I moved to New Mexico two years ago to step in as the curator of photography at the New Mexico Museum of Art, a position formerly held by my predecessor, Steve Yates. I love New Mexico and I used to visit the museum and chat with Steve about our mutual fascination with László Moholy-Nagy, but that was only a prelude to my living here and being outdoors in the high desert. I love rocks, I love the ancient seabed we live on here, I love the scrubby silvery-grey plants that survive in the dirt (a lot of hard work in my backyard precludes my calling it soil). So perhaps it’s no surprise that my first big exhibition at the museum is one on landscape photography show—Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment.
In thinking about what this show could be, I was interested in seeing what has happened during my own lifetime (I turned fifty in June) with environmentalism, with photography, and with the intersection of the two. Initially, I wanted to call the show From Earth Day to Doomsday, to examine what transpired between the founding of Earth Day in 1970 and the purported end of time in 2012. When it was pointed that this title had a rather negative cast to it, I laughed bleakly and agreed, since I am pretty sure that most of humankind is rapidly working its way toward extinction. My inquiry at that point was why do these photographers keep trying to communicate with us, show us, ask us, teach us, when the species as a whole has shown a fairly consistent resistance to change in the face of the environmental crisis that was declared in 1970 and has become all the more evident since then.
But then I talked with the photographers. What they have to say about why they do this work really moved and inspired me. What I most want to highlight in this exhibition is their vision, their commitment, their way of connecting with the human spirit. Art isn’t a fancy luxury; it is about making sense of life, understanding the world we inhabit. No easy answers in this show, folks, just a lot of questions, some you may be asking yourself, for a lifetime.
This online preview was created to accompany the exhibition Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment at the New Mexico Museum of Art (April 8−August 28, 2011) and was created by Steve Cantrell, Susan Holmes, Doug Patinka, David Rohr, Shelley Thompson, and Katherine Ware. Videotapes of the artists and curator were filmed by David Rohr, in the library of the New Mexico Museum of Art, with the cooperation of Devon Skeele.