A New Form of Beauty: Glen Canyon Beyond Climate Change

PhotographerPeter Goin
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

In "A New Form of Beauty: Glen Canyon Beyond Climate Change" photographer Peter Goin and writer Peter Friederici tackle science from the viewpoint of art. By motorboat and kayak, they have ventured into remote corners “canyon country” and the once-huge reservoir of Lake Powell. Combining extensive reporting and Goin’s evocative photography over decades, A New Form of Beauty explores the challenges of perceiving place in a new era of radical change. Contemplating humanity’s role in the world it is creating, Goin and Friederici ask if the uncertainties inherent in Glen Canyon herald an unpredictable new future for every place. They challenge us to question how we look at the world, how we live in it, and what the future will be. Goin’s full-color photographs are organized in three galleries and an epilogue, interspersed with three essays by Friederici.

Story

My travels to Lake Powell began in 1987, only seven years after the first full pond. The blood-red mercury in the thermometer read over 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The intruding light absorbed every molecule of being; only persistent perspiration shielded me from desiccation. The sandstone walls rose as if in a challenge: Take heed, all you boaters, for the drunkenness and waste will deliver you unto dryness. Lake Powell’s shimmering sandstone cupolas and minarets appeared like nature’s cathedrals, constructed eons ago by water flowing, rushing, and eroding. So many religions originated within aridity; these are hardscrabble, demanding, and profound landscapes. But there was work to be done; gear had to be loaded, the boat launched, sites scouted. My assistant and I loaded the wheelbarrows with sleeping bags, coolers, stove, camera gear, food and plenty of ice, dragging these seemingly prehistoric machines up and down the ramp, trip after trip. For us, nature’s performance had only just begun. Within moments, the sky darkened and lightning bolted from sky to earth. Each pellet of water slammed into the sand, creating small explosions of dust and then puddles that soon evaporated, leaving behind a sticky and consuming air that made breathing deep and unfulfilling. Sweat soaked our shirts and stung our eyes, and we shed tears, without speaking. We were initiated into the atmosphere. And so my journey began, within the long days of light just prior to the solstice. Over the next ten days, we responded with piety and respect, acceptance and determination. We were possessed by the experience of the lyrical; little else seemed possible in that sensory overload. *** I’ve traveled and photographed Lake Powell for more than twenty-five years. I’ve experienced fear and doubt, joy and sadness, light and darkness within that sublime landscape. Here in the American Outback—a landscape ignored, diminished, and treated as if our own aridity were insignificant—the lessons learned by our ancestors are abandoned. The water that life itself depends upon is slowly slipping away, and blindness masks the future of civilized life: overpopulated, dry, fighting for resources. The controversy over the lake’s origin and destiny makes me wonder about my role in a complex dependency, even as I appreciate the undulating rhythms of blending colors: sky, sandstone, serene sunlight reflected and energized by canyon walls, and the gentle gaze of life itself. For me the documentary photograph cannot be defined by the literal, by the verifiable, or by the photographers who preceded me. The voices and imaginary narratives—the artifacts—are arrested, reflecting an essential characteristic of the made image. What truth light provokes is a subtle flow of losing track of parceled time, experiencing the moment as if past and future were philosophical ideals. These photographs are sentinels in the post–climate change era, where we haven’t accepted the concept of climate change: quiet, unassuming, declarative evidence that ruin is within our near future, and that ruin is not in the stars, but in ourselves.