Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Bill Kohlhaase

The long view Vic­to­ria Sam­bunaris dis­plays an eclec­tic sense of clas­si­fi­ca­tion in her big vol­ume of color prints, Tax­on­omy of a Land­scape (Ra­dius Books). Sam­bunaris, raised in Penn­syl­va­nia, has taken to mount­ing road trips across the Amer­i­can West with a 5-by-7 wooden field cam­era. The word tax­on­omy in her book’s ti­tle sug­gests that the images will be bro­ken into par­tic­u­lar and de­fin­i­tive cat­e­gories. But in­stead of be­ing grouped by sea­son, geog­ra­phy, or phys­i­cal fea­ture, they re­veal an­other type of tax­on­omy al­to­gether, one that de­vel­oped nat­u­rally as Sam­bunaris con­ducted her trav­els and gath­ered her film. An es­say by Natasha Egan helps ex­plain Sam­bunaris’ eclec­tic take on tax­on­omy. (A strange but re­lated short story, “The Map­pist,” by Barry Lopez, is in­cluded as an in­sert.)

The book first fo­cuses on freight and the means of mov­ing it. We see long rows of big-rig trail­ers parked on wet con­crete; coal cars strung out against a flat brown prairie; and the Trans-Alaskan Pipe­line snaking across the tun­dra. Then Sam­bunaris shows us marks made on the land, in­clud­ing min­ing pits and their ter­raced de­struc­tion and small towns sit­ting amid sprawl­ing land­scapes.

Nearly all the pho­tos cap­ture hu­man im­pacts, whether they are roads, rails, power wires cross­ing skies in front of rows of pre­fab houses, or bridges across rivers. They’re com­posed in a way that grants per­spec­tive to the viewer, sug­gest­ing a diminu­tive pres­ence look­ing into a vast ocean of space. You feel as if you’re stand­ing with the cam­era.

Two things are com­mon in all the pho­tos. The first, aptly for a book on the western land­scape, is the hori­zon. It’s as if the pho­tog­ra­pher is say­ing, Yes, the land is wide and large, but the sky is larger. The sec­ond is the per­spec­tive pro­vided by stray fig­ures in the vast­ness. A tiny man on a tiny horse fords the Río Grande, a string of con­tainer rail cars twists out of the fore­ground and far into the dis­tance, and a house is tucked at the edge of a shadow in a wide rum­pled land­scape.

Sam­bunaris discusses her work and sign copies of Tax­on­omy of a Land­scape at 4 p.m. on Satur­day, Aug. 9, at Ra­dius Books, 227 E. Palace Ave., Ste. W, and at 2 p.m., Sun­day, Aug. 10, at Tip­ton Hall, Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art & De­sign, 1600 St. Michael’s Dr. Call Ra­dius at 505-983-4068 for in­for­ma­tion.

— Bill Kohlhaase

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