Photography and ideas about the “American West” grew in cultural significance throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and have informed ideas about each other ever since.

As photography has proliferated, so too has visual representations of the West. It is a photogenic space whose image has been used to express patriotic ideals of “Americaness” —rugged individualism, expansionism, romantic nationalism, and manifest destiny—but it is also the palimpsest for the failure of these. It is the background for tourist photographs and the image that lingers on the screen after the computer falls asleep. Perhaps because of its recognizability and its aesthetic appeal, photographic images of the West have become visual stereotypes and clichéd shorthand for beauty and American values.

Mountains + Valleys, the photographic works of Millee Tibbs, assistant professor of photography in Wayne State University’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, uses the landscape of the American West to interpret and confront these cultural myths surrounding relationship to the landscape.

Titled for the two primary folds in origami, the work uses physical alteration of photographs to create relationships between formal geometries and natural spaces that question the illusionistic representation of the photographic image. The images are printed, folded, and then re-photographed. The resulting images have a duality of being simultaneously manipulated and photographically real. The geometric impositions onto the photo-object literally impress an aesthetic ideal onto the landscape, scarring the very thing they attempt to augment and interrupting the fantasy of an untouched and untouchable vista.

The project was funded by Wayne State University’s research enhancement program in the arts and humanities. The program aims to investigate cultural expression by involving non‐traditional visual, multimodal and print culture projects. Projects funded by the program also aim to advance use of technology in arts and humanities, and make connections between arts, design, and/or humanities and other disciplines or interdisciplinary fields.

“Professor Tibbs’ project was chosen for her innovative approach of combining origami with photography to reconfigure images depicting America,” said Gloria Heppner, Ph.D., associate vice president for Research at Wayne State. “Her works are very interesting as it allows you to see the beautiful scenery of America in a different way that is very appealing to the eye.”

To see additional works of Professor Tibbs, visit