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Book Review: Dirt Meridian


Book Review Dirt Meridian By Andrew Moore Reviewed by George Slade How many photographic books featuring aerial photography have been published? Lots, right? But how many of those books credit a pilot on the title page? Andrew Moore’s Dirt Meridian is the only one I can think of (though I excuse Marilyn Bridges and William Garnett because they flew their own planes).

Dirt MeridianBy Andrew Moore
Damiani, 2015.
 
Dirt Meridian
Reviewed by George Slade

Dirt Meridian
Photographs by Andrew Moore. Text by Ina Verzemnieks and Toby Jurovics. Preface by Kent Haruf.
Damiani, Italy, 2015. In English. 140 pp., 73 color illustrations, 13½x11".


How many photographic books featuring aerial photography have been published? Lots, right? But how many of those books credit a pilot on the title page? Andrew Moore’s Dirt Meridian is the only one I can think of (though I excuse Marilyn Bridges and William Garnett because they flew their own planes).

I don’t bring this up to be annoying or facetious. And I know that many of the aerial photographers I’ve encountered in print and in person freely acknowledge the importance of having a good pilot. I mention it in Moore’s case because his credited pilot, Doug Dean, served as quite a bit more than a studio assistant operating an airborne tripod at the behest of the image-maker over the ten years of photography represented in the book.

Dirt MeridianBy Andrew MooreDamiani, 2015.

The “meridian” of the book’s title is 100 degrees west longitude, a line that divides the arid American west from the fertile east. It’s a line, in other words, that covers a lot of ground. Dean’s function, then, added aspects of scout, cartographer, historian, and meteorologist to piloting skills. In his lengthy acknowledgments Moore expands on the title page credit. Not only did Dean’s plane enable Moore to preview and land near locations that would have scarcely been accessible by car, the plane opened up a critical angle on this territory. There were few restrictions on their flights. “Flying close to the ground,” Moore explains, “at the height of a windmill and sometimes lower, allowed us to make pictures at a perspective from which the intimate seemed conjoined with the infinite.”

Dirt MeridianBy Andrew MooreDamiani, 2015.

Moore’s photographs are staggering. Not because of grandiosity, willful spectacle (there are storms and massive weather events, but this is not tornado-chasing), nor an excess of a romanticizing, picturesque approach. There is little superficial resemblance to Moore’s many geo-socio-political book projects of the past, which are well-seen but largely earth-bound. In Dirt Meridian, scale takes over. Scale is the essential formal element animating these photographs. As massive and boundless as it is along the meridian, scale effaces ego.

Dirt MeridianBy Andrew MooreDamiani, 2015.

There are stunning individual photographs that constitute the whole. A twilight view of a tanker truck kicking up a curving trail of dust attests to the confluence of ancient and modern that, regardless of agendas, will always reinforce transience. There are numerous examples of this essential warning against hubris, evidence of an Ozymandias or two having passed this way and left their despairing works, all mightiness leached out by the immutable, humbling, reabsorbing land. Wrecks of houses, and sturdy humans, seen full-face from the ground, add a critically level perspective to the not-exactly-godlike elevation of the aerial photographs. In his preface, Kent Haruf observes that the view is more avian — “what a hawk or a raven could see flying over” — than empyrean.

Dirt MeridianBy Andrew MooreDamiani, 2015.

The beauty of these photographs lies in their submission to the forces that shape this landscape. Moore’s work acknowledges and valorizes what seem like impossibly bleak circumstances — “vast and sublime emptiness,” he wrote. There is no candy-coating reality here, though the human instinct to strive and not yield that is evident in this work elicits an almost epic sense of empathy. We may be extremely glad that we have not alit in this territory with an intention of remaining. But the three-way conversation between photographer, airborne native guide, and mythic demarcation zone (far broader than a line, to be sure) offers a comprehensible plane on which we may stand steadily to appraise the astounding enormity and humility of these images.—GEORGE SLADE

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GEORGE SLADE, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant. He can be found online at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/


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