On the Geography of Total Industrialization:
Kansas is a place of peculiar cultural paradox and intense natural forces. It has become something of a truism to say that nature and culture are not separate. Kansas can be seen as a pointed example of such a system. For a relatively small, sparsely populated region it has an outsized, insufficiently examined effect on the broader world--Koch Industries, basketball, President Eisenhower, and the Spanish influenza, all originated in Kansas. It is my intention to metaphorically map this region with photography to depict the intense origin, character and scale of this influence.
If a map is a schematic representation of a geographic area, with selected coordinates analogous to actual features of a landscape, then a photograph, or a series of photographs, can function as a metaphoric map of circumstances and meanings that characterize a particular place.
I grew up in northeast Kansas and then moved away as a young adult in search of experience in the wider world. From 1985 to 2008, I lived in Paris for 10 years, spent 11 years in Brooklyn, and traveled extensively. During this period I visited Kansas intermittently, getting time-lapse freeze-frame glimpses of the tremendous changes occurring in the state. The experience of living for more than two decades in cultural environments so dramatically different from where I grew up gives me a unique frame of reference for my home.
The image of Kansas depicted by popular culture--from The Wizard of Oz to Dwight Eisenhower’s wholesome and conservative representation of middle America to Thomas Franks’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?--masks a much more intense, significant, complex and influential reality that is changing rapidly. After I moved back, and spent time seeing my environs here, not as a visitor, but as a Kansan, I became more aware of how thoroughgoing and deep these changes are. In my eyes, the changes seem only partly manmade, and only partly natural. I saw the interaction of Man and Nature in Kansas more dialectically now: a conversation across the decades. This conversation goes back to the first arrival of Europeans here in the 16th century – and up to the present day, when Kansans (and everyone everywhere) have been thrust into an unknowable and foreboding future.
I look at the land that is my home, and with increasing frequency see "improvements" that are detractions… "additions" that are removals… "development" that is destruction. The conversation has turned ugly, to such an extent that it is possible we have crossed a tipping point of no return.
On a recent trip to the southwestern corner of the state, I happened upon The Lakin Independent, a local newspaper. One headline stood out: “Weather Modification Update.” The article detailed a series of attempts to prevent hail damage to crops by seeding threatening storm systems with "hail-suppression substances." On reading the article, it struck me that the entire Kansas biosphere--encompassing an area about the size of the Mediterranean Sea, from deep beneath the topsoil to the upper reaches of the stratosphere--is being manipulated by industrial food production systems. I would like to see these weather modification flights in action. Would they look like the Berlin Airlift? A moth, bumblebee, mosquito or housefly? Icarus flying too close to the sun? The flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz?
This catalyzed a realization of what I was seeing all around me. The scale of the upheaval is staggering and unprecedented in the geological history of the planet. The Holocene Era, scientists say, lasted about 12,000 years. They now say that we are in the Anthropocene: a world so radically affected by the presence and activities of human beings that this era must be named for humanity itself. This is our world – whether admiring it or deploring it, it is ours; we made it.