In 2011, photographer Ansley West spent 25 days traveling down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. At the end of the trip, she ended up spending two nights at Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam just south of Las Vegas. “The river we had developed such passion and love for over the last three weeks was now being choked into an eroding construction site,” West describes of her experience.
The trip inspired West to turn her camera toward rivers and the changes they’re experiencing due to human industry and agriculture and because of climate change. Her in-progress series, Seven Rivers, depicts a handful of rivers that snake across the United States, feeding major regions and cities: the Missouri/Mississippi river system, the Tuolumne River in California, the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, the Altamaha River in West’s native Georgia, the Hudson River in New York, the Rio Grande in Texas, and the Colorado River in the southwest.
“Rivers are a place of refuge and life that I continuously return to both physically and emotionally,” West writes in an email to Co.Design. However, especially in the drought-besieged American west, waterways like the Rio Grande and the Colorado River are drying up.
These aren’t just gorgeous photos of streams, they’re an environmental call to arms. Her project is “not aimed at documentation but rather the depiction of unseen changes occurring on all rivers,” she says. “The constructed images I make on each negative show the possibilities and effects of industry, global warming, agriculture, power and the unquenchable demand for fresh water.” While some of her images capture the tranquility of moving water, she exposes her film multiple times to collage images of smoke-spouting factories and industrial architecture amongst the reeds and ripples of the rivers themselves.