Since 2001, I have been photographing the consequences of the sweeping human alteration of the Colorado River, in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. The Colorado, I soon learned, was greatly reduced from what it once was and no longer makes its ancient rendezvous with the Sea of Cortez, between the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican mainland.
Forces north of the border had other destinations planned for the river’s water, and in 1922 divided its annual flow between seven U.S. states and Mexico. They built an extensive network of dams, stilling much of the once roiling river and creating the foundation on which the Southwestern United States has been built.
But as it has turned out, the foundation of everything, the premise of 1922, was based more on wishful thinking than fact and up to 25% more water has been promised to the river’s users than actually exists.
My project has been an exploration of the disconnection many Americans have with the source of their water, one of the few things in the world without which we will not survive. Inevitably, our entire nation will pay for this hubris. Only the degree of sacrifice is still somewhat negotiable.
The Nevada Project
Twenty years ago I was wandering around in Nevada with my camera, compelled to photograph there and hoping that doing so would help me articulate the story I needed to tell to myself. I had just retreated back West from my first move to New York City, realizing that I would need a running start the next time if I were to survive there for real.
Things Fall Apart: Somalia
In assembling this website, I’ve revisited pictures taken back in the dark, early days of Somalia’s civil war, after the overthrow of the dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre. Back in 1992, I believed that if only the outside world could see what I was seeing, then that world would surely step up and save the country's people from catastrophic starvation. And the world seemed to have both the will and the means to do so in those days.
But I see now that the world had other plans. The United States-led military intervention, Operation Restore Hope, was poorly executed and the political situation on the ground, much of which had been shaped by the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, was either badly understood or ignored. After an ill-advised special forces raid in Mogadishu disintegrated into a massive firefight that left 18 Americans and unknown hundreds of Somalis killed, Operation Restore Hope was abandoned.
2004 Republican and Democratic National Conventions
In 2004, I photographed both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions for the Canadian magazine, The Walrus. The Democrats were in Boston's Fleet Center and the Republicans were in New York's Madison Squared Garden.
Unconventional: 2004 political conventions
In 2004, I photographed the Republican and Democratic party conventions for the Canadian magazine, The Walrus. As the presidential campaign began heating up in early 2016, I became curious to revisit those images, looking for clues to what lay ahead.
So much has happened both politically and technologically since the summer of 2004. Photojournalists were beginning to work with digital cameras at the time, but l was still working with a medium format rangefinder camera and Kodak color negative film, though what I was using then is no longer even made now. I'd digitally scanned about 100 of those pictures at the time, but shortly after this February's New Hampshire primary, I decided that I should finally make some work prints.
It was in this conversion from a purely digital existence back toward the pictures' more analog origins that the unexpected happened: my well-used Canon printer began distorting the tones and colors in the photographs, spitting out scenes that were unexpectedly surreal, yet at the same time somehow very true to life.
Much of the underpinning of the increasingly tortured American political landscape can be found in those first years of the 21st Century and perhaps we should not be so surprised now by what has happened. Do we lose important perspective on the world around us simply because we fall into looking at it in the same ways we have become used to? Are we victims of our own lack of imagination? And what are we missing now that will seem clear to us in 2028?
The Burden Of Memory
"With the loss of memory the continuities of meaning and judgment are also lost to us. The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us."
From About Looking by John Berger
On one of the first spring days of 1997, while I was photographing in a Sacramento, California neighborhood, a half-dozen young men beat, kicked and stomped me nearly to death. When I began to re-surface about a week later, I found myself residing in Sierra Gates, a quiet, pine-paneled brain injury treatment facility, not quite clear on how I had arrived there or even why I was there at all. In the two months that followed I would take the first unsteady steps I needed to take to rebuild my life, which would include actually re-learning how to walk. I even needed to re-learn how to remember.
Six months after my release, as an exercise with my speech therapist, I began to return to Sierra Gates to photograph. Having been attacked because I was a photographer I needed, as much as anything else, to learn to be a photographer again. But I had taken pictures there for about a year before I learned that I was trying to photograph my own completely altered experience of life.