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New Left Review 71, September-October 2011

jacob emery


Seen from the air, cultivated expanses of land resemble abstract paintings: the polka-dot patterns produced by agricultural pivots in the American West; the vast electrified grids of cities at night. It is an observation that has been made by many writers and by numerous people in window seats on cloudless days. A major branch of contemporary photography consists of high-altitude panoramas of construction sites, cranberry harvests, strip mines, and so on, rendered legible as objects only through reference to a caption. ‘The warm and cool hues of this bauxite waste remind artist J. Henry Fair of a Kandinsky painting,’ reads the note to Fair’s photograph Transition, a gorgeous wash of industrial effluvia typical of his Industrial Scars series. Similarly, the photographer Georg Gerster selected views for his aerial photographs ‘mostly for their design quality, symmetry of town plans, highways and parking lots, the mosaic patterns of agricultural fields that look like multicoloured patchworks’. [1] J. Henry Fair, Industrial Scars, Arts House, Singapore, 19–30 October 2007. On Georg Gerster, see Margaret Dreikausen, Aerial Perception: Earth as Seen from Aircraft and Spacecraft and Its Influence on Contemporary Art, Philadelphia 1985, p. 17.

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Jacob Emery, ‘Art of the Industrial Trace’, NLR 71: £3

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