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Book Review: Rift/Fault


Book Review Rift/Fault By Marion Belanger Reviewed by Adam Bell Marion Belanger’s Rift/Fault follows a simple premise—photographs taken along the San Andreas fault in California (Fault), are paired and contrasted with images from the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland (Rift)—but offers an expansive inquiry not only into our complex relationship to the Earth’s surface, but our precarious existence in fraught times.

Rift/Fault By Marion BelangerRadius Books, 2016.
 
Rift/Fault
Reviewed by Adam Bell

Rift/Fault.
Photographs by Marion Belanger. Text by Lucy Lippard.
Radius Books, Santa Fe, USA, 2016. 132 pp., 48 color illustrations, 13x10½".

The Earth’s surface is a delicate web of cracks. Crashing together or slowly being torn apart, the tectonic plates that form the Earth’s crust are largely invisible to the casual or untrained eye. For those who’ve survived an earthquake or live near an active volcano, the volatile temper of the Earth cannot be taken for granted. Yet these lines of instability and possible destruction (earthquakes and lava) are also places of great beauty and sources of potential power (geothermal). Settling along the knife’s edge of these geologic formations, we test fate with optimism, prayer and scientific prediction. Marion Belanger’s Rift/Fault follows a simple premise—photographs taken along the San Andreas fault in California (Fault), are paired and contrasted with images from the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland (Rift)—but offers an expansive inquiry not only into our complex relationship to the Earth’s surface, but our precarious existence in fraught times.

Rift/Fault By Marion BelangerRadius Books, 2016.

Following the San Andreas Fault, Fault weaves its way through the California countryside offering glimpses of dense suburbs, idyllic beaches, and empty desert. Beginning with a parking lot, shrouded in luminescent fog and perched on a ledge, the section leads us further afield, to a seaside meadow and eventually closes with a winding road into more fog. Rift offers an equally varied landscape of jagged black rocks, hot springs, and geothermic piping. In one image, black flows of volcanic rock cut through a town, surrounding the shell of a burnt out house, and in another, a lone security camera scans an unseen landscape. Belanger avoids obvious drama, but both landscapes are marked by surveillance and violence. Danger lurks around each corner or is simply invisible. People climb across rocks or camp on the beach with blithe disregard for what lies underfoot.

Rift/Fault By Marion BelangerRadius Books, 2016.
Rift/Fault By Marion BelangerRadius Books, 2016.

While people appear in the images, they are usually absent, their presence visible only through cars, houses or the active and abandoned infrastructure of roads, wind mills and pipes. Defined by walls or atmospheric fog, marked by cracks, shifting earth or seismometers, the images are full of the evidence of disruptions long past or held in check, monitored and left undisturbed. Each image is a tensive stage. While neither section seems to linger long in any given spot and casts a wide net, the captions provide ample detail about the geologic activity of each spot.

Presented as two facing smyth sewn books housed in a single hardcover, the bodies of work remain distinct but invite comparison — images from the two books can be viewed in sequence, paired as desired, or studied individually. While the book’s physical size and design are slightly unwieldy, they force an obvious parallel to the book’s subject matter. Two distinct tectonic features, separated by a continent and ocean, are held apart, yet bound by the spine, which doubles as a rift or fault. Plates crashing together or torn asunder. As a design choice, it transforms what could have easily been a staid landscape book giving it added metaphorical heft.

Rift/Fault By Marion BelangerRadius Books, 2016.

Accompanying the book is a pamphlet insert that contains all the image captions and a brilliant essay by Lucy R. Lippard. She’s a perfect match for the work and delivers an essay that is insightful, pointed, and worth reading. As she eloquently notes in her essay’s opening lines, “Rifts and faults offer a poignant metaphor for our times, as we balance on the edge of the Anthropocene and peer off into the abyss of climate change.” Belanger has long been engaged in what Lippard calls “critical landscape” from the series Earth in Flux (1998-01), which looked to geysers and volcanic formations in Hawaii and Yellowstone National Park, to her more recent work, River (2013-14), on the polluted Naugatuck River in Connecticut. Like her contemporaries Victoria Sambunaris or the collaborative duo Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee, Belanger’s work is attentive to the complexities of the social surface of the Earth and its geologic underpinning. Far from being coolly removed, she finds moments of hard beauty that forcefully engage the reality of our precarious position on the Earth.

Rift/Fault By Marion BelangerRadius Books, 2016.

Both books end with roads leading off into the fog. The uncertainty of the future reminds us that even if we live on stable ground, our world can open up or be ripped apart at any moment. —Adam Bell

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ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer. His work has been widely exhibited, and his writing and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Afterimage, The Art Book Review, The Brooklyn Rail, fototazo, Foam Magazine, Lay Flat, photo-eye and Paper-Journal. His books include The Education of a Photographer and Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts. He is currently on staff and faculty at the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Art. (www.adambbell.com and blog.adambbell.com)

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