American, b. 1961
Lives and works in San Francisco, California
David Maisel’s carefully constructed, reality-based photographs chronicle the complex relationships between natural systems and human intervention. His investigative process and project-based practice illuminate the notion of place—through observation of natural phenomenon, the effects of the built environment, and what is revealed by societal detritus. His predominantly large-scaled photographs have demonstrated the physical transformation of the landscape caused by industrial efforts. By implementing an aerial perspective, Maisel observes and abstracts the landscape into photographic evidence that would otherwise be unattainable.
The Lake Project comprises images from Owens Lake, the site of a formerly 200 square-mile lake in California. Beginning in 1913, the Owens River was to bring water to Los Angeles. By 1926, the lake had been depleted, exposing vast mineral flats and transforming a fertile valley into an arid landscape. Fierce winds have dislodged microscopic particles from the lakebed, creating carcinogenic dust storms. The concentration of minerals in the remaining water yields blooms of microscopic bacteria, turning the liquid a deep, bloody red. The images serve, in a sense, as the lake’s autopsy. Viewed from the air, vestiges of the lake appear as a river of blood, a microchip, a bisected vein, or a galaxy’s map. It is this contemporary version of the sublime that Maisel finds compelling—a strange beauty born of environmental degradation.
His work has been the subject of five monographs: The Lake Project (Nazraeli Press, 2004), Oblivion (Nazraeli Press, 2006), Library of Dust (Chronicle Books, 2008), History’s Shadow (Nazraeli Press, 2011), and Black Maps (Steidl, 2013). His work is the subject of another forthcoming monograph, Proving Ground (Steidl, 2017). Maisel’s photographs, multi-media projects, and public installations have been exhibited at Bolinas Art Museum, Bolinas, CA (2003); The University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, NM (2004); Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, CA (2005); Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA (2008); Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR (2008); California Museum of Photography, Riverside, CA (2010); National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (2015); and ZKM Museum, Karlsruhe, Germany (2016). His works are included in many public collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, U.K.; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX.