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Amelia Bauer’s “Extra Terrestrial,” “Midnight in Diablo Canyon,” and “Moonscapes” are three bodies of work that transform desert landscapes into an ethereal mash-up of science fiction films and spaghetti westerns. They rely heavily on postproduction and lighting hacks that reference early cinematic tricks intended to create a heightened sense of reality. While the projects might appear to function independently as brief, distinct series (there are no more than seven pictures in each set), they feel more like linked chapters that can be edited and rearranged to create a conversation about the strangeness of the American landscape.
“Extra Terrestrial” explores the mystery of the Southwest where Bauer spent her childhood. For Bauer, returning to the desert where she grew up and spending long periods of time there felt otherworldly. In these pictures, rocky land formations descend into the horizon where Bauer has blacked out the sky, creating a feeling of imminent yet ambiguous terror. In some closer photographs, Bauer has isolated certain rock formations, making them feel like detached objects, while others give a more sweeping sense of the abandoned landscape. These resulting pictures evoke stories about UFO sightings and scenes from horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes, with an uneasy anticipation of what’s hiding in the dark.
“Midnight in Diablo Canyon” builds on “Extra Terrestrial,” placing the viewer deeper into the unknown landscape of the Diablo Canyon in New Mexico. This series includes six photographs made at the base of a large rock formation, shot using the cinematic “day for night” technique, which renders them in a deep, unsettling blue. These works takes a textural approach to the land, but in this case has the appearance of being photographed at close range so the viewer is overwhelmed by its immeasurability.
While “Midnight in Diablo Canyon” and “Extraterrestrial” were both photographed in 2011 in places where Bauer spent extensive time, “Moonscapes” is comprised of four images that were initially taken years prior on a trip to Lome, Australia. These four images were repurposed after she completed the other two series because she believed that their depiction of the land had a strangeness that felt like a clear extension. They appear to be aerial, crater filled pictures of Mars, or the Moon, but are actually just pictures of the ground photographed at waist height, and rotated in postproduction to distort their scale.
All three bodies of work take familiar territory and transform it into alien forms. Whether they are explorations of areas tied to Bauer’s childhood, or four simple rock textures altered to look like surfaces of the moon, each series shares a playful desire to depict disorientation through unconventional processes.
Amelia Bauer is a Brooklyn based artist born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is a Presidential Scholar in the Arts in Photography, and received her BFA with honors from the School of Art at The Cooper Union. Her work has been exhibited at Capricious Space in Brooklyn, CCA Santa Fe, CoCA Seattle, New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, SFMOMA, Phillips de Pury Shop, Museum of Vancouver, and National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. Her work is in the permanent collection of The Albuquerque Museum and SFMOMA.