ALEX MACLEAN (AMERICAN ARTIFACTS) -
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"AMERICAN ARTIFACTS "
Exhibition thru 10 Mach 2007
MacLean’s fascination with landscape began with annual family visits to the Thousand Islands at the head of the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. His interests continued through college, and after graduating from Harvard College in 1969 and earning a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1973, MacLean received his commercial pilot license in 1975. During an economic downturn, which made jobs in the design field hard to find, MacLean established his own company, Landslides Aerial Photography. Although MacLean began to shoot aerial photographs for university libraries, he eventually acquired municipal, institutional, corporate, and private clients. His first plane was a Cessna 172, which he bought in 1980; today he flies his Cessna 182, based at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts.
MacLean has flown over most of the United States and parts of Europe. His photographs have been exhibited in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia and have been the subject of four books. His work has been recognized with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Graham Foundation, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the American Academy in Rome, which awarded him the 2003–2004 Prix de Rome in Landscape Architecture. MacLean maintains a studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lives in Lincoln.
View From The Top
Alex MacLean takes both hands off the controls of his two-seater Cessna 182, grabs his camera, leans out the open window of his cockpit, and starts shooting. The plane, meanwhile, starts wiggling.
A Harvard-trained architect-turned-photographer-pilot, MacLean, 58, has spent his entire career, almost 30 years now, in tiny planes and the occasional helicopter, gazing down. His camera captures polluted rivers, pristine forests, the ribbony patterns of plowed wheat fields, burned-out urban row houses -- the gamut of the American landscape.
''Fences, roads, railways, planting furrows, and even the invisible grid of latitude and longitude are all evidence of our effo rts to control the land, to make it comprehensible, and to connect with one another," Many of MacLean's photographs are implicit criticisms of the damage that governments and businesses have inflicted on the land. Some turn industrial waste sites and vast swaths of clear-cut forests into strangely opulent images. Even he, though, can't take the horror and chill out of a photograph of an Arizona air force base littered with B-52s that have been guillotined by a 13,000-pound blade to comply with an arms-reduction treaty. Their potential for destruction neutered, they represent a grotesque waste.
MacLean is an artist and also a cartographer. He's exhibited in great art museums, including a solo turn at the Menil Collection in Houston, but he's also participated in projects including a study of population density he's currently doing for the Cambridge-based Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. His career is international. Two years ago he won the Prix de Rome, a venerable award in landscape architecture.
Because he's so visually acute, his photographs say more about the landscape, and in a more eloquent way." ''Basically, I take pictures from three different views," says MacLean, from his cockpit. ''With or without a horizon line, or straight down." After all these years, he's still excited by his art, and he likes explaining it to his passenger du jour. ''I generally fly at 1,000 to 2,000 feet up," he says. ''From higher up you notice things like the overall system of interconnecting bodies of water, patterns you can't detect lower down. ''I love shooting in the winter, with snow on the ground," he goes on.
Ones he laments are the vast housing developments where the homes are essentially the same, erected on winding roads that have nothing to do with the actual topography. He also dislikes generic suburban corporate complexes.
There's a hint of nostalgia in his voice. ''GPS has taken the adventure out of flying," he says. ''It used to be such fun to get lost, just to wander in the sky."
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