Stan Gaz – Sites of Impact

Copyright Stan Gaz 2009, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Meteorites and their impact on Earth are probably not something we ponder much about, but it is the subject of Stan Gaz’s photobook, Sites of Impact; Meteorite Craters Around the World.

Meteorite craters are sites that provide physical evidence that immense celestial bodies have hurled into our terrestrial planet, creating geological history over an epoch-straddling timeline. Gaz’s photobook takes us on a historical narrative, attempting to place these earthly impacts in a chronological order, starting 900 million years ago until the “present” age, 5,000 years ago. This is also a global narrative, figuratively and literally covering a lot of ground, photographing crater remnants at locations within the United States, Australia, Namibia, Canada and South Africa.

The aerial framing of his subject is frequently from a high altitude, which aids in the comprehension of the size of the craters and to provide an external context to their location and surrounding effects. Some of the impact sites are enormous, covering as much as 75 kilometers in diameter. In doing so, at high altitude, these ancient places become memorizing graphic abstractions of organic shapes and masses of textural tones.

The desire to take flight and study the features of the terrain originated by the French photographer Nadar (Gaspard Felix Tournachon, 1820-1910) in 1858. Modern photographic studies of the landscape were photographed by William Garnett (1916-2006) in the late 1950’s into the 1980’s. Recently the contemporary study of the landscape features from an aerial perspective, like Gaz, is included in the bodies of work by Edward Burtynsky, Michael Light and David Maisel to name a few. The very elevated viewpoint provides a different and fascentating prespective that is outside our norm.

When Gaz has a grounded viewpoint, the details of the terrain do not reveal nuances that reveal the topology of the entire impact site. Eloquently described by Robert Silberman in his accompanying essay;

“Gaz’s images are poised between detachment and engagement, moving as they do between a superior view, from the air, and what we might call a grounded view, from the earth’s surface. Perhaps these dual perspectives reflect a duality in the subject matter, for the impact craters both conjure up a fascinating mystery and indicate a frightening cataclysm – a destructive event in the past that necessarily evokes more contemporary disaster, natural and man-made. Aerial views enforce detachment and distance, even as they open up a greater field of vision and create new objects of psychological attraction.”

Frequently Gaz’s photographs excludes any indication of mankind, perhaps symbolic of the massive destruction that occurred at the time of impact, eliminating all life forms. The impact of one meteor, Chicxulub 65 million years ago in Mexico, has been linked to a mass extinction event that led to the demise of 50% of all living species on earth, including dinosaurs.

The age of many of these impact sites pre-dates even the most ancient of ancient memories. How long these sites have existed can be hard to comprehend and many of the sites have been difficult to even verify their celestial heritage. Sand, water and wind have been eating at the edges and slowly filling in the vast voids for eons. These sublime photographs are indirectly about time, an event which occurred in a brief moment, but the conseuqences evolve over time, like memory itself, once clearly delineated, becomes eroded, and eventually disappearing from sight and consciousness.

Gaz’s black & white chronologic photographs appear to be documentary in style, but the tonal structure of many the photographs is altered either entirely or partially by the reversal of the tones by solarization. Gaz’s dark tonal pallet in conjunction with the frequent aerial perspectives further abstracts his subject into melancholic poems.

The photographs have a full tone range, but yet are subdued and dark, creating mystery and appear menacing. The horizon, when included, is usually a thin sliver demarkation between heaven and earth, mashed between the terrain below and the looming dark gray cloud cover. I can sense the devastation that might have occurred at the actual time of impact, much like the debris clouds we experience today from the recent volcanoes, the skies would have gone black immediately after impact.

Meteors are a cause for angst, as their impact has the capability to eliminate our existence and our only recourse is to react to the consequences. The physical evidence provides only hints to grasp the implications of their size, age and immediate devastation at the time of impact. At the conclusion, I am left with concern, awe and wonder.

This is a case-bound hard cover book, printed on luster paper with intermittent page numbering, and captions that provide longitude coordinates, location, crater’s name, size, age, condition and technical evidence of the impact. This photobook includes one gatefold triptych of Meteor Crater in Arizona. Essays are provided by Christian Koeberl and Robert Silberman and Field Notes by Stan Gaz.

by Douglas Stockdale

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