bring down the walls

Old side of Elwha Dam (GERLACH all rights reserved)

I feel lucky to have seen John Stamets speak at 4Culture a few weeks ago in support of his exhibit documenting historic buildings and engineering works in the Pacific Northwest. The photography is straightforward, seemingly timeless quality with the composition and exposure purposely simple to provide the maximum amount of visual data in the photograph. In many ways the visual language it utilizes reminds me of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher although less compulsive and typologic. The show ended in late May but luckily some of his images can be accessed from the Library of Congress website. Unfortunately, I could not find much of his other work, even though he has amassed a huge collection of images, which he suggests may be over 20,000. I seem to remember some of his images of the construction of Seatac airport a few years ago at the terminal but can not locate anything on-line. Anyway it is always great to see some actual prints and the ones at 4Culture were top notch quality.

Stamets, Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Project, Elevator House

One comment that really struck me is that Stamets, HABS HAER work is sort of the bread and butter stuff to pay the bills and that his real passion and artistic endeavor is documenting architecture projects under construction. This interim, sometimes skeletal, sausage making look at architecture is not the polished, heroic images of corporate architecture but work that seems more curious and insightful into the narrative of making.

Elwha Dam (GERLACH all rights reserved)

Similarly interested in dynamic places, especially ones that lean towards the post industrial sublime I have been considering a project that would look at the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams and the subsequent restoration of the Elwha river.  A few weeks ago the Elwha dam generated its last kilowatt and the process of decommissioning and removal of the structure began. It is the largest dam removal project to be undertaken in the US and should be a fascinating process to follow. More details about the project can be found here. On a few trips to the area, I have only been getting my feet wet to discover how to access certain sites and what times of day and under what kind of weather may make interesting photos. It happened to be a minus tide mid-day when I was there last so it was a perfect opportunity to clearly see the topography of the mouth of the river. Upon just a few visits it has quickly become apparent that the river is the subject instead of the dam; process over object. Large dikes are being constructed near the mouth to protect properties once the river flows become unmitigated and the area will undergo massive transformation once sediment from behind the dams is released. It also happens to be a winter surf spot, which makes the trip in the fall and winter much more appealing.

On a related note, photographer Chris Jordan will be speaking at Seattle U this month. Somewhat spendy but I really like Jordan’s work and look forward to hearing about the newer work.

“For the Grandchildren presents a very special evening with Joanna Macy and Chris Jordan on June 21, 2011, at 7:15pm at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium. Joanna Macy, Gaian teacher and eco-philosopher, will begin the evening with a reflection on the times we are living in. Chris Jordan will present his compelling photo-art which displays what over-consumption is doing to our planet and all its inhabitants. Joanna and Chris will complete the evening with a deep conversation about our times. Tickets are $12 for students 25 and under and $20 for adults. Tickets can be found through Brown Paper Tickets.”


About jim gerlach

A seasoned landscape architect living and working on beautiful Vashon Island.
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3 Responses to bring down the walls

  1. duane dietz says:

    The first time I heard of Stamets was in 1987 with his much-published photo montage of the collapse of Husky Stadium’s north roof during its construction. He just happened to be bicycling by and had stopped to take a picture.

  2. Pingback: Elwha update | covering terrain

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