It Takes One: Elena Dorfman

Stewardship Stories

It Takes One: Elena Dorfman

It Takes One: Elena Dorfman

I am a fine art photographer presently working on a series of landscapes entitled, Empire Falling, which explore the rock quarries throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. I was brought up in New England but have lived in California for the last 25 years. This vast Midwestern landscape has been exciting new territory for me.

How would you define a cultural landscape?

I would define these rock sites as large territories that have harbored a certain kind of culture since their discovery by Native Americans. When American settlers arrived they built homes and towns from the sand and limestone. Many of the quarries I photographed were mined to construct important buildings throughout the country, such as the Empire State building, the Pentagon, and the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Also, surprisingly, abandoned rock quarries now act as informal gathering places for young people to meet, cliff-dive, and establish their own sort of summer culture.

How has your work brought you directly in touch with these cultural landscapes?

My previous work has focused on various sub-cultures and uncommon communities. Empire Falling, my current series of collaged landscapes, is a recent departure for me as it is devoid of people and their psychological practices. Shooting in the vast terrain of the rock quarries is thrillingly spare and simple, yet leaves me feeling in touch with a larger world.

How did your understanding of this landscape change as a result of your work?

I am not an environmental advocate but an image-maker. My current photographic practice is to re-create traditional quarry landscapes through multi-layered constructions. I purposefully avoid the “straight” landscape and turn the recognizable rock quarry image into something unique, forcing the viewer to linger, reconsider the rock and the landscape. Also, the layered images act as a reference to the geological layering of rock.

Did the understanding of others change as well? If so, how?

I am photographing rock quarries, but re-constructing them as non-traditional landscapes. The intent behind each collage is to offer an alternative perspective on the customary mining shot – particularly as these natural sites are being transformed from active, to non-working, to altered landscapes (residential communities/water parks).

Empire Falling - Photo courtesy Elena Dorfman, 2011
Empire Falling - Photo courtesy Elena Dorfman, 2011

What is the message that you would like to give our readers that may inspire them to make a difference?

Hopefully, the work I’ve done in the rock quarries of the Midwest offers a visual conduit between visitor and viewer. These geological formations continue to be awe-inspiring, regardless of the fact that some of them are now trash-filled and in the process of being razed for residential construction. My images, though a mash-up of many sites over the course of time, are simply my way of processing and arranging the multitude of vistas I discovered. 

Learn more about Elena's work on her website.