American photographer Susan Lipper, born in 1953, took photographs in the California desert between 2012 and 2016. Domesticated Land (MACK Editions, 2018) reinvents the myths of the American landscape, traditionally constructed by the male gaze.

In Domesticated Land, the third part of a trilogy which started with Grapevine (1988-1992) and Trip (1993-1999), Susan Lipper reveals an apocalyptic world where mankind is present only through his waste, and where the silence dominates the scene. The overexposed images depict a disturbing and empty landscape, and desolated horizons. Pieces of tires, barbed wire and household appliances are all ruins left by men. By photographing these debris, the photographer demolishes the traditionally masculine narrative that paints California’s nature under an idealised, romantic and colonial light. The project, which evolved over nearly thirty years and ended in 2016, drove Susan Lipper from the Appalachian forests to the Californian deserts. The objective of her expedition was to seek and photograph the “real” America through a personal and feminine gaze.

A female look at the American landscape

The photographer’s images contrast with the powerful and majestic nature of Yosemite Park depicted by Ansel Adams in 1979. Domesticated Land’s pages alternate photographs and texts signed by women, such as Annette Kolodny’s The Land Before Her (1984). “I was also inspired by Deborah Bright’s 1985 essay, Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, which highlighted the importance of different subjective perspectives on the established patriarchal vision,” Susan Lipper says. “Why does the art of landscape photography remain so singularly identified with a male eye?” Deborah Bright wondered. According to her, the American landscape is “an exclusive white male reserve”. Susan Lipper’s work thus articulated around a subversive and anti-patriarchal posture. The landscape is no longer a grandiose, powerful and intimidating space, but a territory of reflection, open to criticism. Although depicted in an atmosphere of angst and abandonment, it appears as an environment to be reclaimed and protected.

Domesticated Land, Susan Lipper, MACK editions, 40 €, 96 pages. 

© Susan Lipper, Courtesy of the artist and MACK