The book Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke contains 60 color photographs of disguised cell phone towers of the American West. Burke, a photographic artist, captured images of often-whimsical tower disguises during six years of travel. The photographs also are available in 17×22 and 30×44 prints, with individual commissions for larger sizes.
“I live in Silicon Valley,” Burke said, in an interview with AGL Magazine. “I used to work in tech, so I’m used to having a lot of technology around me. I first noticed these disguised trees in the early 2000s. Even in Silicon Valley, they stood out as a little odd. They amused me. Eventually, I started a photo project.”
Writing in her book, Burke said that the more she photographed the towers, the more disconcerted she felt about technology clandestinely modifying the environment.
“Would our children soon accept these towers as normal?” she asked. “I began to explore how this manufactured nature had imposed a contrived aesthetic in our neighborhoods. My photographs expose the towers’ idiosyncratic disguises, highlight the variety of forms and show how ubiquitous they are in our daily lives.” Because the towers are mostly fake trees, Burke called the photo series Fauxliage.
Some of Burke’s search for towers to photograph simply involved a lot of driving around.
“It’s much easier when you’re the passenger, just to look around,” she said. “Many times, I would take scouting shots with my cell phone just to get the GPS and then go back later. I would ask people who live in the area where good ones are. Also, the internet is just a great research tool.”
Burke said she has a degree in geology, and she is interested in the natural world and how people interact with it.
“I’m used to looking at the landscape,” she said. “I’m interested in artifacts that we leave behind. This could be something that technology has left behind, these cell towers.”
Despite the quirky disguises that can be entertaining to look at, Burke wrote in her book, the towers present privacy and environmental concerns. “The often-farcical pole disguises belie the equipment’s covert ability to collect all the personal data transmitted from our cell phones,” the book reads. “Our social media interactions, advertising clicks, location tracking pings, audio recordings by the always-listening Siri and Alexis, are all commoditized, sold and stored by Big Tech and the government. Surveillance capitalism, especially perfecting the algorithms that can predict our behavior to advertisers, is big business in the 21st century.”
Commenting about the cell towers disguised as saguaro cacti, Burke said, “They are my favorite. The ones I photographed are in the Phoenix area. They are very well disguised, I think, because they can be shorter. It helps them to fit in a little better. The designers go to great detail. The little cactus spines are all airbrushed individually. They have re-created the little birds’ nest burrows in there. They are really great.
Burke maintains a website at www.atelierlemay.com, where it is possible to obtain signed copies of the book. Daylight Books publishes Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke; visit www. daylightbooks.org/products/fauxliage.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.