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Richard Misrach: Desert Cantos

The great American desert has served as a vital iconic symbol of our precarious relationship with the land ever since American settlers first reached the western edge of the continent. The desert provides the thematic focus in this book, but with the “cantos” organized around the four elements, Richard Misrach offers an apocalyptic version of our complex relationship to it. Richard Misrach’s photographs are spectacular landscape views, but they are more than that. He is concerned with the desert as a wild and primordial place and with the effects of the human presence on the desert. He maintains an interesting and ironic balance between the beautiful dreamy colors and the natural (or man-made) catastrophes, like floods and fires. In contrast to the catastrophes, his photographs of a shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base are lovely views of a mundane, almost trivial event. The conclusions offered and multifaceted: human use and habitation of the desert have resulted in a great deal of destruction of a fragile environment, but at the same time the human intrusion seems small and ultimately of little consequence.—from the introduction by Reyner Banham