Visual Arts Review: “Seeing Silicon Valley” - Our Future Dystopia? - The Arts Fuse
Meanwhile, Turner, now Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communications at Stanford, had embarked on similarly disillusioning project. Turner, who lives in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley, had studied the region’s culture for some two decades. In 2017, he invited Mary Beth Meehan, known for her “large-scale, community-based portraiture,” to spend six weeks in the Valley, photographing its inhabitants and listening to their stories.
“He told me that he was troubled by the power of the region’s mythology,” Meehan recalls, “and wanted people to see the place as it is. He asked if I’d be willing to come and try to see it through my own eyes.” After her work got underway, Turner asked Meehan to his house once a week for a home-cooked dinner and would “pepper me with questions: ‘What are you seeing? What are you finding out there?’”
But brevity, succinctness, and personal focus are among the key strengths of this powerful and important book, an account that fans out into other developing narratives about the decline of California as America’s paradise, social media’s mendacity and lack of civic responsibility, and the super-charged rise of economic injustice and insecurity. It is likely to attract a lot of attention, discussion, and controversy.
Nowadays, the economy of Silicon Valley is based mostly on software, biotech, product development, and gigantic, Internet-based companies like Facebook and Google. Silicon and its industrial byproducts are no longer the raw materials of the region’s wealth, which is mostly generated via brand names and intellectual property. Meehan’s photographs and stories portray a different kind of environmental damage: economic and social disruption, especially the upheavals caused by a catastrophic rise in housing costs.
Meehan’s photographs are unsentimental. Nobody smiles. The images are saturated in California sunlight and color and classically composed, suggesting the long heritage of Western portraiture. The various poverties they encompass do not immediately strike the eye, as Evans’ images do. The pain lurks below, like Turner’s underground toxic plumes.