Fine Art Photography Daily

Michael Lundgren: The States Project: Arizona

There are not many people I know that spend more time exploring the desert landscape than Michael Lundgren. Whether it is here in Southwestern U.S., across the border in Mexico or elsewhere, it is Mike’s impulse towards exploration and persistent curiosity that informs his photography.

Over the course of nine years, Michael has created a compelling body of photographs that he recently compiled into a series titled Matter. This series has lead to his second monograph to be published by award-winning publisher Radius Books. Matter is currently available for pre-order through

The work pushes passed the boundaries of documentation into a purposeful culmination of the uncanny and sublime. The collective works in Matter refreshingly remind us that we, the viewer, have indeed not “seen everything before.”

These works reveal a side of our world (a world) that is treacherous and unforgiving, yet arresting. In spending time with this work, I feel fear and awe, and I attempt to search for the answers in the endless questions these photographs propose. In his own words he “…draws on a deep current in photographic tradition that takes the natural world as a seat of transcendence.”

Lundgren’s work resides in the esteemed collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; the Fralin Museum, Charlottesville; Brandts Museum of Photographic Art, Denmark; among others. Lundgren has exhibited in contemporary art galleries and museums including ClampArt and Bruce Silverstein galleries in New York; the Legion of Honor, San Francisco; the Fralin Museum; Tokyo Photo; Paris Photo; and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Most recently his work was included in exhibitions such as Out of Obscurity, Flowers Gallery, London, Defying Darkness, MOPA, San Diego and Where There’s Smoke at Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. He was recently named a finalist for the Hariban Award and Immersion: A French American Photography Commission.


Damn! Good edit. I am a bit frightened, not going to lie.  Are you looking to incite fear when making this work or to capture something that might provoke that feeling?

I’m glad you are frightened. I mean, I don’t want you to live a state of fear because of these pictures, but the world can be a terrifying place. Nature is not always the nice redemptive thing we have assumed.


©Michael Lundgren

I am glad I am frightened too! It is wonderful to feel something other than the acknowledgment of a good photograph while looking at photography. I have yet to see the book, but I am going to assume most all of the images carry the same amount of weight. The fact that you have been working on this project for nine years tells me that this is something you are aware of. Like our dear friend and ASU Photo Faculty Bill Jenkins says, “Can you make that into a question and answer it?”

I’ll have to get you a copy of the book. They just passed through customs and reached the Radius warehouse, so I should have more soon. Haha, wouldn’t it be great to be able to start all over and take those classes with Bill again? A mind like no other. Not sure I can put it into a question, but..

I think that a good photograph should do that to you. For me the experience should resonate in more than one part––the mind, the body, the feeling, whatever. Though I don’t think we get to those deeper experiences easily in a flat piece of paper. And maybe its fine to make and enjoy pictures for very simple reasons as well, but I recall Aaron Siskind saying that ‘we need to move beyond literal description, into idea and meaning.’ (or something like that)

And yes the fact that I’ve been steadily working on this book for nine years either makes me a shitty photographer, or it really gave me the opportunity to refine the work. I suppose that’s one argument for paddling slowly through ones career instead of rocketing to fame. Hopefully the next one will come a little faster to me.


©Michael Lundgren

Slow and steady is good by me. I see a lot more dead desert hares on the side of the road than the desert tortoise. There is no doubt that this work is refined and that you are a master of your craft. Nine years leaves a lot of time for experiences. Is there an image in the edit that you are sharing with me that comes with a side story that you would be willing to share?

Sure, how about the one titled New Form (that’s the one of the snake)

I was hired by a travel magazine to photograph a destination hotel in Sonora. What was supposed to be a seven hour drive turned into 13 hours, including a ridiculous crawl over a mountain in one of the most terrifying monsoon storms I had ever been in. There was so much water that the paved road had become an obstacle course of rocks and chunks of mud, literally a river––and of course it was night. White knuckle. So I’m driving along and there’s this snake in the middle of the road. I don’t know if he was killed by a car or by the storm, but he was in this perfect shape that I’d never seen before. There was this grace to it, head touching body, tail touching body, and somewhat in the shape of the constellation Cassiopeia. It was also lying belly up so it glowed white in my headlights. I thought that the snake must have intentionally died in that position, like a warrior’s last dance. So I got out and photographed it with my rangefinder––no way was I setting up a tripod and 4×5 in this storm. Of course it’s with flash and I recall, as I pressed the shutter, seeing the snake as a constellation and the reflection of the flash on the rain covered road as a nebulae. The print is way better because the small stones in the asphalt take on the feeling of a photograph of the night sky, all of these different colors as stars will do, but then you’re ultimately back on the blacktop with the dead snake.  I’m a sucker for pictures like this––where at first it’s of the world, then it’s about something else, then it’s of the world again.


©Michael Lundgren

Wow! That’s a great background story. Thank you for sharing your thought process behind that photograph! Is there any last thing you would like to share about the series or the forthcoming book?

Buy the book! Or buy it for someone else. It’s a beautiful object and a visual journey. There’s a real special treat in the back of each one. You won’t be disappointed.


©Michael Lundgren


©Michael Lundgren


©Michael Lundgren


©Michael Lundgren


©Michael Lundgren


©Michael Lundgren


©Michael Lundgren


©Michael Lundgren

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