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Indepth Arts News:

"Air Lines: Photographs by Alex MacLean"
2005-05-14 until 2006-01-22
Peabody Essex Museum
Salem, MA, USA United States of America

For over 25 years, photographer Alex MacLean has flown his Cessna 182 over the continental United States and Hawaii documenting the landscape below and simultaneously creating images that are themselves works of art. The linear patterns of roads, subdivisions, farmland—even parking lots and playgrounds—that are captured in these photographs reveal evolving attitudes about our relationship to the land. This spring, the Peabody Essex Museum will show a breathtaking selection of MacLean's photographs in an exhibition titled Air Lines: Photographs by Alex MacLean. It opens May 14, 2005, and runs through Jan. 22, 2006.

"The line is one of the basic tools of artistic expression, but it is also evidence of human intellect and invention," notes Elizabeth Padjen, FAIA, consulting curator of architecture and design at the Peabody Essex Museum, and curator of Air Lines. "Fences, roads, railways, planting furrows, and even the invisible grid of latitude and longitude are all evidence of our efforts to control the land, to make it comprehensible, and to connect with one another."

Photographer Alex MacLean has spent his entire career looking at the land from the cockpit of his airplane. Trained as an architect, he has learned to read the landscape, deciphering the clues that are hidden in city grids, in suburban developments, in vast agricultural fields.

A field of discarded tomatoes becomes art in MacLean's expansive view of the land. Many of his images have the tactile appeal of textile art. Others suggest a hard-edge minimalism. And still others convey a more painterly quality, as if he has laid pigment on a canvas.

MacLean's photographs tell the story of the American landscape and of the people who interact with it. The linear patterns in the images selected for Air Lines remind us of the continuing role of technology in shaping our lives and our land. They also remind us that human nature leaves indelible marks. In these grids, stripes, bars, and networks are irrefutable evidence of waste and materialism-as well as ingenuity, perseverance, and optimism.

MacLean took most of these photographs at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 feet while flying his Cessna 182. He used 35 mm Canon cameras with lenses ranging from 24 to 300 mm, using Kodachrome or Fuji Velvia film. After scanning the film transparencies, the images were digitally printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, using a Cymbolic LightJet RGB laser printer.

All photographs in Air Lines: Photographs by Alex MacLean are on loan from the artist.

Alex MacLean
Rejected unripe tomatoes dumped back on fields, north central Ohio

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