Line of Sight – Press Release



Line of Sight: Views from The Age of Surveillance

At James Madison University’s New Image Gallery Jan.14 – Mar.9, 2013

First public exhibition of works from new project

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

Project 28, 12×20”, Unique Wet Collodion Ambrotype, 2012

Phil Nesmith is pleased to announce Line of Sight: Views from The Age of Surveillance, his most recent solo exhibition of new work taking place at James Madison University’s New Image Gallery.   The new works are centered on the vast desert landscapes of the more remote border areas of southern Arizona that are today under a surprising level of surveillance, while grounded in the aesthetics and methods of the photographic images created during the great American West survey expeditions of the 1870s.

Even by the standards of an artist who has chosen a difficult and unforgiving medium, and who specializes in creating work in harsh environments, the two months that Nesmith spent in the desert making this work were fraught with setbacks and challenges. The Civil War era process used by Nesmith requires that he carry hundreds of pounds of fragile glass plates, boxes of dangerous and often sensitive chemicals, and a portable darkroom. Hours of scouting and set up climaxes in a fifteen minute ritual to chemically sensitize the plate, expose it using a 19th century wooden camera, and process the image in a portable darkroom where temperatures inside topped 125 degrees. Over the course of the project Nesmith endured monsoon season flash floods, vehicle breakdowns, chemical disasters, and a night trapped on top of a mountain during an intense lightening and hailstorm that washed away his only route of egress. All under the watchful eyes of government and smuggler surveillance as both groups chattered over radio waves about the man in the tent with the wooden camera.

Long stretches of the Arizona border have changed little since the 19th century, marred only by the jarring appearance of modern surveillance equipment and operations.  From ragged hilltops, spotters working for drug and human traffickers lay in silence for days directing the movement of their shipments north.  The U.S. government watches day and night by employing the latest military surveillance equipment ranging from fixed and mobile camera towers, UAVs, Areostat balloon systems, ground surveillance radar, seismic sensors, and helicopters. It is this seemingly empty yet watchful landscape that Nesmith’s latest work explores.  Made with the same process, almost as slow and quiet as the landscape itself, which was used to first share the wonders of the western deserts with the world, he engages the landscape that has stood as silent witness to man’s deepest fears and desperations in the hope that it might show us something about ourselves.

Nesmith, currently of Richmond, Virginia, has used the camera to explore his experiences with war in Bosnia and Iraq, the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, and most recently the surveillance landscapes of the Arizona/Mexico border. Phil’s work has been exhibited at universities and galleries across the United States, including Irvine Contemporary and the Art Museum of The Americas in Washington D.C. as well as internationally in Dubai, UAE. His work is held in the permanent collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as well as numerous private collections. When not working on projects he has taught photography at Virginia State University and at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). He holds a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and is the recipient of the VMFA Fellowship.


Location Information:

JMU New Image Gallery

Hours (academic year only):

Monday–Thursday, Noon–5 p.m.

Friday–Saturday, Noon–4 p.m.

Closed Sunday

Phone: (540) 568–7175

Address: 131 Grace Street, Harrisonburg Va.  22807

POC: Rebecca Silberman, Assc. Prof. & Gallery Dir. / 540-568-6335 /


Contact:  Phil Nesmith / /



~ by Phil Nesmith on January 20, 2013.

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