While exploring the world in search of the greatest universal sites, both man-made and natural, Lynn Davis most recently began photographing the architectural icons, cornerstones, and abandoned sites of the space industry. This new series reflects the many facets of a historically complex industry: the beginnings of space exploration and the Space Race; the uncertainty of the Cold War; the changing nature of technology; the current trend of historicizing modernity and our fascination with its ruins.
The majority of works in the series were taken in and around the grounds of Baikonur in Kazakhstan. With special permission to visit the compound granted to her, Davis had the rare opportunity to photograph the site. Baikonur has been a leading launch site since the earliest attempts at space exploration in the 1950’s. Simultaneously, the site was host to missile and other top-secret military testing. Shrouded in secrecy for most of that time and throughout the Cold War, Davis’ new photographs offers us one of the first inside glimpses of Baikonur’s launches, transmission towers, fuel lines and satellites. With her impeccable eye for composition, Davis’ photographs render the complexity of the sites’ architecture legible in a new, artistic context. Lynn Davis’ penchant for monumental geometry is perfectly complimented by the modernist style of the structures at Baikonur.
A sense of abstraction, which is a hallmark of the artist’s style, informs her vision of the sites at Baikonur and others around the globe, emphasizing the bold modernism of their lines while evoking the presence of a past technology. Having shot these sites with color film, Davis printed the works using the most advanced processes in color printing. The technical achievement of the prints balances the technological marvels and monuments reproduced in the photographs.
Lynn Davis (American, born 1944) received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1970, and then trained with Berenice Abbott in New York. In 1979, she had her first exhibition at the International Center of Photography (New York) alongside her close friend Robert Mapplethorpe. Her work underwent a dramatic shift after her first trip to Greenland in 1986 when she gave up the representation of the human form for landscape. Setting herself in the grand tradition of nineteenth century landscape photography, and driven by an encyclopedic desire to record the natural and architectural monuments of the world, Davis has since documented the pyramids of Egypt, the ancient architectural ruins of Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Italy, and of the Middle East (Israel, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Yemen), as well as mythical natural wonders, including the Grand Geyser in Yellowstone and Wave Rock in Australia. Davis’ exploration of the African continent (including Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, and a second look at Egypt) resulted in the solo show Africa held at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson in 1999. Selections of the African images appeared the same year in Wonders of the African World by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 1999 also saw the publication of Davis’ second monograph, the classic Monument, released by Arena Editions. Davis’ latest monograph, American Monument, published by Monacelli Press, October 2004, will be released during the exhibition. A brief book jacket description reads:
American Monument unites—for the first time—more than ninety photographs taken in the United States, a body of work that speaks of America as a country of grandeur, civilization, and science and as a land of endless expanses and the open road.
Included are iconic national symbols—notably the memorials to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln on the Mall in Washington, D.C.—and famed works of architecture by a veritable catalog of prominent designers: H. H. Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Louis I. Kahn, Philip Johnson, Richard Meier, and Frank Gehry. Also among the images are examples of technology and engineering, from the Hoover Dam and the Very Large Array to sleek grain elevators and wind turbines to deserted farm buildings across the West. Roadside relics also figure: motel signs along Route 66, a lone mast emerging from the Salton Sea, a prefabricated house ready for assembly.