Mark Ruwedel’s new exhibition at Large Glass is a selection of photographs taken from his in-progress epic Los Angeles: Landscapes of Four Ecologies, a work funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship awarded in 2014. At a time when predictions of climate catastrophe are becoming ever more frequent, these gelatin silver prints, hand printed and mounted by the artist, feel especially timely as evidence of this moment of escalating consequences, and are imbued with – in Ruwedel’s words – a “tragic beauty”.
Spanning five years of image-making, the collected works look out over the coastal frontier as it drops away towards the glassy surface of the Pacific, and inward to empty vistas shorn bare by Californian flames. Trees recur in the landscape, proud palms and scrubby brush; the collection of ‘Burnt Trees’ almost read like a group of portraits, their subjects majestic and lawless, even while choked by a fire season that grows longer each year. In his repeated attention to such subjects, the rhythm of Ruwedel’s work keeps pace with the cycles of the environment it records. The selection, here, is elemental: fire and water counterposed.
In amongst the tonal greys of Ruwedel’s landscape we also see traces of the human: a tiny figure picking its way across a hillside, cars studding a distant freeway. They are a reminder that, though the spaces Ruwedel pictures may appear wild, they are all situated within the bounds of the megacity called LA. “Most ‘wild’ spaces here exist either because the city is designed to include them, or, more likely, they have no commercial value — yet,”” Ruwedel says. Instead, they open up in wait of purpose, free to burn.
“When I say epic, I am thinking of a project that is almost too large and has porous boundaries, almost out of control,” says Ruwedel of the work. One might think also of fire, and of Los Angeles itself, sprawling, reaching, cultivated and uncultivated, the results of industry spreading uncontained.
Known primarily as a Western landscape photographer, LA-based Mark Ruwedel (b. 1954) has acknowledged a varied range of artistic influences from 19th Century photographers Carleton Watkins and Timothy H. O’Sullivan, as well as Earthworks artists such as Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, to the New Topographics photographers.
11 December 2020 – 19 February 2021