What Was Yours, Is Now Mine

This series explores the impact of extractivism of natural resources on sacred/protected/public lands of the American Southwest, and by analogous extension, up into the heavens. This series is a coda to my previous series To Hunt A Moon where I explored a narrative of land ownership centered on the Ute Tribes, Colorado, and NASA’s Moon missions—all sparked by me being caught trespassing on a Steamboat Springs cattle ranch by its owner.

Through collage and juxtaposition of seeming disparate photographic images, I would hope the viewer asks questions of why, and then discover their own answers—deeper and more nuanced questions on what land ownership entails. For myself, the forced migration of Indigenous Peoples from their ancestral lands off to reservations is gut wrenching. I find the repeated efforts by the federal government to undermine the voice of Indigenous Americans as systemic in denying them political agency.  And I find issue with our lack of ability to sustain our Earthly environment due to extraction capitalism. Ironically  the green energy movement needs copper and cobalt in the manufacture of lithium batteries, resulting in a dramatic increase of mining activity. I fear how we will exploit mineral resources on the Moon, asteroids, comets, and other planets, will be a repeat of our mistakes here on Earth.

Treaties with Indigenous Americans are broken due to exploitation of land resources be it minerals, agriculture, grazing, water, or expansionist doctrine. Today this is being tested in the heavens. Ratified by 105 nations,  The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 declares governments cannot claim sovereignty over any celestial body such as a planet or the Moon. Yet in 2015 the federal government signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act which gives companies in space the right to extract minerals. Corporations Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are developing robotic mining missions to the Moon, asteroids, and comets. With inevitable boundary disputes, legal experts believe this Act will violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

In 2017, the federal government reduced the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and five other protected lands resulting in an area the size of Connecticut available for logging, agriculture, and mining. The dormant Colt Mesa Mine now sits outside the protected boundary of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Colt Mesa in Utah is a ruggedly remote and unspoiled area in the middle of about 2800 sq mi of a few lizards, some sage, intense quietness, and seemingly not much else.  But it’s the home of the ancient Pueblo People’s, Cretaceous fossils, and deeper down, a vast coal vein has caught the eye of mining companies.  

Recently a Canadian company purchased the rights to reopen Colt Mesa Mine. This copper/cobalt mine was operational in the early ‘70s but has since been abandoned and sealed. There I photographed the remnants of the previous operation along with new mining work, and have been collaging them with borrowed images from ESA’s mission to Comet 67P and NASA’s mission to asteroid Bennu. I’m also using other images of mineral extraction sites to amplify the notion of the impact of mining on sacred/protected/public lands. The resulting images range from seemingly pretty landscapes, to worlds of torqued gravities, and absurd scale relationships.

From a compositional standpoint, I select images based on the similar geographies I see shared between the American Southwest and those from the comet and asteroid. The continuation of a line of a hill or the fold in the contour of the land is the formal device that “bridges” the Earth images, with the off-Earth images.  Sometimes the photos are abruptly bounded and contrast sharply.  Sometimes the images meld the topography together blurring the line between the different worlds.  This process has taken a few years as I have been culling through the more than 500,000 photos of the publicly available NASA and ESA archives.
 
The cameras used by both space agencies for their missions only recorded in black and white. So my images of the Southwest have the sky drained of all color and converted to black and white. Conversely I have toned some of the B&W comet and asteroid photos a green/blue hue—the color of oxidized copper ore and malachite found scattered all along the ground of Colt Mesa and the veins of copper carbonate running through the mesa’s eroding sandstone faces.


The overall message conveyed in my collaged photos can be read as calm, soothing, possibly even pretty, but the odd and disparate contrast/comparisons of my photos ring a note of discord, and hopefully a rising alarm over land rights.  What was once yours, may no longer be yours.

In the fall of 2021, the federal government re-expanded the size of Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante to the previous 2017 boundaries.
 

All images are archival pigment prints on DiBond panel, face mounted to plexiglass, with black aluminum frames. Edition of 10 and 2 artist proofs are offered for each

or

archival pigment prints on Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl finish paper,285gsm paper with 3” white borders