Gallery Luisotti is pleased to present a selection of Mark Ruwedel’s photographic series “Westward the Course of Empire”. In celebration of the release of his book Westward the Course of Empire (Yale Press, 2008), the exhibit features Ruwedel’s signature photographs of defunct railway lines throughout the Western United States and Canada. Tracking these signs of industrialism’s decline, Ruwedel has created a remarkable document that comments upon the role of photography in the history of the West and the strata of cultural detritus that haunts the Western landscape.
Throughout the course of his career, Mark Ruwedel has tirelessly photographed the open landscapes of Western North America. This interest has led to him develop numerous photographic typologies of land use throughout the West, from evidence of ancient Ice Age inhabitants to a recent interest in the ad hoc structures that litter the southern Californian desert. At the core of this lifelong project, though, is Ruwedel’s extensive documentation of the 19th and early 20th century railway lines that once crisscrossed the Western landscape.
Today many of these railway lines are scars of their former selves. Ruwedel has tracked them down and captured the peculiar remains of industrial-era transportation. Used in every application from industry to tourism, Ruwedel captures a landscape testifying to widespread exploitation of the land. Yet in capturing these Western landscapes, and presenting them in a manner not unlike those 19th century government expeditions that funded photographers Timothy O’Sullivan and William Henry Jackson, Ruwedel draws our attention to a history of the land that is both cultural and sociological. Through his images we become aware not only of the decline of railway transportation in the west, but of those representational technologies that formed such a seductive portrait of the land in the mid-19th century.
The exhibition features selections from the book Westward and additional imagery from the breadth of Ruwedel’s photographic series. The book itself is a landmark in photographic books, stunningly designed and meticulously printed. While its form recalls 19th century albumen print albums, its typological presentation directs us toward the myriad industrial feats that defined an era.