Visual Similarity – Boundary Landscape & Ft. Fisher


During the summer as I worked along the Arizona/Mexico border I posted the screen shot above to my Facebook page for followers of the project.  I found myself using Google Earth often to conduct reconnaissance of possible image locations and/or to identify access routes and camera  locations for sites I already knew.  The image above is of a mountain that is an active lime mine which supports nearby metal ore mining operations as well as other industry.  Interestingly, and contrary to what most of us think a mine is, here no hole is being dung into the earth, but a whole mountain is being slowly disassembled.  This hill is very close the the international boundary and in an area that has traditionally been a high traffic area of illegal activity.  The area subsequently is very active with ground and at times air patrols, and is also the site of many fixed and mobile camera/sensor towers.  My interest in this hill was the fact that in addition to being the location of a mining operation, which is drastically reducing the mass and height of the feature, but that it is also an active Border Patrol observation point employing mobile sensor platforms including ground surveillance radar.

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

Above is the 12×20″ wet collodion ambrotype of the mine/mountain.  Visible in the details of the actual plate, but not detectible in this image,  is the location of the surveillance operation that was active during my time in the area.  My camera location for this exposure was visible from four to five camera towers and numerous ground based patrols.

During my many visits to this area I was always struck my the strange visual presence of this land feature, both natural and un-natural at the same time.  It always seemed fortress like to me and I spent a good amount of time planning my effort to photograph it.

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

The image above is an extreme enlargement of a section of the 12×20″ plate showing some detail that is found along the right hand side at the horizon.  It is saw-top mounds of the spoil pile produced by the mine.  This detail is like many of the other features of the mine I found myself drawn too, especially silhouetted against the sky as in this image.

Ft. Fisher NC by T.H. O’Sullivan

It was not until about a month ago that I made a very interesting observation.  I have stated many times before that the work of Timothy O’Sullivan and other photographers involved with recording the American West in the 180os are a major influence on the current landscape/boundary/surveillance project.  The American Civil War on the other hand has not really factored into my thinking about this process beyond the fact the the same photographic method was used to capture images of the conflict.  Additionally I must acknowledge that man like O’Sullivan were also involved in making some of the most iconic images we have from that time.  For me the connections stopped there.

That was until I found myself in a secondhand bookstore in Cleveland Ohio in November.  I found an out-of-print book of Timothy O’Sullivan’s work that I was interested in adding to my library. Upon conducting some research on the book, and a few of the images that it contained, I was led via the magic of The Google to the image above.  I immediately froze, holding my breath.  It is an image of Fort Fisher in North Carolina made by O’Sullivan after it was captured by Union forces.  That fact is not what held my attention, but the visual similarity it has to the image I made of the mine on the border.  Obviously the scale of the two features is not the same, but there is no doubting the similar shapes of them.  It could appear that I sought out that particular landscape feature to mimic the O’Sullivan image but I assure you that is not the case.  Although I am sure I have seen the Fort Fisher images sometime in my life, I truly have no solid recollection of having ever seen them until recently.

Ft. Fisher NC by T.H. O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan made  many views of the captured fort.  Inside, and out were well documented with many different angles of the same features of the fort recorded.  In the image above we are presented by mounds of earth that separated gun positions used by the Confederates.  These features, presented from this angle are very similar in visual form to the plate detail of the spoil pile in my plate.

What does it mean?  I do not know, and I guess it is possible that it means nothing at all. Maybe it means we can find similarities in all photographs if we search them out hard enough.  The cool thing for me is in this case I was not searching out a similarity, it just happened which I find to be pretty cool.  I have a feeling that I will be writing more about this more in the near future.

Want to see more boundary project blog post?  Click here!


~ by Phil Nesmith on December 24, 2012.

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