Show Caves is a compelling photo series by Los Angeles-based photographer, Austin Irving. On first glance Austin’s photographs are immediately absorbing, showing vast topographical caves illuminated with multi-coloured lighting. However Show Caves is far more compelling in context than just its aesthetic. As a series the photographs explore “the anthropocentric tendencies of modern tourism seen in domestic and international show caves,” explains the photographer.
Austin herself is a graduate from the department of photography and imaging at TISCH School of the Arts at New York University, who has since had her work exhibited globally. For this series the objective is to “highlight the tension that exists between the staggering natural beauty of caves and the renovations people make in order to transform these spaces into spectacular tourist attractions”. Within her artist’s statement Austin identifies that “these caverns have been curated to cater to both the physical needs of sightseers as well as to our collective expectation of the fantasy cave. Elaborate lighting, elevators, poured cement trails, even bathrooms and souvenir stands have been added so that ancient geological wonders can be accessible and marketable to a money-giving public”.
Shot on location in Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Mexico, Virginia, Arizona, New York and Tennessee, the work questions whether “these additions [are] acts of vandalism disrupting a delicate eco-system for the sake of commercial profit?” Or alternatively, “do these human interventions draw attention to the preservation of caves and make hard-to-access natural wonders readily available for appreciation?” Either way, the series is both magical and thought provoking.
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