LakeCounty_9395 Thomas Heinser

Thomas Heinser captures how drought, fire, and industry make abstractions of the landscape.

Reduziert is the German word for “reduced.” You could use to it to refer to any kind of reduction: of light, mass, calories. But if you’ve ever walked through a German mall after Christmas, you’ll also have seen the word splashed across signs and windows of stores desperately offloading their merchandise. It’s the German equivalent of “sale.”

That dualism is what the German-born, California-based photographer Thomas Heinser is playing at with the title of his current show at San Francisco’s Gallery 16. “Reduziert” is a collection of aerial photographs taken in 2015. They capture California at its most diminished—from drought, from wildfire, and from human profit.

“We’re putting the world on sale,” he tells CityLab. “Everything is for commerce, and not for the survival of the planet.”

“BaySalt_6416” (Thomas Heinsert)

The exhibition includes shots of the evaporation ponds near San Francisco International Airport, where a 150 years of salt manufacturing has turned acres of wetlands into lurid red and yellow blooms. There are also photographs of the Central Valley, its once-lush fields turned into brown scar tissue from years of desiccation. And there are images of the chilling devastation that a historic wildfire caused in Lake County last fall.

Shooting from a helicopter, and without post-production digital alterations, Heinser frames these subjects with an eye for abstraction. Shadows cast by burnt trees become a pattern of dark, parallel gashes. Dried-out cropland turns into something like a lizard’s scales close up. Heinser says that gallery-goers are often surprised to learn that what they’re viewing are photographs, not paintings—which makes the beauty of these images all the more startling, and more dreadful.  

“Reality is amazing enough,” he says.

The exhibition runs through March 18.

“BaySalt_6249”  (Thomas Heinsert)
“BaySalt_6139”  (Thomas Heinsert)
“BaySalt_6424”  (Thomas Heinsert)
“CentralValley_1816”  (Thomas Heinsert)
“LakeMcClure_1736”  (Thomas Heinsert)
“CentralValley_1877”
CentralValley_8807
“LakeCounty_9219”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a man surveying a home garage.
    Transportation

    How Single-Family Garages Can Ease California's Housing Crisis

    Given the affordable housing crisis, California cities should encourage single-family homeowners to convert garages into apartments and accessory dwelling units.

  2. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  3. Design

    The Many Lives of Notre-Dame

    Far from being a single author’s definitive text, the beloved cathedral’s history is a palimpsest.

  4. A tent-like pavilion with a colorful stained-glass design in a cemetery at dusk.
    Design

    The New Art Galleries: Urban Cemeteries

    With their long-dead inhabitants remembered only foggily, historic cemeteries like Mount Auburn and Green-Wood use art to connect to the living.

  5. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.