Environmental Photographer Mona Miri Explores the Shifting Cityscape

mona miri cylinders photo.jpg

As a native of Iran who grew up in Boston, Mona Miri's life has always been defined by a constant state of change and development. No wonder, then, that "Modified Landscapes," Miri's first solo exhibition, sets out to explore this theme as it relates to the built environment. Focusing her lense on a fast-changing neighborhood in San Francisco, the young environmental photographer's work comments on "environmental stress and the constant progression of city life."

This week, TreeHugger sat down with her to talk about "Modified Landscapes," the urban environment and the philosophy behind her work.

Mona Miri: "All of the photographs in "Modified Landscapes" were taken in an area called Bayview-Hunters Point on the San Francisco waterfront, which contains a third of the city's toxic waste sites and is currently undergoing a massive process of redevelopment and gentrification. The photo exhibition actually took place a few blocks away from the site.

The place itself interested me as a hot spot - a toxic place, environmentally hazardous. There are signs up saying this place could be hazardous to your health. It has a history going back to WWII of shipyards, landfills, industry, and even power plants and nuclear research - but there is also a community that lives there. These days it is a prime location for developers, and there are big plans to redevelop the site."

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"This abandoned warehouse is part of the history of the place. There are a lot of buildings like this in the area, neither restored nor preserved. Most of these buildings will eventually be demolished. A lot of people in the area are saying that all of the new construction is going to encroach upon these buildings, including the ones where people live. A lot of people are concerned about this, as contractors take control of these areas, without really giving a thought to the existing the community and the people that have been living there for years."


"These condos were built about a year ago. A lot of people, when they see the photo, ask me if this building was photographed in Florida. To me, the building just appeared our of nowhere like a mirage. It just sits there in the middle of absolutely nothing, the area is totally empty. But all of that area is going to be redeveloped."

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"You see these mounds of earth all over the site - these huge black mountains of gravel, construction waste, etc. They just pile them up and put this huge tarp over them. A very surreal image."

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"These bridges are part of a highway overpass that passes through the site. The area is completely abandoned, aside from a few people living on houseboats nearby, but this area will also be massively redeveloped over the next few years. What I really wanted to show here was the grand scale of the structure juxtaposed with that compelling sky. The sky is actually taken from another shot, of a beach landscape. This use of composites expresses the interplay between the natural and the man-made, which is a theme that runs through much of my work."

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"Overall, what I am trying to communicate is the idea of sustainability: taking care of our environment before we start building. Spending more time thinking about its importance, before we think about profit, and considering the importance of restoring the ecology of urban landscapes."


"In this project, I've tried to use saturated colors and compelling skies, so that the image jumps out at you. The juxtaposition of these amazing skies with the industrial landscape creates a surreal effect."

TH: Now that your first show is under your belt, what are your plans for future projects?
MM: "I'm working on a photography book right now, which I hope to publish during the coming year. Aside from the cover, the whole book will be made sustainably - printed on bamboo paper, put together by hand. In general, I try to print my photos on paper made out of bamboo fiber, and I do a lot of my work by hand, such as the framing, making cards, etc., this cuts quite a bit of the CO2 out of the process."

All photos copyright Mona Miri.
For more of Mona's work, check out www.monamiri.com.
More Environmental Photographers:
Environmental Photographer of the Year Award
The TH Interview: Colin Finlay, World Renowned Photographer and Environmental Activist
Ecocities of Tomorrow: Gary Braasch, Environmental Photographer

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