Nuclear Landscapes and Humanature
Mention Bikini and Nevada and the Cold War Generation of more thoughtful 50- to 70-year-olds will get chills up their spine as they recall mushroom clouds rising ghostlike from American nuclear test explosions in remote Pacific atolls and the Nevada desert.
As one of the first civilian photographers, Peter Goin - himself a Nevada resident - was granted permission to visit and take pictures of these long-abandoned but still heavily-guarded, test sites. Go ins results can be seen from mid-January 1999 at Museet for Fotokunst, in Odense, Denmark.
"Landscapes of Fear" Goin calls the depopulated test zones, revealing them with the explana-tion that the dramatic glimpses of inferno from the past have been replaced by a frightening, deathlike silence. Instead of living landscape celebrated as unspoiled nature by photographers of a century earlier, from the same America, Goin now peered through his viewfinder at a soulless scene, where the thing he set out to record was nowhere in sight. Radiation is invisible.
What then? Would the photographer's boots and clothing later have to be destroyed ? What about his camera and tripod ? And a peculiar thing: Why did his driver stay in the car? Afterthought: what if the gentle desert breeze had stirred up mortal particles, and these were now firmly lodged in his lungs ? Question after question - and their absurd consequences so many years after the event, numbed the mind with grotesqueness.
Peter Go in's brave recording of the victim landscapes of the western nuclear race is a photo documentary achievement of broad scope, both moral and aesthetic, - a perspective never minimized by the photographer's intense research that lay behind it.
"Humanature" benefits from this thoroughness. As the exhibit title implies, Goin's eye never wanders from the interaction between people and nature. And even though the persons here are less destructive - indeed now assuming the role of caretaker of landscape and animal life, still it is the inherent respect for nature's own values that the American photographer bores into and records.
The human-created landscapes that arise when we ruthlessly chop into our forests or bare the insides of our mountains in search of metallic riches, these we have grown accustomed to. But are we prepared to look the ultimate alienation in the eye ? That the virgin landscape is gone forever ? Indeed, that nature surrounding the human being simply has ceased to exist? Humanature, staged nature, is what - picture by picture - Goin lays out in evidence.
Peter Goin, who is a professor of art at the University of Reno, Nevada compellingly recounts his work, and its background, in a number of photography books, two of which lend their titles to the exhibition and will be on view at the museum, during the exhibition: Nuclear Landscapes (1991) and Humanature (1996).