Photographer Captures Poignant Beauty of Industry-Ravaged Landscapes

Elena Dorfman Empire Falling© Elena Dorfman: "Empire Falling 8" / 2012, chromogenic print, 37" x 50"

Photographer Elena Dorfman has built an incredible body of portrait work through the exploration of cultural and social practices of marginalized communities. But when delving into the world of rock jumpers, Dorfman changed her sights as the jumpers' remote terrains caught her attention. Fascinated and moved by the massive rock landscapes, she set out for the first time in her career to focus her lens on the bizarre terrain rather than the people inhabiting it. The result? Images of rarely seen worlds - the strangely beautiful, isolated, and often abandoned rocky landscapes left behind by industry.

For two years Dorfman made more than two dozen visits to the rock quarries of the Midwest, digging into forgotten corners of Kentucky, Ohio, and southern Indiana. With thousands of images shot, Dorfman then created a project-specific process of layering and 'stitching' the images together digitally to create the depth and mystery that the images possess. "Manipulating and reconstructing the landscape,” says Dorfman, “I reassemble and layer my images, emulating the natural process of stratum on stratum." An individual image may be constructed from as many as three hundred photographs taken at multiple quarries.

Elena Dorfman Empire Falling© Elena Dorfman: "Empire Falling 2" / 2011, chromogenic print, 37" x 50"

The fruits of her labor, a series called Empire Falling, can be seen in a solo exhibition at Modernism Gallery in San Francisco early next year, as well as in a book of full-sized images to be published by Damiani, Italy, slated for release in 2013.

Elena Dorfman Empire Falling© Elena Dorfman: "Empire Falling 4" / 2012, chromogenic print, 33" x 50"

The surreal landscapes have the power to pull the viewer in different directions. Their beauty is nearly tangible, yet it's a beauty hard to acknowledge knowing the forces that created it. As we know all too well, massive, earth-ravaging industry has a staggering power to transform the landscape. In a compelling subplot, Dorfman reveals that the transfiguration never really ceases. During the years she spent in these environments, she observed the repurposing of some of the most spectacular cuts and pits as scenic features for exclusive housing developments and golf courses. "When a quarry is re-appropriated yet another landscape is destroyed," she notes.

Elena Dorfman Empire Falling© Elena Dorfman: "Empire Falling 9" / 2012, chromogenic print, 37" x 50"

Dorfman gives an aesthetic nod to Surrealism, but the political dimension of her work cannot be denied. "The images from Empire Falling present the quotidian rock landscape in an unexpected way," she explains. "The viewers' perception is challenged not only by the imagery itself, but also by their own personal subjective relationships to industry and the evolving earth."

Elena Dorfman Empire Falling© Elena Dorfman / Damiani Italy

The series will be on view at Modernism Gallery, San Francisco from January 17 through March 2. The book, Empire Falling (Damiani, Italy) by Elena Dorfman will be released in March 2013, with an essay by noted art historian and writer, Kevin Moore.

Photographer Captures Poignant Beauty of Industry-Ravaged Landscapes
Elena Dorfman's compelling images of Midwestern rock quarries are as sad and eerie as they are beautiful.

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