About the photographer

At the Citadel, Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq

At the Citadel, Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq


Photography and Me

I was born in the Midwest Rustbelt during its last good years, to the din of blast furnaces and thundering forges. Into the orange-gray haze of airborne grit, hundred-acre factories just blocks from our house churned out unending trainloads of shiny appliances, tractors, power plant turbines and chrome-armored automobiles–destined for markets from Madison to Mongolia. This industrial backdrop was the landscape of my childhood, natural to me, and the only world I knew.

            As a young student first seeing the celebrated Ansel Adams photographs of the Tetons and Yosemite, their perfection seemed intimidating, implausible. Later in art school, immersed in the difficult pictures of Goya, Rothko and Robert Frank, I learned that, in choosing subject matter, idealized grandeur is only one of many options.           

            Today no landscape on the planet is pristine; no environment is unaltered. The Anthropocene is here now. Smog over the Ross Ice Shelf; heaving Pacific islands of trash 3,000 miles from the nearest shore; a lattice of oil and gas pipelines trenched across National Parks and under remote western deserts; "eco-tourism" highways bulldozed through Bhutanese villages­­–this is human nature at work in the natural world. Photographing helps me to understand it all.

           My best pictures, seen as a group, are a collective autobiography, an extended self-portrait. They catalogue our cultural legacy by mirroring our optimism, hubris and audacity. I see my photos not as indictment, but as part of a larger conversation about our priorities. If indeed past is prologue, we have no shortage of lessons to guide us. Good photographs made along the way can help us learn from our choices, as we navigate the shifting landscape we depend on and claim to cherish.

Martin Stupich