Annette LeMay Burke
Annette LeMay Burke is a photographic artist and Northern California native who lives in the heart of Silicon Valley. A longtime observer of the evolution of the western landscape, Burke is interested in how our environment changes over time and the artifacts—both tangible and malleable—that are left behind. She examines the progress of technology as a marker of time, how the built world and natural world intersect, and thoughtfully uses irony and humor in her work.
In her series Fauxliage, she explores the odd existence of disguised cell phone towers in the landscape and how technology and our built environments are encroaching on nature. The tower camouflages also cloak the cellular equipment’s covert capability to collect valuable personal data. Daylight Books published a monograph of her Fauxliage images in May 2021.
Her work has been exhibited in the US and internationally at institutions such as Center for Photographic Art, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Candela Gallery, Griffin Museum of Photography, Texas Photographic Society, The Center for Fine Art Photography, SE Center for Photography, Academy of Art Museum, Photographic Center Northwest, and FotoNostrum Gallery in Barcelona, Spain. In 2017, she was a finalist for Photolucida’s Critical Mass. In 2020 she was a finalist for the UK’s AOP Open Award Series and in 2021 she was a winner of the Imago Lisboa Photo Festival in Lisbon, Portugal and a semi-finalist for the National Portrait Gallery competition in Washington DC.
Her work has been published in KATALOG Journal of Photography, Lenscratch, Hyperallergic, Elle Decor Italy, L.A. Times, Sierra Club Magazine, Newsweek Japan, Fraction Magazine, PDN, F-Stop Magazine, All-About-Photo.com, and L.A. Photo Curator.
Fauxliage: Disguised Cell Towers of the American West
First created to decrease visual pollution and blend in with the environment, disguised cell phone towers have become an accepted yet contrived aesthetic in our neighborhoods and landscapes. I embarked on a series of road trips across the American West to document the variety of tower designs and to explore the question – how much of an ersatz landscape and manufactured nature are we willing to accept in exchange for quality cell service?
As disguised cell phone towers proliferate, I find it ironic that instead of providing camouflage, their disguises actually unmask their true identities. The towers have an array of creative concealments. They often impersonate trees such as evergreens, palms, and saguaros. Some pillars serve other uses such as flagpoles or iconographic church crosses. Generally the towers are just simulacra. They are water towers that hold no water, windmills that provide no power, and trees that provide no oxygen. Yet they all provide five bars of service.
As humans continue to encroach on the natural world, our demand for cellular service increases too. Because the towers have such conspicuous arboreal costumes, their spread is even more obvious and incongruous with nature.
The faux trees, particularly the conifer models, pose an environmental concern. As the trees weather and age, the plastic needles breakdown into tiny pieces and litter the ground beneath the trees. These plastic particles can easily enter the ecosystem. What started as an attempt to reduce visual pollution is now creating plastic pollution.
The quaint masquerades do obscure one thing—the cellular equipment's covert ability of collecting all the personal data transmitted from our cell phones. Big tech and the government are always listening (and buying, selling, and storing).
As the fifth generation (5G) of cellular technology continues to roll out, new cell towers will be smaller and more inconspicuous—think small antennas integrated into the tops of streetlight poles. Perhaps elaborately disguised “fauxliage” towers will start disappearing and be considered an anachronism of the early 21st century. The decorated towers could join drive-up photo kiosks, phone booths, newsstands, and drive-in movie theaters as architectural relics of the past. Coincidentally, those functionalities are all standard capabilities of our cell phones, now held in the palms of our hands.
Daylight Books published a monograph of my Fauxliage images in May 2021.
Three Saguaros, Phoenix, AZ, 2016
Release Date: July 16, 2021
These saguaro cacti are located on a frontage road between a freeway and a housing development in Phoenix, AZ. All three are cell towers. The one on the right is newly installed and is less weathered than the other two. I was lucky enough to drive by as the saguaro camouflage was being assembled.