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Photographer: Emmet Gowin
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 2022
Print length: 128 pages
Language: English
Price Range:
A powerful photographic survey of the impact of irrigation systems on the landscape of the United States.

In The One Hundred Circle Farm, renowned photographer Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) presents stunning aerial images of center-pivot irrigation systems in the western and midwestern United States. This type of farming involves a method of watering crops in which equipment rotates around a centrally drilled well, creating enormous, distinct circles of irrigated land, often in the midst of dry terrain. Anyone who has taken a cross-country flight has likely seen countless acres of these iconic symbols of industrial agriculture. Through a faithful yet personal photographic survey, Gowin’s powerful images not only bear witness to the ambitions humans wield in shaping the landscape, but also attest to how such primal elements―circles, pivots, and lines―symbolize water depletion and the fragile environment.

The stark photographic compositions, more than one hundred in all, were created over the course of a decade. Fields resemble lost civilizations; crops gape like strange new suns. Hauntingly beautiful, the images highlight Earth’s nourishing geology, visual evidence of our labors. Inscribed onto the earth, these lines are reminders of the technology extracting unimaginable amounts of water that cannot be replaced, and raise questions about what large-scale irrigation must answer for when the water runs out.

With an afterword by anthropologist Lucas Bessire discussing the history and impact of pivot irrigation on American farming, The One Hundred Circle Farm stands as a poetic visual record, evidence of the tenuous connections between human enterprise and our planet’s most precious resource.
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