This Land is My Land
The Catskill Mountains and surrounding Hudson Valley of upstate New York has a long and complicated history that illustrates competition between the needs of agriculture, industry, tourism and the desire to preserve the natural beauty of the area. In the 19th century, forests were cut down and cleared of rocks to make way for farms while timber and minerals were harvested to make furniture and concrete. At the same time, large hotels were built to cater to a nature-loving bourgeoisie and eventually to the newer population of urban middle class. The region was praised by Romantic era artists and writers as an Arcadian paradise that should be preserved for future generations and much of the area was set aside for public use.
However, during the late 20th century, demographics and economics began to shift and the use of land continued to evolve. Most larger scale luxury hotels, farms and industries were eventually abandoned or destroyed to make way for new competing ways of life and the forests slowly began to reclaim the remnants of a forgotten past. On the surface, the complexity of the 21st century way of life barely resembles the past, and yet there are clues everywhere in the landscape that refer to the ongoing historical struggle between competing public and private interests. The very idea of land ownership itself is at the heart of this conflict.
I’ve lived on and off in the Catskills and Hudson Valley for nearly 25 years, and have been a homeowner several times over. However, the more experience I gain with land ownership, the less I seem to understand it. I’ve witnessed my own relationship to the land shift from romantic reverence to selfish coveting to indifferent utility and back again many times and have also observed the same complex contradictory feelings in my friends, family and neighbors. The scenes I photograph are hidden in plain sight, often transient and easily dismissed, and yet in many ways they are the most concrete evidence of how changing behavior and attitudes, both individual and collective, can transform the landscape and shape our consciousness. Although we may believe that land can be owned and controlled by us, we can also witness how nature itself degrades and destroys even our most monumental efforts to build and maintain our own living environments.