Saturday, February 02, 2019


Over: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point
Alex S. MacLean
Abrams, October 2008

Hardcover | 9 x 13-1/2 inches | 336 pages | 300 color photos | English | ISBN: 978-0810971455 | $50.00

Publisher Description:
For more than 30 years, Alex MacLean's aerial photographs have captured the evolution of the American landscape and the complex relationship between its natural and constructed environments that contribute to climate change. Over: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point is an ambitious and visually breathtaking catalogue of the extraordinary patterns and profound physical consequences brought about by natural processes and human intervention.

The book allows readers to visualize climate change and our culture's excessive use of resources and energy, which account for our oversized carbon footprint. It demonstrates the extent to which the human ecosystem, and our economic and social well being, are dependant upon our wise use of land and its resources.
Over is divided into sections covering such as Atmosphere; Way of Life; Automobile Dependency; Electricity Generation; Deserts; Water Use; Sea-Level Rise; Waste and Recycling; and Urbanism. MacLean's powerful photographs and insightful text make it clear that maintenance of the current American lifestyle is incompatible with a planet of diminishing natural resources and a finite atmosphere. Over compels us all to reconsider our basic assumptions about how we live, work, and play, and reveals that, while the challenges we face today are not insurmountable, the future depends on our collective vision, passion, and commitment.
dDAB Commentary:
Although the types of imagery are different, the satellite images of City Unseen reminded me of the aerial photography of Alex S. MacLean, particularly his large-format Over. Where the former collects satellite images in various wavelengths to show, for instance, the "vulnerabilities of cities to the effects of climate change," the latter finds MacLean pointing his camera at parts of the United States that express the sprawl and destruction we have unleashed across it, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The book's subtitle, The American Landscape at the Tipping Point, makes it clear this isn't a celebratory book, but MacLean's photos of highway interchanges and the like are nevertheless full of beauty. And even when we think we're looking at a piece of untouched nature, such as the snowy peaks of the Rockies, the photographer's captions link the photos to one of the themes explored in this book of "aerial activism."

The years, or maybe decades, of MacLean's aerials photos collected in Over are clustered in Arizona, Florida, and other fraught areas. They are spread across nine thematic chapters (atmosphere, ways of life, automobile dependency, electricity generation, deserts, water use, sea-level rise, waste and recycling, urbanism) and are accompanied by, as noted, short captions. Given that the only other text is a short introduction by Bill McKibben (he seemed to write an intro to every environmentally minded book last decade), these captions are important in conveying information we might not immediately grasp. Regardless, the ideas MacLean is trying to express are often very clear. MacLean's photos convey the scale and circumstance of our impact on the land while still portraying its beauty, though their impact would be strongest if they swayed Americans in their choices about where they live, work, shop and play.

Author Bio:
Pilot and photographer, Alex MacLean, has flown his plane over much of the United States documenting the landscape. Trained as an architect, he ... maintains a studio and lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
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