Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography since 1970

, Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
A blue-saturated photograph of a desert landscape at night with a winding road in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Sim Chi Yin, Singaporean (b. Singapore 1978), Mountain range surrounding the Nevada Test Site, November 2017. From the series Most People Were Silent. Archival pigment print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard and Ronay Menschel Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs, 2020.181. © Sim Chi Yin; image courtesy of the artist.

Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Explore the impacts of military activity on the American landscape—and the ways in which photography supports activism in response to these effects.

Devour the Land shines a light on the unexpected and often hidden consequences of militarism on habitats and well-being in the United States. Featuring approximately 160 photographs across 6 thematic groupings, the exhibition reveals the nationwide footprint of the U.S. military, the wide network of industries that support and supply its work, and the impacts of—and responses to—this activity.

How do photographs portray environmental damage that can be difficult to see, much less identify and measure? By posing such questions, the exhibition provides visitors a space to consider our current challenges and shared future. At the same time, the works on view also suggest how preparations for war and the aftermath can sometimes lead to surprising instances of ecological regeneration and change.

Following a trajectory that originates in the Civil War era, Devour the Land begins with the 1970s, a dynamic period for both environmental activism and photography. From there, the focus expands to our contemporary moment.

The 60 artists showcased in the exhibition bring a variety of practices and approaches to their work. They range from professional photographic artists and photojournalists to lesser known and emerging photographers; they include Robert Adams, Federica Armstrong, Sheila Pree Bright, Robert Del Tredici, Terry Evans, Lucas Foglia, Sharon Gilbert, Ashley Gilbertson, Peter Goin, Joshua Dudley Greer, David T. Hanson, Zig Jackson, Stacy Kranitz, Dorothy Marder, Susan Meiselas, Richard Misrach, Barbara Norfleet, Mark Power, Jeff Rich, Sim Chi Yin, Sharon Stewart, Robert Toedter, Phil Underdown, and Will Wilson.

The majority of works on display are drawn from the Harvard Art Museums collections, including many recent acquisitions. Additional works are on loan from other Harvard repositories, North American public institutions, and private collections.

An illustrated catalogue, presenting a lively range of voices at the intersection of art, environmentalism, militarism, photography, and politics, accompanies the exhibition. Besides critical essays, nearly a hundred plates, and poems by Ed Roberson, the catalogue includes interviews with nine of the artists featured in the exhibition. The publication won Photography Catalogue of the Year at the 2022 Paris Photo–Aperture PhotoBook Awards.

Organized by the Harvard Art Museums. Curated by Makeda Best, Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography, Harvard Art Museums.

This exhibition is made possible in part by the generosity of the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support for the project is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Fund and the Rosenblatt Fund for Postwar American Art. Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.

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Related Installation
Visit the museums’ Lightbox Gallery on Level 5 to explore in closer detail select portfolios represented in the exhibition: Nina Berman’s Acknowledgment of Danger, Peter Goin’s Nuclear Landscapes, David T. Hanson’s Waste Land, and Barbara Norfleet’s The Landscape of the Cold War. A free poster is available in this space for visitors to take home; it overlays a map of the United States with key developments in environmental policy and activism over the last 50 years.

Learn more about the exhibition in our series of videos, including a recording of an introductory lecture by curator Makeda Best. Over the coming months, artists featured in the exhibition will share their activism and viewpoints through a series of interviews. View on the museums’ YouTube channel.

Harvard Film Archive Program
The Harvard Film Archive will offer a related program of films this fall — Devour the Land: Cinema, Landscape, History — which expands on the exhibition’s central themes. The program features 14 films (a mix of virtual and in-person screenings) and runs October 8 through December 6. Find details about the films, screening times, and more on the HFA’s website.

A Spotify playlist spanning nearly nine decades of environmentalism in music extends the experience of the exhibition. The playlist, available through the Harvard Art Museums profile on Spotify (, features songs by Johnny Cash, Mos Def, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Xiuhtezcatl, Midnight Oil, and others.