Mitch Epstein’s Urgent Look at Communities Vying for American Land

One of the great accomplishments of Epstein’s new work is how he makes headline-grabbing subjects feel timeless.

At the beginning of this decade, the photographer Mitch Epstein spent two years taking pictures of trees. He had just published the book “American Power,” an epic study of the energy industry—from its corporate sanctums to its impact on everyday lives and landscapes—for which he travelled to twenty-five states in the course of five years. The trees were in New York City, where Epstein has been based since the early nineteen-seventies, but it wasn’t just that he wanted to stay close to home after being peripatetic. Before embarking on his journey for “American Power,” Epstein had immersed himself in a deeply personal project about the unravelling of his father’s business in Massachusetts—a lament for the vanishing American Dream and a concession that that dream was corrosive. In trees, Epstein believed he had found a subject that, as he wrote, he could “honor rather than mourn.”

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TIME LightBox presents a new monthly round-up of the best books, exhibitions and ways to experience photography beyond the web—from the Reportage Photography Festival in Sydney and a new Mitch Epstein book to Martin Parr’s ‘Life’s a Beach’ at Aperture in New York and an André Kertész show in London.

Mitch Epstein, Tree Stalker

The photographer goes into detail about his process for selecting and shooting the arboreal landmarks featured in our Voyages Issue.

Before bringing the 8-by-10 camera, I photographed the tree several times with a little digital camera. I spent time with the tree. It was January, and I first had to educate myself as to when the light would be at a favorable vantage point in the sky.

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On Thursday, Prix Pictet named Mitch Epstein’s American Power, a stunning series on fossil fuels and renewable energy use in the U.S. this year’s winner of the group’s third photography prize for environmental sustainability. The theme of this year’s competition was growth, which correlated with Prix Pictet’s mission to “search for photographs that communicate powerful messages of global environmental significance.”

Capturing a Nation’s Thirst for Energy

The photographer Mitch Epstein routinely came under suspicion while taking pictures of dams and power plants for his new book, “American Power.”

The photographer Mitch Epstein, thin and professorial with gray hair and glasses, does not exactly cut a menacing figure. When he ducks beneath the dark cloth of his 8-by-10 view camera, the words that come most readily to mind are late Victorian, not potentially violent.