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Documenting The Unseen Forces Of Tectonic Plates

In Rift/Fault, photographer Marion Belanger depicts two places that sit over 4,000 miles apart but are connected by the North American Continental Plate.

Marion Belanger’s photo book Rift/Faultpublished recently by Radius Books, opens horizontally—as most books do—but it is read vertically. On both the right and left side of the spine, readers flip the pages up, like you would a spiral notebook. With each flip, the photos on the page get a new pair in the spread: for example, a paved road swerving into fog sits opposite a browning field with a tilted fence. In another, a cracked concrete wall juxtaposes against the site of an excavated pipe.

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The right side of the book are all photos of Iceland and the left of Southern California, two places thousands of miles apart yet connected by a common foundation: the North American Continental Plate. Rift/Fault documents the San Andreas Fault in California and the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland, both of which define two edges of the continental plate. With her split presentation, Belanger both faces these places off against each other and blurs them together. Both of these areas sit precariously on top of moving tectonic plates and alongside the threat of eventual disaster. Both of these places move on with life as if they don’t.

[Photo: Marion Belanger/courtesy Radius Books]

In some of Belanger’s photos, the rift or fault is obvious. For example, the previously mentioned split wall is located Hollister, California, where the Calaveras Fault (a major branch of the San Andreas Fault) is creeping across the city. The last notable earthquake on Calaveras Fault was a magnitude 5.6 quake in 2007.

[Photo: Marion Belanger/courtesy Radius Books]
In another photo, an ominous, jet black hole depicts a volcanic excavation at Heimaey, Iceland, where in 1973 400 homes were buried in an eruption of the Eldfell volcano. Others depict typical subdivisions, camping tents peppering a beach and blissful Icelandic geothermal pools. There’s a sense of willful ignorance when you see homes that are built on such unstable land, and life continuing in and around the chasms. On the other hand, Iceland has become a model of environmental sustainability by embracing its unlikely landscape—with its geothermal energy, hydroelectric, and wind farms allowing for less than 1% of its power to come from fossil fuels.

That these lovely, tranquil, and muted photos conjure up thoughts of natural disaster at all is a testament to Belanger’s skill as a landscape photographer. As art critic Lucy Lippard writes in an essay accompanying the book, “[Belanger] comments on the visible and the invisible, acknowledgment and denial, examining, in the process, the ‘dangerous disconnect,’ where so-called ordinary lives play out in the shadows of potential cataclysm.” While rifts and faults are nature-made, Lippard also draws a parallel to climate change, and the human inclination to gloss over and look past.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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