The Yancey Richardson Gallery presents Yet All Remains, an exhibition of photographs by Victoria Sambunaris that explore the intersection of civilization, geology and natural history particular to the United States. Accompanied by John McPhee’s book, Annals of the Former World, a literary dissection of the history of the continent, Sambunaris set out on a cross-country journey to explore the relationship between man, nature and evolution. Following I-80 west, Sambunaris ultimately drove 11,000 miles through the heart of the country over a period of 12 weeks, passing through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. The resulting work speaks to both the country’s geological evolution as well as to its embrace of Manifest Destiny.
As she moved across the continent, Sambunaris attempted to decipher the layers of the landscape and “to explore the mystery of what a particular place contains.” But for Sambunaris, “place” is perpetually changing. She describes her work as a way of looking at time in a physical form. As she notes about her photograph of Salt Lake City, “The Great Salt Lake was once a huge inland sea. What happened and why? And how do we inhabit this place now?”
In Yet All Remains Sambunaris maintains her ongoing consideration of industry, commerce and human intervention in the landscape. Like her earlier images of mines in the Nevada desert or the pipeline snaking through an edenic Alaskan valley, her current photographs of coal mines, dams and housing developments elicit questions of land use and the harnessing of natural resources.
Sambunaris’ coolly conceived images of the American West acknowledge the contemporary influence of the New Topographic tradition from the early 1970s as well as the 19th century expeditionary photographs of Timothy O’Sullivan and Carleton Watkins. Like these objective, but highly descriptive images, Sambunaris’ photographs employ a rich visual taxonomy that nevertheless remains open to interpretation. Sambunaris explains, “I resist approaching a landscape strictly as an expanse of scenery but view it as an anomaly with an abundance of information to be discovered. Although I am captivated by the idea of how we inhabit our landscapes as we forge ahead in our development, my intent is to transcend political, ethical or environmental ideology and to allow viewers their own notions and meanings.”
Born in 1964, Sambunaris graduated from the Yale University MFA program in 1999. Her work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Women in the Arts as well as the Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, which granted her a Foundation Fellowship in Marfa, Texas.