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Photo Synthesis

Almond Trees and Flood Irrigation, Oakdale

April 09, 2006|Colin Westerbeck

2002

*

On the day they happened upon this subject, the photographic team of Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee was looking for a different place--a canyon filled with old tires that Laura's father, writer John McPhee, had told them about. Because they conduct their studies of land use around the world without any fixed agenda, they never did get to the canyon that day.

They were content to be distracted from such modern desecration by this scene evoking ancient legends of Thracia and Arabia in which almond groves provide refuge or restore hope. (A characteristic tale is of a Moorish potentate of Portugal who wed a Scandinavian princess. He assuaged her homesickness for snowy landscapes by planting the Portuguese hillsides with almond trees.)

In the photograph, the sense of timelessness is intensified by the time lapse the exposure required, turning the white blossoms on the water into milky swirls like cirrus clouds. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in her introduction to the team's 1998 book, "No Ordinary Land": "There is no before and after in this work, neither the apocalypse of ecocide nor nostalgia for archaic practices . . . only a long, complex during."

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