A Glimpse of Nature, Via Downtown Billboards

A photo project in Los Angeles and Philadelphia implants images of nature on urban billboards and buildings

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Courtesy Tim Simmons

Photographer Tim Simmons recently completed a two-city public exhibition of nature photography displayed in a most uncommon setting: city billboards and blank walls. For the past two months, his Urban Land Project towered over streets and filled derelict wall spaces in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He fielded questions via email about the project and the juxtaposition of nature and urbanity.

What inspired this work?

I have been exploring the relationship between the landscape, environmental change and the human world for nearly 10 years. I believe strongly in the importance of engaging with the land, that there are many ways in which this could benefit us. I feel that there is a disengagement and I try to offer a space to reconnect.

Why do you think it’s important to place images of the natural world in the urban realm?

Globalization, industrialization and technological progress are the sculptors of the modern landscape. The juxtaposition of my imagery against this backdrop aims to accentuate the tension between the human and natural worlds by offering a moment of engagement.

Why billboards?

This project consisted of three parts, billboards, murals and projections. In recent years I have focused a large part of my practice on public art, and taking my work out of the confines of the gallery. It is about challenging perception through experience. Using the billboards & murals allowed me to infiltrate public spaces using mediums most commonly used for advertising, to subvert our expectation of what we usually see in these spaces.

What’s unique about Philadelphia and Los Angeles that you would choose them as sites for this work?

These were the spaces which I was offered to work with. But having visited both now I feel that combined they represent the elements of globalization with large industrial sites and urban sprawl.

It’s increasingly common to think of cities as “natural” environments, or places that have evolved through natural and organic processes of development. Would you agree, or do you think there’s still a separation between the places in your photographs and the urban sites in which they’re exhibited?

Yes for me there is a separation between the places that I photograph and cities. Of course processes of development have led to the creation of urban environments. But there is a clear difference between being in a city and being in a completely untouched and at times isolated natural space. Consider for a moment why we go on holiday? “To get away.” I think that cities and fast paced urban areas are associated with this sense of constant movement. It is very common for us to associate “switching off” or “relaxation” with removing ourselves from this environment and placing ourselves in more natural spaces. 

The evolution of our environment and the way that most of us live has naturally separated us from the landscape. In my practice I explore the idea that this physical isolation on a day to day basis creates a psychological isolation. This disconnection makes it easy to forget our responsibility to maintain and preserve our environment in the small ways that we can.

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.