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Jamey Stillings on The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar


photo-eye Gallery Jamey Stillings on The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar photo-eye Gallery is pleased to announce the completion of Jamey Stillings' The Evolution of Ivanpah. Stillings talks about the series with photo-eye Gallery's Anne Kelly.

#13212 November 1, 2013 -- Jamey Stillings

The last time I interviewed Jamey Stillings was just after the completion of his impressive long term project, The Bridge at Hoover Dam. Images from this award winning series have been featured in quite a few publications including The New York Times Magazine Blog, Newsweek Japan, and Smithsonian among others — and have been published in the form of a fine art book from Nazraeli Press. Images from The Bridge at Hoover Dam have also been widely exhibited and acquired by several institutions including Library of Congress, Nevada Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as well as private collections.

The Bridge at Hoover Dam was instrumental in inspiring Stillings' next, equally impressive project, The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar. In this new project Stillings records the construction of Ivanpah Solar, which is now the world’s largest concentrated solar thermal power plant. With the eye of an artist, Stillings photographed the landscape as it was transformed by the installation of 347,000 mirrors (173,500 heliostats) and other structures. This new project has already received a tremendous amount of attention, winning first place in the 2013 International Photography Awards (Editorial Environmental Professional category) and appearing in publications such as The New York Times, NPR, B&W Magazine, Newsweek Japan, Time and Wired, among others.

In honor of the completion of this new project I have asked Stillings tell us how the bridge project led him to the Mojave desert — and other recent events. —Anne Kelly

#14378 February 3, 2014 -- Jamey Stillings

Anne Kelly:     How did the Bridge at Hoover Dam lead you to Ivanpah Solar?

Jamey Stillings:     During the final months of The Bridge at Hoover Dam project in late 2010, I began to think about what form the next project might take. In many ways, the Bridge had found me during a photo road trip in March 2009. I wanted to be proactive in seeking out a compelling new subject that would integrate my interest in the intersections of nature and human activity with my environmental concerns in issues of sustainability.

While teaching a workshop at the Santa Fe Workshops, a participant asked me about this. My reply put the future Ivanpah Solar project high on the list. It was destined to become the world's largest concentrated solar thermal power plant, 392 megawatts, out in the Mojave Desert of California. It also illustrated some of the conflicts and contradictions that even renewable energy projects engender when making decisions about preservation versus preservation of our land and natural resources.

#8695 October 27, 2012 -- Jamey Stillings

AK:     For you, what do the bridge and Ivanpah have in common?

JS:     Both projects have helped me to expand on my interest in the intersections between nature and humankind.

The Bridge and Ivanpah represent sustained visual inquiries of a single "subject" over time. This is a creative approach I love. Through a period of years, I get to know the geography of an area and its seasonal changes. On each visit, the project's construction will provide me new visual challenges. Since my visits to a site are often a few months apart, I must succeed or fail in a matter of minutes, hours or days.

AK:     How did photographing in the two construction sites differ?

JS:     Shooting the Bridge and Hoover Dam above and in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River was akin to the drama of a Wagnerian opera. Everything was dramatic, rugged and wild. On the ground, I had to plan each shoot, each angle in advance because of the necessity of permitting, permissions and logistics.

By contrast, the alluvial slopes west of Interstate 15 on the California/Nevada border are sparse and distilled. More like a tone poem than a dramatic opera.

To change metaphors, the future site of Ivanpah was like a blank canvas waiting to be transformed by the impending solar field construction.

Jamey Stillings shooting Ivanpah Solar 
Unable to coordinate and permit site access to commence a documentary body of work (a story in itself), I took to the sky in a helicopter. Three minutes of dappled sunlight streaking across the site before construction commenced in 2010 gave me a brief, but important start.

Photography over Ivanpah was challenging in several ways. Most of my shooting was done in the 30 minutes of first or last sunlight. For sunrise, this meant carefully calculating the prep, flight and scouting time necessary to commence shooting when dawn light reached a certain level. In the evening, it meant calculating fuel for the helicopter to ensure I was able to photograph as long as the light was interesting. Most of my favorite images were taken in a 15-30 minute period from each flight. With eighteen flights over three and a half years, this means primary photography for the project occurred in a cumulative period of five to nine hours!


Jamey Stillings
AK:     In the new project you switch from color to black and white. What inspired the switch?

JS:     As the Bridge project was in color, I began shooting and editing Ivanpah in color. Because I shoot digital capture RAW, color information is automatically contained within each file. Indeed, my first submission of the work to the 2011 CENTER awards was in color.

I shot for over a year before starting to make prints of the work. In the process of working in Photoshop, I felt the need to experiment. Immediately, I felt a strong and visceral with the black and white interpretations. Conflicted, I printed a large portfolio of black and white Ivanpah images for FotoFest 2012, while bringing along a few color prints (just in case).

This early Ivanpah work was well received at FotoFest and the aesthetic choice of black and white was affirmed on the first day. For this project, it is the right decision.

#9637 March 21, 2013 -- Jamey Stillings

AK:     Your work was recently acquired by Library of Congress and you recently received the Eliot Porter Grant. Congratulations! What steps did you take to set the wheels in motion?

JS:     I first shared work from The Bridge at Hoover Dam with curators from the U.S. Library of Congress in April 2010. They expressed an interest in acquiring work based on three criteria within their collections: a photographic history of Hoover Dam, a photographic history of bridges, and an aesthetic collection of bridge photographs. In early 2013, they acquired a portfolio of twenty-four Bridge prints.

In September 2012, I shared ongoing work from Ivanpah Solar during a visit to Washington, DC and they again expressed their support of this work. On September 30th, just before the U.S. government shutdown, they called to acquire more Bridge work and a portfolio from The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar, which we sent to them earlier this year.

I am tremendously honored and grateful for their support of my ongoing work. Knowing the work is housed in the Library of Congress lets me know that it can be referenced now and in the future as our historical perspective changes.

In fall of last year (2013), I was asked by the New Mexico Council on Photography to submit photographs and information about my ongoing work on Ivanpah Solar. As my first official grant, I am extremely grateful to the Council for their appreciation and support.

#11039 September 4, 2013 -- Jamey Stillings

AK:     What is next?

Working under the larger project umbrella of CHANGING PERSPECTIVES, my next project has the working title of Energy in the American West. Over the next few years, I will broaden my look at renewable energy, while spending significant time surveying contemporary fossil fuel energy production. My desire and goal is to grow this work to a project of global scale. My creative commitment and the support I am able to find along the way will determine the pace at which I am able to build this larger body of work.

View new work from The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar
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Stillings' The Bridge at Hoover Dam was published as an oversized book from Nazraeli Press and can be found here. A small soft-bound collection of images from The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar was self-published by Stillings and can be purchased here.

For additional information about Jamey Stillings or to acquire one of his photographs, please contact the gallery at (505) 988-5152 x202 or by email.

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