Oblivion, is the newest extension of the Black Maps series from photographer David Maisel. The artist continues to use aerial photography to record environmentally impacted areas, but pushes his oeuvre in a dramatic new direction by using black and white film and printing the images in negative. As described by essayist William L. Fox, the pictures “can be abstract in the extreme and run exactly counter to the intent of most aerial photography, which is to…. function as maps, to bear a one-to-one correspondence with reality….” In the case of these photographs, “the dissonance between our expectations and what we see presents us with a puzzle we are compelled to address.”
Viewers will also be compelled to confront the ecological impact that Maisel, without politicizing or proselytizing, lays bare. He calls Oblivion a coda to his 2002-03 series The Lake Project, wherein he documented, with terrifying beauty, the after-effects of the 1913 draining of Owens Lake to hydrate Los Angeles. Those images begged the question “Where has the water gone?” and here, in a logical next step, Maisel presents images of Los Angeles circa 2004.
Clearly, the city did not stop growing after it had consumed the contents of Owens Lake. With this series of haunting images, the artist presents Los Angeles as an archetype; in his own words, the city, and by extension the photographs, are “emblematic of an idea of modern space that is linked to an increasing sense of collective societal anxiety.”