Photographer Captures Poetry and Perils of Sprawl
Few things provide context for a place like an aerial view. When we only see what’s in our immediate field of vision on the ground, it’s tough to understand how we fit into the world around us. Gaining this larger perspective is what photographer Christoph Gielen achieves with “Ciphers,” a collection of shots showing suburban sprawl as seen from above. His examples, which are as varied as prisons and retirement communities, show an undeniable visual poetry to the patterned layouts of the homes.
Gielen also brings to attention the environmental impact sprawl, which is almost entirely dependent on cars to access. He writes on his site:
The goal of this work is to connect art with environmental politics and to trigger a discussion about contemporary building trends by looking closely at the ramifications of sprawl – to ask: what is sustainable planning? – particularly at this point in time, when a growing need for new housing is prevalent across the globe.
The images mostly speak for themselves, but one of the things not explicit is location: most of the developments Gielen chooses are former marshes of Florida or deserts of Arizona, Nevada and California–places that, in their natural states, are barely inhabitable are now blanketed with homes.
Sprawl is the byproduct of the notion that there was and always will be unlimited resources–unlimited gasoline to drive us further and further from city centers, unlimited money and materials to keep building and maintaining ever-growing homes, unlimited water to make prairie grasses grow in the desert. In our process of rethinking these misbegotten notions, people like Gielen provide visual demonstrations of where we’re at so that we might determine where we’re heading.