Connecting the Dots


It is hard not to feel guilty when viewing John Ganis’s remarkable photo- graphs of the American landscape, but guilt is not supposed to be part of the American dream. Greed, perhaps, certainly freedom, but not guilt. Guilt is more often a peculiar side-effect of certain brands of western reli- gion, the kind that says you might end up in a certain kind of hell if you don’t turn your life around quickly, or at least before Judgment Day.
In many parts of America, consumption has become a kind of religion with great fervor. Expert economists and political junkies tell us that “spending will get us out of the recession,” the advertisers proclaim that “to save more you must buy more,” and what was a luxury in the last gen- eration is a necessity to us now. This pattern of consumption will go on endlessly, it seems, until there is a judgment day, either economic and/or environmental.
Most Americans pay little attention to their buying habits. They do not associate consumption with guilt. Each one of us daily adds to the socie- tal need to use and generate land in ways that John Ganis clearly points us toward. His landscapes are the results of our buying, spending, disposal, and waste. Are they beautiful? Are they scenic? Are they lasting? Are they useful? Like a national park? Like a well-manicured garden? Like a public park? Like a place you would want to pass on to the next generation?
This interrogation is what photography can do for you. It can enlighten, inspire, inform, and disarm you with the truth. A truth that leads directly back to our needs. Need another computer because the current one isn’t quite as fast as your neighbor’s? No problem, let’s open up another mine; it only takes thirty different minerals to make a computer. Need a little more electricity to warm up or cool down that new home in the burbs? No problem, let’s strip away a little more of that coal, and reclaim it if we can. Need to add on to that 5,000-square-foot home that, all of a sudden, isn’t quite big enough for the two of you? No problem, let’s go get those nice big trees in the national forests. See how guilt can enter the picture like a flash of light?
With western religion, there is the promise of an afterlife even as many believers adhere to the heritage of an unspoiled creation. With consump- tion, there is land itself, and the land does not lie. The landscapes in John
Ganis’s photographs tell us the oft-forgotten story that, until we connect the dots between our addiction to consumption and healing the land- scapes of consumption, there is much to feel guilty about.
John Ganis did not seek out these landscapes of America, but they found him through his lens. They showed him that there is a direct relationship between one’s lifestyle and one’s national landscape, that every time you need something you can buy it, with cash or, better yet, on credit with low financing. The beauty of it all is that so few of us have to see, much less explain or rectify, the landscapes and places that John Ganis has found for us all to view, from sea to shining sea.
The images in this fine book should make us feel a bit guilty, a bit on edge, for we have not taken the time to realize how our very being affects the land itself. What John Ganis finds so discomforting is our apparent unwillingness to connect the dots, so that we might soon become better caretakers of the American landscape. If we are going to drive our S.U.V.s around to oblivion, then we should be willing to pay the price for miti- gating the impact of our habits, to heal the land for the generations to come.
America is as much about its diverse lands as it is about its multiple ideas; the two are inseparable and they provide us with hope that we can do bet- ter. And when we see images such as the ones in this book, they penetrate the heart, head, and soul. They direct us to overcome the guilt of seeing land so mistreated in the interests of self-interest and self-indulgence; they implore us to create better places in which to live, work, and explore. They instill in us the hope for a better life, and therein lies a dream that all Americans can embrace and be proud of.
George F. Thompson

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