Photography and ideas about the “American West” developed in tandem, increasing in cultural significance throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and have informed ideas about each other ever since. As photography has proliferated, so too have our visual representations of the West. It is a photogenic space whose image has been used to express patriotic ideals of Americaness—rugged individualism, expansionism, romantic nationalism, and manifest destiny—but it is also the palimpsest for the failure of these. It is the background for tourist photographs and the image that lingers on the screen after the computer falls asleep. Perhaps because of its recognizability and its aesthetic appeal, photographic images of the West have become visual stereotypes and clichéd shorthands for beauty and American values.
Mountains + Valleys uses images of the American West as a starting point to interpret and confront cultural myths surrounding our relationship to that landscape. Titled for the two primary folds in origami, the work uses physical alterations to create relationships between formal geometries and natural spaces that question the illusionistic representation of the photographic image. I print these images, fold them, and then re-photograph them. The images are simultaneously manipulated and yet photographically real. The geometric impositions onto the photo-object impress an aesthetic ideal onto the landscape, scarring the very thing they attempt to embellish.The fantasy of an untouched and untouchable vista is interrupted.