The Way Out West.
Photographs by Michelle Van Parys. Essays by Lucy R. Lippard and Geoffrey Batchen.
Center for American Places, Chicago, 2009. 104 pp., Numerous black & white illustrations, 10x8¼".
Legend and myth hover over the breathtaking landscape of the American West, and the region has inspired adventure-seekers and artists alike for centuries. Yet the modern sprawl of suburbia and office parks conflicts with our nostalgic imaginings of “cowboys and Indians.” With The Way Out West, Michelle Van Parys deftly combines words and images to reflect on the contradictory and tumultuous landscape of the New West.
Traveling from California, Nevada, and Utah through to Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, Van Parys trains her camera’s penetrating gaze on the hard-edged natural beauty of the West—and its constantly changing contemporary identity. Whether documenting the glitter of the ever-expanding metropolises of Phoenix and Las Vegas or the quiet reserve of Monument Valley, Van Parys’s images, she explains, seek to “juxtapose nineteenth-century notions of the sublime landscape with the way in which we live on the land today, thereby drawing attention to our uneasy alliance with the natural world.” Essays by Lucy Lippard and Geoffrey Batchen build upon Van Parys’s images, arguing that she puts forth a wholly original visual narrative that depicts the American West from a thought-provoking new perspective. Van Parys’s photographic journey ultimately reveals that the West is still a place of renewal and reinvention, a theater of clashes and compromises between human enterprise and nature’s limits, set against the unyielding backdrop of desert and bush.
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