On the Cover: Aperture’s “Earth” Issue

David Benjamin Sherry, Looking toward Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah (detail), 2018
Courtesy the artist and Salon 94

“I first happened upon this remote area of southeast Utah in 2007, not realizing where I was until I found myself staring up at Comb Ridge,” says the photographer David Benjamin Sherry, whose photograph of Bears Ears National Monument is on the cover of Aperture’s spring 2019 issue, “Earth.” “This was my first photographic trip to the southwest, and I was in awe.”

In 2016, President Obama declared the 1,351,849 acres of Bears Ears, what Sherry calls “holy land,” a protected monument—an achievement for the five Native American tribes who have ancestral ties to the region, as well as for environmentalists who were seeking protected status of the area for decades. But only one year later, in December 2017, President Trump rolled back Bears Ears by eighty-five percent, making way for the possibility for oil extraction and mining.

“This was the point when I packed my car and headed directly back to Bears Ears to create this work,” Sherry says. “I remember thinking, on my drive, that everyone should be able to experience this place and have access to it.”

With his arresting, analog images, saturated in spectacular colors, Sherry is reclaiming the idea of the historic American landscape and making, as the environmentalist Bill McKibben writes in Aperture, a “‘queer revision’ of the rugged and macho legacy” of photographing the West. The warmth of the pink shade for his photograph from Bears Ears, in particular, “is emblematic of my intensified connection to the natural world and simultaneously connotes a sense of my ‘otherness’ as a queer person,” Sherry says. “Dramatic color is a way to entice viewers and also aid them in thinking about landscape differently.”

Throughout the “Earth” issue, photographers, artists, and writers from Carolyn Drake and Gideon Mendel to William Finnegan and Eva Díaz grapple with the reality of climate change and the age of the “Anthropocene,” in which human actions determine the factors shaping Earth’s geology and ecosystems. “We are losing our deep connection to the natural world and hastening our own demise in the destruction of places like Bears Ears,” Sherry says. “My aim with these pictures is to raise awareness about the fight for the reclamation of this National Monument and others being threatened.”

Read more from Aperture issue 234, “Earth,” or subscribe to Aperture and never miss an issue.

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