The Desert is the Canvas in Jim Mangan's Aerial Photo Series, 'BLAST'

We spoke to Jim Mangan about dust clouds, the Utah desert, and Ken Block's amazing driving skills.

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Dec 10 2014, 5:00pm

Jim Mangan, BLAST. 2014. Images courtesy the artist

Inspired by his previous projects including Bedu, Time of Nothing, and Bastard Child, photographer Jim Mangan’s latest series, BLAST (published by Dashwood Books), marries the artist’s ardor for the rugged landscape of the American West with his penchant for abstraction. Through his collaboration with professional rally car driver Ken Block and a combination of choreographed circumstances and happy accidents, Mangan created and captured ephemeral images of alien patterns in clouds of dust atop the Utah mountain landscape.

To create BLAST, Mangan and Block traveled to a remote 75-mile stretch of land between Capital Reef and Goblin Valley, Utah to shoot the series using two 35mm Leica SLRs and a 70-200mm Leitz zoom lens, a Robinson helicopter, mountainsides, mountaintops, and the desert floor. "I wanted to put the landscape in motion and show [it] entirely in an abstract way. When we finally got out there with the car I realized how important it was to show it through it the project. The abstract and literal images work really well together," Mangan told The Creators Project. "Also it's important to note that, although we were in pretty remote locations, all these places allow vehicles, [but] are almost entirely utilized by motorcycles."

Born and raised in Chicago, Mangan, who, in the past, has shot three covers for VICE Magazine, has spent the better part of the past 20 years in the mountains of Colorado and Utah, finding inspiration in the erratic, painterly terrain. “The intention and emphasis is focused on the dust clouds, which Ken and I discussed and conceptualized prior to the shoot," Mangan says. "What he was able to actually accomplish completely blew me away.” 

Block employed a style of racing known as gymkhana, which requires that drivers perform complicated maneuvers like reversals, figure eights, and 180- and 360-degree spins at maximum speed. The swirling dust clouds Block’s tires freed from the earth simultaneously interrupted and echoed the natural desert forms, wreaking havoc upon and reinscribing them with quick, volatile gestures.

“The thing that separates Ken from other rally car drivers is that he's probably the most creative," explains Mangan. "I initially asked Ken if he could create certain patterns and dust clouds. He was willing to try anything," Mangan continues. "There were so many amazing patterns that were completely unexpected, and it was just being in the right place and capturing it all at the right moment." He notes that, "A big part of the process entailed scouting and providing soil samples to Ken and his team. They needed to determine what tires would work best, if at all," and that a large part of it had to do with the locations he chose. From there, "Ken was able to sort of conquer it all, as well as going above and beyond.”

Jim Mangan's BLAST is on display until January 15, 2015 at 205-a. Below, check out more from the series:

BLAST is out now on Dashwood Books. Click here to order your own copy. 

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