, railroads, bridges, buildings, and tunnels. It has also helped to create a prosperous middle class; and contributed to China’s emergence as a world power.

However, China’s reliance on coal has been polluting the country’s air and water, depleting its resource base and despoiling its landscape in ways that are difficult to imagine without actually visiting the Chinese countryside. Yet the photography of Lu Guang gives us a glimpse of this landscape, reminding us that these scenes of devastation are not isolated phenomena. They are ubiquitous. Above all, it also reminds us that there is a steep cost to such rapacious and high-speed development, something the Chinese government has started to understand and to try and remedy.