"Trap Rock," a series of twenty-two photographs, surveys a basalt quarry located ten miles up the Hudson from Dia:Beacon. By drawing on both painterly and photographic traditions, An-My Lê envisions this veteran site in terms that go beyond the specifics of the strictly documentary, in search of what she deems "a larger understanding of history and culture."
Great landscape photography has a literal but also a metaphorical scope to it (Atget, Robert Adams, etc.). . . . I aspire to achieve a certain lyrical objectivity. It is more about patterns of behavior than the specificity of it, which perhaps allows for a larger understanding of history and culture. . . . Photography becomes the perfect medium for conjuring up a sense of clarity (if not necessarily the truth) in the midst of chaotic and polarizing subjects.
When commissioned to make a work for presentation at Dia:Beacon, An-My Lê first thought of exploring the train route along the Hudson River to the former blue-collar town of Beacon and beyond. Widening her research, she came across a quarry once owned by New York Trap Rock located outside Poughkeepsie where stone has been mined for over a century. While intrigued by the veteran plant—whose principal buildings date back to 1929, the same year in which this Nabisco printing facility (now Dia:Beacon) was constructed—she was nonetheless equally interested in the processes employed to quarry and sort the dolomite and the industry’s impact on the surrounding landscape. Following initial visits in the late spring of 2006, she has returned repeatedly, choosing a range of times of day and weather conditions to record the site and its activities. The second of a two-part presentation, this installation incorporates into the suite of thirty-one color photographs a number of new images shot during the winter of 2007 when snow blanketed the site.
Lê’s research into the history of the company, a supplier of construction materials throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City, complements her deep knowledge of the history of visual representations of both this region and industrial enterprise. Her approach to her subject matter was consequently informed, on the one hand, by such renowned precursors as the Hudson River School of landscape painters and, on the other, by a range of artists from the 1960s including Bernd and Hilla Becher and Robert Smithson, who were also fascinated by dated industrial sites. Titled Trap Rock, the resulting suite attests to this complex heritage, while extending Lê’s abiding engagement with what are often considered "problematic" or "hot" thematics.1 In the 1960s, ecological threats to the Hudson Valley precipitated the formation of some of the first environmental protection groups in this country. Widespread sensitivity to mining and other industrial procedures has made today’s audiences keenly attuned to the activities and appearances of those historic technologies—mostly now defunct—that once proliferated throughout this region. As replete with references to the industrial as to the cultural past, Lê’s resonant portrayal highlights a thematic usually occluded in contemporary representations of this region, which tend to focus on either its pastoral beauty or its agricultural resources. Lê’s sublte rendering, which is informed by a lively historical understanding, places these works outside the confines of a strictly documentary genre.
1. Notable subjects in Lê’s earlier photographic projects include war re-enactors and training camps for military personnel destined for service in Iraq.
An-My Lê was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1960. She lives and works in New York City.