The Border of Nowhere and Nowhere

from The Edge of Light: Wendover; Brian Rosa and Adam Ryder
I’ve recently had the chance to correspond with Josh Wallaert, the assistant editor of Places, “an interdisciplinary journal of contemporary architecture, landscape and urbanism.” The publication began 28 years ago as a joint project of the Architecture faculty at MIT and UC-Berkeley, and, in 2009, shifted to an open access internet site. With an “emphasis on the public realm as physical place and social ideal,” the editors have made their entire print archive available for download as pdfs; their site is a gorgeous and thought-provoking mixture of essays, contemporary arts coverage, and multimedia exhibits.
As our readers might expect, a publication concerned with urbanism will also find itself concerned with the city’s connectedness to its rural periphery–and Places features a number of exhibits that consider the rural-urban dialogue. We’ll be featuring many of these exhibits soon.
Mr. Wallaert first pointed me toward their recent essay and slideshow The Edge of Light: Wendover, a photographic collaboration between Brian Rosa and Adam Ryder. As artists-in-residence at The Center for Land Use Interpretation (see our coverage of Richard Saxton’s work at the Center here), the photographers spent some time considering the landscapes of Wendover, Utah and West Wendover, Nevada. “This isolated but historically important pocket of the West,” they tell us, “straddles the border of nowhere and nowhere;” during World War II it was the home of the most extensive bombing range in the United States and the site from which the Enola Gay departed for Hiroshima. When the war concluded, the military pulled its personnel and its economic resources out of the town, leaving it, in many senses of the word, abandoned. The community has, more recently, been transformed by the casinos built on the Nevada side of the border. It stands an amalgam that confuses our easy definitions of rural and urban space.
Mr. Rosa and Mr. Ryder’s photographs also benefit from the unique landscape of the region, which surrounds the human environment and casts it in a defamiliarizing context:
The unique topography of the region, which lies at the foot of the Toana mountain range and the Leppy Hills, offers the opportunity for unexpectedly dynamic vistas. Trudging up to the promontories that loom over town, we had oblique views of the city, of the perfectly straight and flat stretch of Interstate 80 through the salt flats and of the monolithic communication arrays. From this vantage on a clear day, we found ourselves at one of the few points where the earth’s curvature can be seen on the horizon with the naked eye. At night, while the Utah side was nearly lightless, the casinos and hotels and parking lots on the Nevada side glowed bright as day, projecting a harsh screen of light on newly built tract housing, piles of concrete rubble from building demolitions and the mountains beyond.
These photographers sought to document “the interstitial, unoccupied spaces at the edges of the interstate, among the ruins of the military base, and between the nightlife zones and the casino workers’ tract housing.” The results, which can be viewed in the slideshow on the Places site, is alternately harrowing and beautiful.
Brian Rosa is currently working on a PhD in human geography at The University of Manchester, while Adam Ryder is enrolled in the Photography, Video and Related Media program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. They collaborate as the Site Unseen project, and offer some rich slideshows of work from their recent sojourn in Mexico City, as well as On The Grid, a provocative project that utlized GPS and digital mapping software to reconsider how landscape photography could represent Rhode Island’s network of high-tension power lines.
Most of all, readers may be interested in Little America, a collection of photographs of “the everyday landscapes of roadside America.” While Mr. Rosa and Mr. Ryder are urban artists, their insights into rural space and rural culture are well worth considering. This is not nostalgic “roadside America,” but a series of photographs that, at least to my reading, demonstrate the variety of contemporary and historical narratives to be found outside of urban America.