Books: Lucas Foglia Examines Man's Relationship to Nature

By David Schonauer   Monday December 4, 2017

What, exactly, do we mean when we talk about nature?

People commonly use the term to describe to the portions of Earth untouched or uncontrolled by mankind. But does that world exist any longer? There are those who hold that man’s impact on nature — mass extinction of plant and animal species, an altered atmosphere and more — has altered the planet and reshaped the geological record to such an extent that we now live a new epoch they call the Anthropocene. As Robert Moor noted recently at The New Yorker, the writer Bill McKibben has argued that we now live, essentially, on a new planet, while writer Emma Marris “believes that we need to stop viewing the planet as one big wilderness and see it more as a ‘rambunctious garden.’”

It is this radical idea that photographer Lucas Foglia explores in his new book Human Nature  (Nazraeli Press). In his work, notes Moor, Foglia depicts nature as “both a quenching oasis and a shimmering mirage.”

Foglia comes to his viewpoint of nature through personal experience. “I grew up on a small farm, 30 miles east of New York City,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “Growing our food and bartering, my family felt shielded from the strip malls and suburbs around us.” In 2012, he continues, “Hurricane Sandy flooded out fields and blew down the oldest trees in the woods. On the news, scientists linked the storm to climate change caused by human activity. I realized that if humans are changing the weather, then there is no place on Earth unaltered by people.”

Lava Boat Tour, Hawaii, from the series Human Nature

Matthew swings between trees on the Lost Coast of California

Madelaine, in a study of stress reduction in virtual reality

Foglia’s first book, A Natural Order, “focused on people leaving cities and suburbs to live off the grid, adopting lifestyles from the past,” notes the British Journal of Photography. “His second, Frontcountry, focused on the changing economy in the rural American west. Human Nature revisits themes established in these previous projects but on a global scale.”

“I photograph because I have questions about the world and my role in it – and I love the fact that a photographic series can be used in so many different ways,” Foglia tells BJP.  “A book, to me, is the completion of a series. I exhibit prints of my photographs in galleries and museums, and publish the images in newspapers, magazines and on social media.”

Foglia financed his project through the sale of limited-edition prints and commissions from Bloomberg Businessweek, National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, the Sierra Club, and the Winrock Foundation.

Troy hold a guinea fowl chick at the GreenHouse program, Rikers Island

Goda and Lev in the cleanest air on Earth, in Hawaii

A controlled forest fire burn in California

He began his work on Human Nature close to home, notes BJP, photographing prisoners gardening on Rikers Island in New York. “I visited places that felt like they deserved attention, such as the southeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii,” he says. “Its molten lava is arguably the only land completely untouched by people. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], this part of Hawaii also has the cleanest air on earth.”

The book itself begins with a photograph of a naked man swinging between trees above a stream near California’s Lost Coast, where a number of  communities live in seclusion on mountainous coastal terrain. The book, noted The Guardian  in a recent review, is punctuated by individuals interacting with the landscape in often surprising ways.

“Another young man, clad only in Speedos, gazes out from the manicured foliage that surrounds his hotel infinity pool. Around him, the skyscrapers of downtown Singapore loom large. The juxtaposition of urban architecture and faux-nature is now a constant aspect of contemporary city planning,” writes Sean O’Hagan.

A balcony pool at the Parkroyal on Pickering, Singapore

It is this hybrid world that is Foglia’s subject.

“Although many modern humans worry that we’ve drawn a curtain between ourselves and the rest of the natural world, Foglia’s work reveals that we also yearn to poke our fingers through to the other side,” writes Moor at The New Yorker. “His photos show people gazing at nature, touching it, submerging themselves in it, studying it, nursing it, killing it, profiting off it, and, often just barely, surviving upon it.”


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