At first glance, J Henry Fair's photographs seem to be abstract expressionist or impressionist oil paintings. The colors look too vivid and luminescent to be natural.
That's because they aren't.
The New Yorker's latest exhibit, Industrial Scars, is a collection of aerial photographs that capture the waste and ruin caused by industrial resource extraction and environmental pollution. Coming to Colorado College's I.D.E.A. Space this week, the images evoke a guilty awe and power that only an undeniable and shocking snapshot of reality can produce. Both captivating and "sinisterly beautiful," as Fair describes them, the large-format images are meant to show viewers the irreparable damage created by our current energy and industry models.
"What's there is what I saw," Fair says. "Art can reach us in ways that dialogue does not. Art can skip around our predispositions and preconceptions. If you see a picture that moves you, you can say, 'What is that?' and you want to find out."
One of the most striking images, "Plumes of Smoke in Bauxite Waste," illustrates the by-product of aluminum manufacturing. It looks as though the Earth itself hemorrhaged, finally unable to process excessive human bile any longer.
"I don't know what your political bent is, and I don't really care," Fair says. "These issues about the environment have become really ideological and politicized, and art sort of sidesteps that. I want to show people the real consequences of our lifestyle."
Indeed, Fair comes off as an environmental advocate before he does a photographer. Ask him about one of his photos, and chances are you'll receive a crash course on environmental sustainability, local mercury pollution or the consequences of coltan mining. As for his work, Fair says he's never gotten into trouble for the shots he's taken from the companies he's photographed, but he has been questioned by the FBI. (He figures he's on some kind of watch list.)
Fair is also the co-founder and director of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, N.Y., and released a book in February called The Day After Tomorrow: Images of Our Earth in Crisis. Many of those are aerial shots, too, and hint at the beauty within the large-scale images at CC. You can call them otherworldly, and will wish they were just that.