Before crops are harvested and combine tracks mark the soil, Wyoming-based photographer Mitch Rouse captures the immaculately planted farmland that patterns the western United States. His captivating aerial shots frame the patchwork fields, concentric rows, and land-hugging lines formed with sprouted produce and vibrant trees. Sometimes disrupted by a natural landmark like a small mountain range, the photographer’s images provide a new perspective on the cultivated land.
Rouse tells Colossal that the Palouse—a major agricultural area in the northwest— is one of his favorite regions to visit because it’s often full of luxuriant fields. “This year, it was particularly lush, and I was very surprised getting out there how soft and velvety the green fields looked. Unlike the first photograph (shown above), the shapes in the Palouse are much more organic flowing and curving with the natural form of the hills,” he says. The photographer also has explored Montana, Oregon, Idaho, and California, capturing the precisely placed rows of trees near Bakersfield.
Originally frustrated by the limitations of drone and aircraft techniques, Rouse said he has “now found the sweet spot between the two by developing a system that incorporates a Bell 407 helicopter, with a Shot Over gimbal mounted to the nose, which contains a 150 MP Phase One Industrial camera.” Much of his process consists of spotting land patterns and flying over them. “A lot of it ends up really just being aware of your surroundings and eventually develop an eye for what will look good, making it pretty easy to pick your targets,” he says. “The key to getting these is timing it right. You want favorable light, whether it’s from clouds or sunrise or sunset.”
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Humble fields become abstracted artworks in thread paintings by Victoria Rose Richards. The artist uses a combination of tight, straight lines and lush French knots to emulate the rural patterning of closely-cropped fields divided by hedges and woods. Richards, who is 21 years old and based in South West Devon, U.K., draws inspiration from the natural beauty that surrounds her. “My art is influenced by my love of the environment and conservation, which I developed during my biology degree I completed this year,” Richards tells Colossal.
A lifelong artist who also manages chronic pain and Asperger’s syndrome, Richards landed on embroidery during college as a way to lift her spirits and engage her mind between classes and studying. “I pulled some nice blues and greens out of my grandmother’s old embroidery tin and had my first go at an embroidery landscape in October 2018,” Richards explains.
The artist is constantly learning new techniques to broaden her range of textures and patterns, finding community and inspiration through the global network of embroiderers who are connected through social media. You can follow along with Victoria Rose Richards’s thread paintings on Instagram.
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In the northeast corner of North Dakota lies Devils Lake. It is the largest natural body of water in the state, and yet it holds within it a seemingly unnatural phenomenon. Once-prosperous farming communities used to stand where the lake now is, the reach and depth of the current waters subsuming the abandoned tall silos, stately houses, and squat barns. The lake began rising in 1993 and has risen 35 feet in just over two decades. Due to a lack of outlet for the water and a period of heavy rains in the early 1990’s, the high water simply never subsided, rendering the formerly productive area completely uninhabitable and taking 300 homes with it.
Minnesota-based photographer Paul Johnson (previously) set out during two different seasons, summer (via kayak) and winter, to witness and document the lost community. Large trucks sit embedded up to their wheel wells in thick ice, a silo door is seamlessly mirrored in the water that reaches over its threshold, and barns lean at spectacularly acute angles, seemingly glued in place by the surrounded fresh or frozen water.
“Abandoned places hold a wistful appeal to me and I think to many of us,” Johnson shared in an interview with Passion Passport. “They are the final chapters of unknown stories where we’re left to ponder the details. Their quiet stillness can spur thoughts about the nature of time and the processes of decay and reclamation.” If you are interested in further reading about the history of the area, Modern Farmer has a long-form story from the perspective of a Devils Lake native.
In addition to his still photography, Johnson is continuing to work on animated land art which will be compiled into an upcoming short film. Stay tuned for previews of these pieces on Instagram and Tumblr. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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In an untitled photograph from 1937, a black disc surreally floats upon the subject’s face, obscuring the features hidden beneath the circular void. In another, a black circle hovers next to a tilted house, creating an eerie scene pulled straight from science fiction. At first glance, you might think a contemporary artist had altered the images, drawing jet-black voids as an intervention with photographs from rural Depression-era America. In reality, these images are discarded photographs from a bygone project that produced a pictorial record of American life between 1935-1944. The photographs, which are currently exhibited in The Killed Negatives: Unseen Images of 1930s America at Whitechapel Gallery in London, produce a snapshot of the crippling poverty and backbreaking jobs lower class Americans faced during the Great Depression.
The story of these photographs begins in 1935, when Roy E Stryker, the head of the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), undertook a photographic project that commissioned famous American photographers such as Russell Lee, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to photograph farmers and farmland during the Great Depression. The FSA aimed to encourage poverty-stricken Americans to partake in self-sustaining programs where they could gain farm loans to buy seeds, equipment, livestock, and partake in homestead schemes which provided both education and healthcare. The project was to demonstrate the results of financial assistance that the FSA offered, in addition to outsourcing images of America life during this time.
Each photographer was given specific directives, for example, “farmer dumping milk at home,” “worried farmer,” or “federal government shot.” Over 270,000 photographs were produced during the project, yet only a few were picked to be part of the final collection. This included imagery featuring transient families, the unemployed, and drought-stricken fields. One of the most famous images was Lange’s 1936 Migrant Mother, which became a popular portrait long after the project’s conclusion.
Stryker deployed a specific editing process where himself and his assistants would choose photographs they believed were true to the brief; the other images were rendered unsuitable and punctuated with a hole puncher. These ruthlessly “killed” photographs were left unpublishable. Today the found works appear to have black discs floating upon them, a visual mark of rejection which accidentally focus the viewer’s attention.
Killed Negatives at the Whitechapel Gallery runs up until August 26, 2018 and exhibits some of the photographs, photographers’ personal records, and FSA administration documents associated with the project. You can learn more about the exhibition, including information about associated events, on the gallery’s website.
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Flying in a helicopter high above the coast of Greece, German photographer Bernhard Lang captures unusual networks of circular fish farms. The strange, ovoid enclosures appear like abstract geometric designs, hardly related to the thriving ecosystems of fish that lay just below the surface. Aquaculture is seen by many as a more efficient way to safely breed larger volumes of fish instead of harvesting wild populations, but concerns about the environmental impact near farming sites have raised a lot of questions.
“Greece’s aquaculture industry is important for the country,” Lang shares with Colossal. “Especially [because of] the bad economic situation in Greece. Fish, mainly sea bass and sea bream is one of their biggest agricultural exports, next to olive oil.” That said, fish prices have fallen sharply in recent years, further threatening a burgeoning industry.
Lang is known for his aerial studies of industry, wildlife, and landscapes around the world including a recent series of harbors in the Philippines and a colorful collection of beach umbrellas in the Italian resort town of Adria. You can follow more of his recent photography on Behance and Instagram.
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The most common way of producing wooden furniture is fairly straightforward: grow the proper trees for a few decades, chop ’em down, cut them into smaller pieces and assemble the pieces into a chair. Derbyshire-based furniture designer Gavin Munro wondered if he could try a wholly different approach: what if he could just grow chairs? What if trees could be forced to grow in chair-like shapes and through strategic sculpting and grafting result in an annual “chair harvest.” After a lengthy years-long trial in his mother’s garden and a sturdy proof-of-concept, Full Grown was born.
Munro points out that the idea of growing furniture actually dates back millennia. The Chinese were known to dig holes to fill with chair-shaped rocks and had tree roots grow through the gaps, while the Egyptians and Greeks had a method for growing small stools. But Full Grown appears to be on a scale entirely of its own, with an entire farm destined to be harvested into chairs, assorted light fixtures, and other unusual objects. He shares a bit about the process which can take between 4 to 8 years:
In essence it’s an incredibly simple art. You start by training and pruning young tree branches as they grow over specially made formers. At certain points we then graft them together so that the object grows into one solid piece – I’m interested in the way that this is like an organic 3D printing that uses air, soil and sunshine as its source materials. After it’s grown into the shape we want, we continue to care for and nurture the tree, while it thickens and matures, before harvesting it in the winter and then letting it season and dry. It’s then a matter of planing and finishing to show off the wood and grain inside.
Full Grown’s first prototype willow chair has already found its way into the permanent collection at the National Museum of Scotland, and Munro and his team just launched a Kickstarter to help them bridge the gap in the final year before their first harvest, nearly 11 years in the making. You can learn more on their website.
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