This week and next, Lenscratch will be sharing the CENTER Awards winners and the statements by the jurors to help understand their choices.
Congratulations to Jennifer Little for winning Third Place in CENTER’s Curators Choice Award. Jennifer received a B.F.A. in Photography from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a tenured Associate Professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. Jennifer won the prestigious 2014 Critical Mass Top 50 Award from PhotoLucida. She has presented artist talks at the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) National Conference, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Stanford University, University of LaVerne, and San Francisco Art Institute. Her recent exhibitions include GuatePhoto International Photography Festival; Stanford University’s Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery; SF Camerawork; Tag Gallery in Bergamot Station Arts Center, Santa Monica, CA; Sol Mednick Gallery at University of the Arts, Philadelphia; Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA; and Photo Center Northwest, Seattle, WA.
CURATOR’S CHOICE: Juror’s Statement Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artists accepted the necessary consequences of exposing themselves and their work in public and submitted over 3,500 photographs to this year’s CENTER Awards in the “Curator’s Choice” category. I had the great pleasure of looking at them all. It was a life affirming process from start to finish. Not because every picture maker convinced me that they were the true inheritor of the pictorial tradition of Daguerre, Fox Talbot, and Brady; or a worthy descendant of Nadar, Sander, and Arbus; or an expander of the experimental graphic practices of Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray; or an able disciple of the poignant social realism seen in the work of Hine or Lange. Some applied their understanding of these historical models; others carefully avoided them. A few were blissfully unaware of anything but their desire to add a new image to a world already brimming full of them. Collectively, the CENTER’s applicants prove once again that the medium of photography, both analog and digital, is alive and well and a corrective to those who might believe otherwise.
Jennifer Little, the third prize winner, has focused on landscape, not portraiture. Her documentary project examines Owens Lake, a dry alkali flat located 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. According to Little, its dust has become the largest source of carcinogenic particulate air pollution in North America, the mitigation of which has cost the nation $1.3 billion to date. The photographs show a scarred, post-apocalyptic world that is seemingly endless. Her project reminds us that one of the essential roles of the camera is to show us, as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land, “fear in a handful of dust.”
To these three awardees, and to all those not on this very short list, I thank you on behalf of the CENTER for believing that seeing is a personal and creative act, and photography the perfect medium to explore our differences.
100 YEARS OF DUST:
Owens Lake And The Los Angeles Aqueduct
My series, 100 Years of Dust: Owens Lake and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, documents the latest chapter in a century of legal battles over water rights and air quality in Owens Valley, California. Owens Lake lies in Southern California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. This 110-square-mile lake began to dry up in 1913 when the City of Los Angeles diverted the Owens River into the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The new water supply allowed Los Angeles to continue its rapid growth and turned the arid San Fernando Valley into an agricultural oasis, but at a tremendous environmental cost. By 1926, Owens Lake was a dry alkali flat, and its dust became the largest source of carcinogenic particulate air pollution in North America.
In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) take steps to minimize the toxic PM-10 dust pollution from Owens Dry Lake. This pollution was 100 times greater than federal air safety standards. LADWP began construction on the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Project in the year 2000. They have installed 42 square miles of dust mitigation zones, including gravel cover, managed vegetation, buried drip tubing, and irrigation bubblers to shallow flood the dry lakebed. Their dust mitigation program has cost $1.3 billion to date and requires so much water that it may not be sustainable as climate change results in a drier climate for California.
The sordid history of Owens Valley and the Los Angeles Aqueduct is an important cautionary tale about modern civilization and the ill-conceived hubris of our water engineering projects. We cannot afford to forget how delicately interconnected ecological systems are as we deal with the impacts of climate change. The LADWP of today has not learned the lessons of its past. They are trying to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of the LA Aqueduct—the largest aqueduct engineering project of its day—with a massive, expensive, and extremely high maintenance new environmental engineering project that is the largest of our day.