As early as the introduction of railroads and the telegraph system, the Western landscape has struggled with the aesthetics of convenience. From commercial interests like strip malls and billboards, to national systems like highways and telephone wires, to individual interventions like graffiti and public sculpture, the definition of “eyesore” is a constantly shifting target. In a new book, photographer Annette LeMay Burke has turned her eye to one of the latest incursions on the visual landscape: cell phone towers cosplaying as trees.
Over the course of 66 color landscapes, Burke explores scenarios which largely feature giant fake trees hosting a crow’s nests of cellular transmitters. Though the initial sense of FAUXLIAGE (Daylight, May 2021) is somewhat playful, because the subject matter is so profoundly absurd, the litany of images soon takes on a kind of Stepford Wives feeling of dread. There is something wrong with the trees that are not trees. Even driving by them at highway speed, there is a jarring disconnect as our eye sorts the organic from the imposter. Presented here for longer reflection, these towers shift from briefly visually dislocating to vaguely, then increasingly, disturbing.
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Image: Annette LeMay Burke, “Airport Approach, Palm Springs, CA” from FAUXLIAGE (Daylight, May 2021) (courtesy Daylight Books)