Reading the American Landscape

Yesterday I fortuitously came across “Reading the American Landscape” From NAi publishers:

“From high-rise to desert, urban sprawl to empty canyons, the American landscape is incredibly various: how does one even begin to take stock of its endlessly proliferating cityscapes and vast horizons? Reading the American Landscape rises marvelously to the challenge. For this anthropological epic, 25 landscape architects, urban designers, visual artists, photographers and commentators on the American landscape were invited by The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture to undertake a journey through the United States, to study and record its history and development…Designed by the much-admired Irma Boom, Reading the American Landscape offers amazing taxonomies of species, sites and structures—from verandas to concert halls, individual plants to entire parks, highways to railroads, indoor exhibition spaces to public sculptures, suburban homes to inner-city developments, desert horizons to secluded gardens, in 6,500 photographs printed in typological grids across nearly 1,000 pages.”

There is an interesting methodology to the documentation and  organization of the work:

“Their study revolved around three themes or types of location: the city park as a social space in densely developed cities; landscapes on the periphery of expanding cities; and the development of large-scale rural areas as exercises in conservation. The writers for this project were each given a bibliography, from which they selected a single title as a starting point for their essays, on subjects ranging from parks and gardens to more general speculations on the unique features of the American landscape.”

Going with more rather than less, the photo essays are loose in editing.  There are thousands of images to page through, consisting of a mix of banal and off-the-cuff moments combined with images that are more composed and considered…like a long, vicarious road trip.  Most of the photographs are curiously devoid of people (?).  I didn’t get the chance to read the essays or selected bibliographies (J.B. Jackson and the other heroes of the American vernacular were definitely in there) or to see how the text related to the imagery, but the titles sounded promising.   I did manage to meta document a bit of the American Landscape in the bookstore:

I’m not in the business of selling books, but Irma Boom’s design is superb.  It’s as if she was working with a Yellow Pages typology (a fading element of the American Landscape?).  When you pick up the book it has a similar feel and weight to a telephone directory…soft and bendy, thick and heavy, and filled with super thin paper.  The printing quality is remarkable given the near diaphanous canvases.  Well conceived and executed.

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