Air Lines

Released April 04, 2005

SALEM, Mass. — For over 25 years, photographer Alex MacLean has flown his Cessna 182 over most of the United States and parts of Europe documenting the landscape below and simultaneously creating images that are themselves works of art. The linear patterns of roads, subdivisions, farmland—even parking lots and playgrounds—that are captured in these photographs reveal evolving attitudes about our relationship to the land. This spring, the Peabody Essex Museum will show a breathtaking selection of MacLean’s photographs in an exhibition titled Air Lines: Photographs by Alex MacLean. It opens May 14, 2005, and runs through April 23, 2006.

“The line is one of the basic tools of artistic expression, but it is also evidence of human intellect and invention,” notes Elizabeth Padjen, FAIA, consulting curator of architecture and design at the Peabody Essex Museum, and curator of Air Lines. “Fences, roads, railways, planting furrows, and even the invisible grid of latitude and longitude are all evidence of our efforts to control the land, to make it comprehensible, and to connect with one another.”

Photographer Alex MacLean has spent his entire career looking at the land from the cockpit of his airplane. Trained as an architect, he has learned to read the landscape, deciphering the clues that are hidden in city grids, in suburban developments, in vast agricultural fields.

A field of discarded tomatoes becomes art in MacLean’s expansive view of the land. Many of his images have the tactile appeal of textile art. Others suggest a hard-edge minimalism. And still others convey a more painterly quality, as if he has laid pigment on a canvas.

MacLean’s photographs tell the story of the American landscape and of the people who interact with it. The linear patterns in the images selected for Air Lines remind us of the continuing role of technology in shaping our lives and our land. They also remind us that human nature leaves indelible marks. In these grids, stripes, bars, and networks are irrefutable evidence of waste and materialism—as well as ingenuity, perseverance, and optimism.

MacLean took most of these photographs at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 feet while flying his Cessna 182. He used 35 mm Canon cameras with lenses ranging from 24 to 300 mm, using Kodachrome or Fuji Velvia film. After scanning the film transparencies, the images were digitally printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, using a Cymbolic LightJet RGB laser printer.

All photographs in Air Lines: Photographs by Alex MacLean are on loan from the artist.

Alex MacLean

Alex MacLean’s fascination with landscape began with annual family visits to the Thousand Islands at the head of the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. His interests continued through college, and after graduating from Harvard College in 1969 and earning a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1973, MacLean received his commercial pilot license in 1975. During an economic downturn, which made jobs in the design field hard to find, MacLean established his own company, Landslides Aerial Photography. Although MacLean began to shoot aerial photographs for university libraries, he eventually acquired municipal, institutional, corporate, and private clients. His first plane was a Cessna 172, which he bought in 1980; today he flies his Cessna 182, based at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts.

MacLean has flown over most of the United States and parts of Europe. His photographs have been exhibited in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia and have been the subject of four books. His work has been recognized with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Graham Foundation, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the American Academy in Rome, which awarded him the 2003—2004 Prix de Rome in Landscape Architecture. MacLean maintains a studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lives in Lincoln.


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April Swieconek  -  Director of Public Relations  -  978-745-9500 X3109  -

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