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Duke University Press
In compelling, often stunning black-and-white photographs, The Weather and a Place to Live portrays the manmade landscape of the western United States. Here we come face to face with the surreal intersection of the American appetite for suburban development and the resistant, rolling, arid country of the desert West. Steven B. Smith’s extraordinary photographs take us into the contemporary reality of sprawling suburbs reconfiguring what was once vast, unpopulated territory. With arresting concision and an unblinking eye, Smith shows how a new frontier is being won, and suggests too how it may be lost in its very emergence. Since the early 1990s Smith has been making large-format photographs in California, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Based on this body of work, he was chosen as winner of the biennial Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography.
The power of these photographs lies in part in Smith’s unusual knowledge of the places he portrays. Raised in Utah, Smith has worked on construction crews, and he was a contractor in California after living on the East Coast for a few years. When he moved to Los Angeles in 1991, he writes, “I was so astounded by what I saw happening to the landscape as it was being developed that I started photographing it immediately. The landscapes I saw were scraped bare, re-sculpted, sealed, and then covered so as not to erode away before the building process could be completed.”
Smith’s photographs offer a disturbing vision of the future of our planet, where the desire for home ownership is pitted against the costs of development in epic proportions. These altered landscapes force us to consider the consequences of human design battling natural forces across great expanses, a fragile balancing act and a contorted equation in which nature becomes both inspiration and invisible adversary. Smith’s elegant photographs of this constructed universe confront us with the beauty of images as images, yet push us to reflect on the devastation possible in the simple act of choosing a place to live.
From the Back Cover
“Smith won the prize for his intelligent choice of a subject hidden in full view that is of paramount importance. His work is by turns humorous and piteous, elegiac and ironic, and cumulatively very powerful for he has shaped an essay from aesthetically elegant, delicately nuanced pictures that are pitch perfect, in the spirit of the American West and in keeping with its long history of fine photographs.”—Maria Morris Hambourg, Prize Judge
“These images create a portrait of the systems of control which prepare the land for habitation and also guard them against nature. In making these photographs I wanted the manmade and natural elements of the landscape within each picture to communicate in a more extended and elaborate dialogue.”—Steven B. Smith
About the Author
Steven B. Smith is a Professor of Photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was born in American Fork, Utah, and spent his early years in the small communities around Salt Lake City. He has been awarded a Guggenheim and an Aaron Siskind Fellowship for Photography.Maria Morris Hambourg, Founding Curator of the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was the prize’s judge. Her career began at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where she worked closely with John Szarkowski in the Department of Prints and Photographs. She has curated such exhibitions as Thomas Struth; Avedon’s Portraits; Walker Evans; Earthly Bodies: Irving Penn’s Nudes, 1949–1950; and Carleton Watkins, the Art of Perception.