100 Words: Photographers Speak

100 Words: David T. Hanson On Ravaged Landscape

For the past 30 years, photographer David T. Hanson has documented man's relationship with land. Between 1982 and 1985, he investigated the mine, power plant and industrial site in Colstrip, Mont., one of the largest coal strip-mines in North America. The photo series was first exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in 1986 and has been recently published as a book.

  • View from First Baptist Church of Colstrip: company houses and power plant, 1984
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    View from First Baptist Church of Colstrip: company houses and power plant, 1984
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.
  • View from Sarpy Creek Road: new mine area and spoil piles, 1985
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    View from Sarpy Creek Road: new mine area and spoil piles, 1985
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.
  • Mine spoil piles and intersected water table, 1984
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    Mine spoil piles and intersected water table, 1984
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.
  • After a coal blast in the pit, 1982
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    After a coal blast in the pit, 1982
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.
  • Coal storage area and railroad tipple, 1984
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    Coal storage area and railroad tipple, 1984
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.
  • Unreclaimed mine land from the 1930s, 1984
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    Unreclaimed mine land from the 1930s, 1984
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.
  • Strip mine, power plant and waste ponds, 1984
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    Strip mine, power plant and waste ponds, 1984
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.
  • Waste ponds and evaporation ponds, 1984
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    Waste ponds and evaporation ponds, 1984
    David T. Hanson, from the book 'Colstrip, Montana,' Courtesy of D.A.P.

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Growing up in Montana, I experienced the diversity and magnificence of its natural environment while hiking and backpacking. Over time I gradually became aware of how this environment was being despoiled, a process that had been going on for more than 150 years through mining, clear-cutting, the oil and gas industries, etc. I came to see Montana as an example of "resource colonization," its natural resources being plundered for industries and markets far removed from the state.

I began photographing at Colstrip with the wasteland, exploring the abandoned mines and pits and unreclaimed mine land. As I expanded my work to include mining activity, the industrial site, and the power plant, I realized that the company houses and trailer parks were essential. In this place, the domestic world and the damaged and poisoned landscape had merged.

I saw the Colstrip site as a microcosm of late 20th-century America, and my work there documents a late stage in the exploration and development of the American continent. In a relatively brief period of time, we have transformed our natural world from wilderness to pastoral landscape, to industrial site and now to wasteland. My Colstrip photographs became meditations on a ravaged landscape.

Hanson is a photographer and mixed-media artist born and raised in Montana. He was a long-time professor of photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and his work can be found in permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. For more information check out his website.

"100 Words" is a series in which photographers describe their work, in their own words. Curated by Graham Letorney

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