Just as no photo really does justice to the majesty of a beautiful landscape, an online gallery like this doesn’t quite convey the depth of work in David T. Hanson’s book, Wilderness to Wasteland (Taverner Press). He goes deep and wide in his view of the American West.

The photographs included here span 1982 to 1987 and are broken into four groups: Atomic City (images of the former nuclear boom town in Idaho), Richest Hill on Earth (mining towns near Butte, Montana), Wilderness to Wasteland (hazardous waste sites throughout the West) and Twilight In the Wilderness (night images of industrial sites). Taken as a whole, this body of work captures a point in time of the West, a place that feels forever weathered and aged while at the same time constantly evolving. As a Montana native, Hanson knows the territory well. There’s so much to soak up in each photo, details in the landscapes that make you feel like you’re standing on the side of US 26 in Idaho, just outside Atomic City.

In the introduction, Joyce Carol Oates touches on how Hanson’s work shows how much we’ve moved past the idealized, romantic idea of the American West, championed by Ansel Adams. While most people are familiar with Ansel Adams, Hanson’s work evokes noted photographer Robert Adams, who has spent a lifetime also artfully documenting the changing West, particularly the slow encroachment of people on the landscape. Hanson’s photos have a sandy bitterness you don’t quite get in the serene black and white work of Robert Adams. There’s always the presence of humans in Hanson’s photos, but never people, lending an air of uneasy quietness.

Hanson’s book is an excellent milestone in the long history of photographers exploring the West and humans’ impact on it. And thirty years since this work was made, photographers like Lucas Foglia, Jamey Stillings and Jennifer Little continue the work of documenting the changing West.

All photos by David T. Hanson/Taverner Press.

Ft. Worth-Dallas Club, next to the Pantex nuclear weapons plant, Carson County, Texas, 1985.

Mt. Con Mine waste pile and remains of Corktown, Butte, Montana, 1985.

Mt. Con Mine and Centerville, Butte, Montana, 1985.

Looking toward Los Angeles from Interstate 5, near Sylmar, California, 1985

East Edge of Atomic City, Idaho.

Yankee Doodle tailings pond, Butte Area Superfund site, Butte, Montana, 1986.

Abandoned Union Carbide Lucky Mac uranium mine, Gas Hills, Fremont County, Wyoming, 1986

 

Tooele Army Depot Superfund site, Tooele, Utah, 1986.

Fading Daylight along the Yellowstone River [Exxon Corporation, Billings, Montana], 1982.

Dusk on the Prairie, Montana [Montana Power Company, Colstrip, Montana], 1982

Fackrell’s Texaco Store & Bar, Atomic City, Idaho, 1986.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Recent

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.