The 100th meridian west is a longitudinal line that snakes through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, and forms the eastern border of the Texas panhandle. Historically, it divides the weathered, parched land in the western Great Plains from its lush, eastern neighbor. Through digital aerial photographs and large-format negatives taken on land, artist Andrew Moore captures this sparsely populated area, not scarred with train tracks and city clusters, but empty and yawning. His collection of photographs, Dirt Meridian, is currently on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery.
Many of them were taken from above, in an airplane with a camera placed on the strut. The results are sweeping views of windswept houses and splintered earth, prairie grass growing like a horse’s hide. The symmetrical composition of these photographs belies their flux. Moore explains that the area “teeters between being lost in time, so to speak, yet at the same moment itʼs highly affected by large-scale global forces, such as climate change, energy exploration, resource management, and food production.”
This dichotomy infects each scene. Their visual balance exudes a sense of stillness that fractures when nature enters. In one, we see an old wooden house. Its roof buckles from the strain of age, and lifeless black windows gape open. But this decaying vestige of human habitation is literally overshadowed by natural weather cycles. An inky black cloud hangs overhead, while sunlight dips through, promising both light and darkness. By capturing this liminal space, Moore demonstrates the oscillating spirit of the area.
Like the land, many photographs are absent of humans. On occasion, they reappear, shoving through the viewer’s sense of solitude. Take the photograph Uncle Teed. Death pervades, through the liver spots that litter his forehead and the wizened fingers that crumple at his knees. The 100th meridian has carved valleys into his forehead. Even ostensible signs of fertility reek of lifelessness. A fake wreath of leaves hangs above his head, and artificial orchids stand tall behind him. This image acts in conversation with the others. Even in life, natural cycles win.
Many families in the area can trace their line back to original settlers, encapsulating a sense of continuity that permeates this place. Visually, temporal boundaries cease to exist; structures could date back to the Homestead Act. One piece shows a bent and broken fence dividing the image in two. For what, though? Each side shows the same mix of melting snow and brown grass, reminding us that some lines mean nothing. Justly, in most of these images, death mingles with life. One image shows paint peeling off of the walls of a windowless barn. A cow skeleton curls into clods of dirt and trash, slightly off-center in the foreground. But a ray of light still pokes its way through the barn’s roof, almost invisible.
Moore’s photography presents places of rupture. In one series, entitled Detroit Disassembled, he shows us the dilapidation of the scraped-out boomtown. Buildings are at once resplendent architectural affirmations and symbols of festering decay. As in Dirt Meridian, Moore shows us these symbols of hardship and success while reminding us that both are fleeting. Superiority is wasteful.
Dirt Meridian runs through February 22 at Yancey Richardson Gallery.