Power Dynamics

Power Dynamics explores the often uneasy relationship between energy and landscape. As consumers of energy, we bear a responsibility to consider how our nuclear power plants, oil wells, coal mines, wind farms, or solar arrays affect our planet and how we might use our natural resources in a sustainable, even healing, way. Power depends on the assumption of human control over the natural world, a dynamic that was evident in the early years of electricity: in 1910 Ezra Pound responded to the sight of New York’s newly-illuminated skyline by declaring, “Here is our poetry, we have pulled down the stars to our will.”1

Attitudes about power in the landscape have changed over time. In nineteenth-century photographs such as the stereograph by C.E. Lewis, a symbol of power – a sawmill smokestack – was placed in the center of the composition and reflected on the tranquil surface of the river that powered the mill. Casting an ironic eye on the landscape, contemporary photographer John Pfahl mimics this tranquil look in his photograph of a riverside nuclear power plant. As Pfahl observes, “For me, power plants in the natural landscape represent only the most extreme example of man’s willful domination over the wilderness. It is the arena where the needs and ambitions of an ever-expanding population collide most forcefully with the finite resources of nature.”

A dynamic frequently associated with new sources of power is wonder. Documenting atomic bomb tests in the early 1950s, Harold Edgerton produced visual images of the nuclear age, whose energies many hoped would provide limitless, inexpensive power. In their photographs of alternative wind and solar energy solutions, Marilyn Bridges and Jamey Stillings use aerial views to highlight the scale of energy development. On the other hand, photographs by George Osodi and Michael Cherney point to the global complexities of energy production and the uneasy relationship between the natural world and the need for energy to fuel our modern lives.

Given the current crisis of global climate change that we face as a planet, the question of power, both physical and political, is of paramount importance.