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Observations in an Occupied Wilderness.
Photographs by Terry Falke. Introduction by Carol McCusker. Essay by William L. Fox.
Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2006. 120 pp., 75 color illustrations, two 4-page gatefolds, 11¾x10".

The story of the American West, as filtered through photography, follows a trajectory of majesty, ignorance and tragedy mixed with farce. The begats usually run this way: the raw (apparently largely uninhabited), hard-edged vision of Timothy O'Sullivan and the more gentle, colonized treatment by Carleton Watkins were supplanted in the 20th century by the nature-worshipping Adams (Ansel), Edward Weston and other purists, which then gave way in the 1960s and 70s to the more angst-filled, skeptical views of Adams the Second (Robert), which led at the end of the century to the proliferation of various commentators like Len Jenshel, Mark Klett, Richard Misrach, Peter Goin, and now Terry Falke. Falke has been traveling around the Southwest for the past decade or so, looking at several things. Inevitably, he has been documenting the commercialization, building and paving of the West. This includes its large-scale conversion into a theme-park parody of itself: purple mountain's majesty being eclipsed by a three-story blanket slide; tire-tracked "wild" areas plastered with signage and lists of rules; golf courses plunked in parched playas. But Falke's vision is certainly more nuanced-it's more than just another cry of pain. For one thing, the light and space of the West are still as sublime as ever, and captured on 8×10 color negative film, they pop and sing. That crisp lyricism works equally well for Falke whether he's looking at Hoover Dam at sunset or at birds in a pure blue dusk, clustered in a bare tree lapped by the Salton Sea. There are certainly some one-liners, most of which depend on an ironic use of text or familiar logos. But when Falke's eye for beauty melds with his sense of human hubris, the puny awkwardness of contemporary ambition outs itself against the residual grandeur and dignity of the place. William Fox's essay is a real bonus, in that his own long-running passion for Western spaces is allowed full rein, alongside his knowledge of photographers' means and motives. PHIL HARRIS Read Publisher's Description.

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