Steven Smith: Photographs of the Suburban West

This exhibition presents work by Steven Smith, a photography professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and the winner of the second biennial Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, on the surreal intersection of suburbia and desert in the constructed landscapes of the American West. The images in the exhibit were selected from Smith's prize-winning book, The Weather and a Place to Live: Photographs of the Suburban West, published in November 2005 by Duke University Press and the Center for Documentary Studies.

Maria Morris Hambourg, founding curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Photographs, was the prize's judge and wrote the foreword to the book (read an excerpt). She selected Smith for the award because of "his intelligent choice of a subject hidden in full view that is of paramount importance. The mindless subjugation of the land to lockstep suburbia is wretched even when carried out in more forgiving terrain, but in an ecosystem as fragile as the desert, this misuse will be fatal unless it is shown and stopped."

Smith moved to Los Angeles in 1991, and "was so astounded by what I saw happening to the landscape as it was being developed that I started photographing it immediately. The landscapes I saw were scraped bare, re-sculpted, sealed, and then covered so as not to erode away before the building process could be completed." These photographs create, in Smith's words, "a portrait of the systems of control which prepare the land for habitation and also guard it against nature. In making these photographs I wanted the manmade and natural elements of the landscape within each picture to communicate in a more extended and elaborate dialogue."

The prints in this exhibit have been donated to the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library (RBMSCL), through the generosity of the Honickman Foundation established by Lynne and Harold Honickman. Harold Honickman is a member of the Duke University Library Advisory Board. This gift of Steven Smith photographs supports RBMSCL's commitment to acquiring photographic collections that have artistic merit and that reflect the visionary purposes and documentary impulses of their creators.

Excerpt from the Introduction to The Weather and a Place to Live

Steven Smith interview

Reception / Artist's Talk
November 10, 2005, Perkins Library

Listen: QuickTimePlay Audio 57 min. 

On Display: 7 November 2005 - 14 December 2005
Special Collections Gallery
Last modified November 20, 2009 4:39:12 PM EST