David Maisel | The Lake Project

The discussion of The Infrastructural City will start next Monday, with the comments and thoughts around the first chapter, “Reconstructing the Void”, focused on the relationship between Los Angeles and Owens Lake, described by Barry Lehrman with these words:

Two hundreds miles due north of Los Angeles lies a 108-square-mle playa, the abandoned corpse of Owens Lake, a silent victim of the city’s destructive thirst. Almost a century ago, Los Angeles became dependent on this distant watershed, funneling its life-giving liquid into a vast aqueduct to nurture its delirious growth.

We will be participating with our own thoughts to share and discuss next week, but now, while reading more about, we remind the work done by photographer David Maisel in the early 2000s, but we think is worth to mention here, because of the quality of his images and the research behind. “Maisel is assembling a map from numerous vantage points, piecing together the complex overlay of human intervention natural systems, and the inherent chaos and logic that inform them both.” said Diana Gaston, writer.

Beginning in 1913, the Owens River was diverted to bring water to Los Angeles. By 1926, the depleted lake exposed vast mineral flats, and the lakebed soon became the highest source of particulate matter pollution in the U.S., emitting some 300,000 tons of carcinogens annually. Blooms of bacterial organisms emerged from the little water that remained, turning it a deep red. Viewed from the air, vestiges of the lake appear as a river of blood, a bisected vein, or a galaxy’s map.

Maisel images seems to be the middle point between a painting and a sci-fi landscape. Inhuman, human, inhuman in Maisel words. The lake is currently a large salt flat whose surface is made of a mixture of clay, sand, and a variety of minerals including halite, mirabilite, thenardite and trona, that’s why the colors in Maisel images are so intense. When conditions are right, bright pink halophilic [salt-loving] bacteria spread across the salty lakebed. Also, on especially hot summer days when ground temperatures exceed 150° F [66°C], water is driven out of the hydrates on the lakebed creating a muddy brine.

Maisel once said that looking at the lake from the plane, he tought on what Ashberry wrote to Francesco Parmigianino:

Your eyes proclaim that everything is surface. The surface is what’s there
And nothing can exist except what’s there

“This photographic treatment of landscape as metaphor does not provide a great deal of specificity, or a detailed understanding of the environmental problems at hand”, comments Diana Gaston and she adds, “Maisel uses this highly charged method of seeing to reveal the landscape in something other than purely visual terms, translating it as an archetypal space of destruction and ruin that mirrors the darkest corners of our consciousness.”

Geoff Manaugh said in an interview with David Maisel published at the BLDGBLOG Book:

“Those colors at Owens Lake are, fundamentally, the result of chemical processes -yet so is photography […] Owens Lake, in other words, is a massive photographic plate, producing abstract hydrological imagery on its surface, twenty-four hours a day.”

Now, with this poetic overwiew about Owens Lake, we’re going to wait until Monday 26 to go infrastructural and start writing about Owens Lake in other terms. See you there!


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