On October 31, New York-based photographer and artist Dan Martensen will release his first book, Photographs of the American Southwest, in a limited edition from Damiani designed by creative agency Berger + Wild. The 112-page book features sixty haunting and evocative photographs captured by Martensed on read trips he took throughout the desolate titular landscape in the decade between 2001 and 2011, focusing on what he calls “these relics of man.”
Martensen, an acclaimed art, fashion, and editorial photographer, first began photographing the American Southwest on a drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 2001. The project which would eventually form the basis for Photographs of the American Southwest developed casually and unconsciously at first, originally intended as personal work rather than a formal series. Martensen found himself drawn to images of decline, a tendency that was heightened as the economic recession that began in 2008 started to take its toll on the forgotten, windswept towns scattered across the Southwest.
In an introductory conversation with Magnus Berger, co-founder of Berger + Wild, Martensen notes the themes of his project as “cars, religion, and decline.” In probing these quintessentially American ideas, Martensen avoids the easy and obvious iconography, pulling instead from a rich national tradition of frank and candid photography in the vein of William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld, and Stephen Shore. Martensen’s images are blunt and vivid, suffused with an aching sense of loss and moments of visual humor.
Martensen, a native of the crowded Northeast, says he was most intrigued by the idea that builds were “left behind” rather than built over, a habit made possible only by the seemingly unending space visible in many of his images. His photographs, however, are not the romantically natural landscapes of Ansel Adams, emphasizing instead the markings of a human population come and long gone. An essay by noted art writer Jason Farago underlines the political message of Martensen’s photographs, one that touches upon economic policy and immigration as well as the sense that the nation has lost some of its promise after the Bush years.
But Photographs of the American Southwest is no polemic–the themes speak for themselves without need for forceful insistence from Martensen. His images are crisp and pure, daydreams of an American promise now lost, but rich with the hope that it can be regained.
200 limited edition copies of Dan Martensen’s Photographs from The American Southwest have been produced as a signed copy of the book along with a custom box and limited edition 8×10 c-print. Standard unsigned copies are available for purchase as well.