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February 17th, 2004

The West’s ever-changing landscape depicted in CU-Boulder photo exhibit

The beauty of weathered buildings and abandoned objects from areas throughout the American West will be on display in a photography exhibit created by two University of Colorado at Boulder professors.

The exhibit, "The Texture of History: Abandonment and Rediscovery in the American West," opens at the Macky Auditorium Gallery on Wednesday, Feb. 18 and runs through March 17. An opening reception will be held on Sunday, Feb. 22, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the gallery.

Macky Auditorium Gallery is free and open to the public on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and during performances held in the auditorium.

In their exhibit, CU-Boulder professors Tad Pfeffer and Robert Anderson try to show that the story of the boom and bust cycle may be told not only in the words of history books, but in the images of the objects left behind.

Over the past 20 years, Pfeffer and Anderson have each been photographing solitary buildings and abandoned equipment in areas throughout the West, including Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada and California. They have captured the details of objects and places abandoned and then often used again. And each has an eye for different aspects of the objects.

"To me, it's about looking at the landscape as a vision of history," said Pfeffer, a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and an associate professor in civil, environmental and architectural engineering. "I am interested in how our culture is influenced by the landscape and how we influence the landscape."

The intense sun and hard freezes common in the West often crack painted surfaces of objects, revealing numerous re-paintings reflecting the recycling of old materials. It is these objects that most often catch Anderson's eye and lenses.

"I am interested in the patterns generated by layers of history," Anderson said. "You can paint a surface many times, and the paint always cracks. Seeing the details of recurring cracks is very interesting to me. I think they're beautiful."

Pfeffer is a geophysicist who studies the mechanics and dynamics of modern glaciers. He teaches glaciology and a variety of courses in civil engineering. As a photographer, his expertise ranges from technical photogrammetric analysis in glaciology and architecture to landscape, still life and architectural photography. He has been interested in both nature and cultural subjects for many years, and is currently working on a book of architectural photography of early 20th century cottages of northern New England.

Anderson's teaching and research focuses on geomorphology, or the evolution of landscapes, including deserts and alpine regions. His work has allowed him to constantly focus on the landscape, both natural and cultural, the questions it poses and the patterns and colors it presents. His interest in the "working" Colorado landscape began in 1980 when he worked for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources in the Inactive Mine Program, which took him to sites across the state to assess hazards.