Michael Light

Michael Light | American, 1963 -

Michael Light is a San Francisco-based photographer and bookmaker focused on the environment and how contemporary American culture relates to it. His work is concerned both with the politics of that relationship and the seductions bf landscape representation. He has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, and his work has been collected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Getty Research Library, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The New York Public Library, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, among others.

For the last fifteen years, Light has aerially photographed over settled and unsettled areas of American space, pursuing themes of mapping, vertigo, human impact on the land, and carious aspects of geologic time and the sublime. A private pilot, he is currently working on an extended aerial photographic survey of the inter-mountain states, Some Dry Space: An Inhabited West. Light won a 2007 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Photography to pursue this project. The first of a planned series of volumes of this western work, Bingham Mine/Garfield Stack, will be published by Radius Books in Fall of 2009.

Another strain of Light's practice has been to rework familiar historical photographic and cultural icons into landscape-driven perspectives, often with an aerial component, by sifting through public photographic archives. His first such project, FULL MOON (1999), used lunar geological survey imagery made by the Apollo astronauts to show the moon both as a sublime desert and an embattled point of first human contact. His last archival project, 100 SUNS (2003), focused on the politics and landscape meanings of military photographs of U.S. atmospheric nuclear detonations in Nevada and the Pacific from 1945 to 1962. Light's books have been published in 19 different editions worldwide.


Artist Statements


Bikini Atoll (2006)

Due to sustained atmospheric American nuclear testing from 1946-1958, Bikini Atoll is so radioactive as to be uninhabitable today. The 1954 15-megaton hydrogen bomb detonation BRAVO, 2.5 times as powerful as predicted, succumbed to fickle winds that blew the radiation debris cloud back over the Atoll and the surrounding area, creating the worst radiological disaster in the Nation's history. America's largest nuclear test, BRAVO's power equaled 1000 1945 Hiroshima bombs.


Bingham Mine/Garfield Stack (2006)

Located at 8,000 feet in the Oquirrh Mountains 20 miles Southwest of Salt Lake City, the Bingham Canyon copper mine is the largest man-made excavation on the planet, its hole reaching more than half a mile deep and its rim nearing three miles in width. It has produced more copper than any mine in history. The mine's Garfield smelter stack, situated at the edge of the Great Salt Lake about 10 miles away, is the tallest free-standing structure west of the Mississippi River. and is 35 feet shorter than the Empire State Building. It was the Guggenheim family that capitalized Bingham Canyon in 1906 to allow open-pit mining to begin there. The next year, the Guggenheims' American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) built the Garfield smelter to refine Bingham's copper ore, and owned and ran it until 1959.


Los Angeles (2004)

The Los Angeles River flows intermittently for 51 miles from its headwaters in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley to its mouth in Long Beach. It was channelized with concrete for flood control after 1938, and only small portions of it are not completely paved over. In the dry season, 80% of the water in the river consists of treated sewage water. The primary source of fresh water for the City until the Owens Valley Aqueduct was built to capture runoff from the Eastern Sierra in 1913, the LA River is an apt metaphor for a desert city where almost 18 million people now make their home.


Los Angeles - Night (2005)

Great cities seen from the air at night are one of the world's genuine wonders, one wholly made by human hands, and Los Angeles rules the heap due to its vast geographic spread. Perhaps only when artificially transformed into glowing light itself it is possible to see such a conurbation, with all its problems and environmental hubris, as a metaphor for individuality and the cosmos, as lonely as it is enchanted.


Some Dry Space (2003)

The Great Basin and Mojave deserts offer some of the more majestic and varied environments on Earth. This book, the first of my large hand-made efforts, also represents the first time I was able to work with an aircraft at my personal direction, and my profound joy in this freedom.


Mono Craters (2006)

In 1784, Juan Jose Dominguez, a soldier of the Spanish Empire, was granted Forty Leagues of land by King Carlos III, an area that encompassed the present-day Los Angeles Basin cities of Long Beach, Torrance, Palos Verdes, and Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan Beaches. His heirs controlled significant portions of the original 75,000 acre grant until the late 20th Century. Today the area is the heart of research and development of Asian production of the American Personal Transportation Appliance -- otherwise known as the automobile -- as well as a nexus for the production of the fuel that it consumes.


New York Harbor (2007)

The watersheds that feed into New York Harbor are home to more than 20 million people, and its combined ports handle nearly 40% of all shipping trade in the North Atlantic. Its human speciation has been famously self-involved for centuries, but has recently become somewhat more thoughtful toward the larger systems that sustain it. Progress is uneven.


Rancho San Pedro (2006)

In 1784, Juan Jose Dominguez, a soldier of the Spanish Empire, was granted Forty Leagues of land by King Carlos III, an area that encompassed the present-day Los Angeles Basin cities of Long Beach, Torrance, Palos Verdes, and Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan Beaches. His heirs controlled significant portions of the original 75,000 acre grant until the late 20th Century. Today the area is the heart of research and development of Asian production of the American Personal Transportation Appliance -- otherwise known as the automobile -- as well as a nexus for the production of the fuel that it consumes.


Phoenix - Salt River, Deadman Wash, Paradise Valley (2007)

Wyoming - Green River, Bitter Creek, Powder Basin (2007)