In 1871, the painter Thomas Moran headed west on an assignment from Scribner's Monthly, a new magazine, accompanied by landscape photographer William Jackson. When the pair returned, people lined up by the thousands to see the pictures. Congress was so moved by them that it set aside more than 2 million acres of Montana backcountry for the first national park. Recently, the Nature Conservancy launched a similar project—part art, part environmental activism—whose results can now be seen at the Corcoran Gallery.
Twelve photographers, sent around the world, brought back more than just pretty pictures: these are records of land and people and the impact the two have on each other. Richard Misrach's study of Battleground Point in Nevada discloses a place of striking beauty: desert dunes and vast waters. Lynn Davis captured a mixture of the natural and the man-made on Utah's plateaus. Frontier days may be long gone, but the earth's wild places are just as compelling, whether they're close to home or as distant as the Komodo Straits of Indonesia.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202/639-1800; through December 31.