Chapter 4: From Beauty to Decay
Along with industrialization and society’s move forward, massive technological power and domination of land and natural resources continued well into the 20th century. Fears concerning modernization still troubled conservationists despite New Deal ecological policies and programs. Many felt they only placated farmers concerned for their land and prevention of soil erosion and held there needed to be more environmental reform. However, not all in government shared Roosevelt and New Deal supporters’ preservation philosophy for places and spaces in America. In the 1950s and 1960s, several engineering projects quickly came about with no forethought about impacts to the environment or humankind. Those that expressed discontent shifted their rhetoric from preservation of and protection for land and nature to advocating for all that encompasses the natural world. This is a turning point in modern environmentalism. With this as context, idyllic photos of the natural world took a backseat as photographers started exposing the degradation and decay of Earth’s natural resources, ills afflicting all its inhabitants and ecosystems, and cultures on the edge of existence. This chapter begins with a look at this period of rapid change. Mirroring conservationists’ thinking at this time, I make note of photographers’ shift from admiration for the beauty of the land to photographing the negative consequences wrought from modernization.
Technology was a driving force in the development of North America, as it was elsewhere. Despite continued ecological concerns, a handful of government agencies and programs put in place by the Roosevelt...
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