NEW YORK, NY.-
Photographer Mike Osborne's work revolves around charged landscapes and the myths and fantasies they inspire. In Floating Island
, he focuses his camera on the border-straddling community of Wendover, Utah, and West Wendover, Nevada, located on the fringe of the Great Salt Lake Desert.
During World War II, Wendover was home to an important Army Air Force base that trained bomber pilots, including the crew of the Enola Gay. After the war, the military abandoned the base and the town gradually reinvented itself as a gaming outpost with five sprawling casinos. Osborne traces this unusual trajectory in starkly beautiful photographs.
Floating Island unfolds in a sequence of ten chapters, each devoted to a specific facet of the town and its surroundings. In one, Osborne follows a team of corporate contractors as they comb a bombing range for unexploded ordnance, detonating the decades-old bombs they encounter. In another, he photographs the defunct air base's remaining buildings and munitions bunkers. Shot at night and illuminated by the casinos several miles off, the structures glow uncannily amid their desolate surroundings. In a later chapter, Osborne renders the casinos and their patrons through color-saturated interiors and portraits.
Osborne's photographs are also a response to the extraordinarily expansive landscape that surrounds the town. The title, Floating Island, refers to a small mountain located at the heart of the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats. Due to an optical phenomenon known as an "inferior mirage," the mountain appears to hover perpetually above the horizon line -- a real illusion that is inherent in the landscape itself.
The desert's immensity and blankness have made the site a useful location for an array of Hollywood films, which have often used it to convey a sense of the "otherworldly" and "apocalyptic." Throughout Floating Island, Osborne draws on this history, merging documentary and cinematic approaches to produce photographs that respect the particularities of the site while also amplifying its otherworldly qualities.
Shooting on the Bonneville Salt Flats, he photographs land-speed racers who might also be mistaken for astronauts or the protagonists in a sci-fi film. In one of the book's final chapters, the piled remnants of a mining operation are illuminated at night, evoking the lunar expanses of NASA missions and Hollywood sets. The book's final chapter documents details in a moonlit motel interior before offering a final view onto the strange terrain looming outside the window.
Fusing documentary and cinematic approaches, Floating Island presents the viewer with a complex depiction of place that explores the site's rich history as well as its role in our collective imagination.