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About the Photographer
American, b. 1961
David Maisel is interested in the dialectic balance between what is seen on the surface of a photograph, the complex reality that lies beneath, and how beauty can suggest the ideal while obscuring the often darker side of a subject. In 1987 he began a long-term investigation of sites that have been profoundly impacted by industry or other large-scale human activities, photographing the dramatic environments from an aerial perspective. Since then he has expanded the project, which he calls Black Maps, into a study in multiple chapters.
In one chapter, The Lake Project (2001-2002), Maisel’s stunning photographs of the Owens Valley in southeastern California appear otherworldly. In 1913 the City of Los Angeles diverted water from this valley into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, providing a substantial amount of the city’s water supply. By 1926, the water in the valley was essentially depleted, leaving a vast exposed salt flat with unusually condensed mineral levels and extremely vulnerable top soil. With the notorious high winds in the area, the resulting persistent dust cloud has become the largest source of particle matter pollution in the United States. "Although these photographs evidence the destruction of the environment," Maisel has remarked, "they also transcribe an interior psychic landscape that is profoundly disturbing. As otherworldly as the images appear, they depict a shattered reality of our own making." Serving as a coda to The Lake Project, Maisel’s Oblivion series views Los Angeles from the air and devoid of color. He inverts the prints to a negative and implies that we are seeing the organic substructure of the city as we would in an X-ray.
Born in New York City, Maisel completed a BA at Princeton University, and an MFA at California College of the Arts. He has also studied at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and been a resident scholar at the Getty Research Institute. Maisel has lived and worked in San Francisco since 1993.