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Instead Of Ads, These Billboards Showcase Nature

The DesertX exhibition features these advertising-replacements that remind drivers that even though they’re in a metal box, there’s a natural world right outside that they might be missing.

On a stretch of highway between Joshua Tree and Palm Springs, a series of billboards that usually advertise casinos or fast food now show nothing but photographs of the surrounding landscape. Driving by, there’s a moment at which the billboards perfectly align with the view of the mountains that they’re blocking.

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“It’s a pretty fast road. People drive people quickly on it,” artist Jennifer Bolande, who took over the billboards as part of the DesertX art exhibition in the Coachella Valley, tells Co.Exist. “The first [billboard] might go by, although you notice that it’s not shouting at you to buy something. I think by the second one you’re paying more attention. By the third, you’re hopefully noticing that alignment.”

The photos are meant to draw attention to the fact that, for most visitors to the area, the desert is first experienced through the windows of a car (and later, through a camera lens). The “ads” also draw attention to what someone is driving toward.

“I wanted the pictures to be sharper than what you would see,” Bolande says. “When you look at the distant mountains they’re always fuzzy because of atmosphere. And the photographs are a little bit sharper, so there’s this kind of activation of your desire: you want to see more.”

Each image also captures the landscape at a particular moment in time, so you might see the afternoon light while you drive in the morning. “It’s drawing your attention to the continually changing condition,” she says.

The artwork, called Visible Distance/Second Sight, runs through April 30, when the billboards will revert to their usual sales pitches.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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