David Benjamin Sherry - Ultimate Earth 2011

David Benjamin Sherry's alternative America

Inspired by painting and installation art the photographer's landscapes are brash - and very big

David Benjamin Sherry's mountainscapes – on show now at Salon 94 in New York and the Saatchi Gallery in London - are vast, dramatic and hallucinogenic; infused with ethereal, poetic hues cast while printing. On one wall a monolithic rock face rises from a yellow haze. Opposite, a tree-infested island floats in the middle of a washed-out-red lake. Elsewhere, lilac mist rolls off a lilac ocean onto lilac shores. It's the American landscape at its most iconic – big, brash and wild – caught mid-trip, in both senses of the word.

Sherry was born in 1981, in Long Island, but moved to Woodstock, N.Y., aged five. Like Katy Grannan, who's Boulevard portraits of anonymous West Coast inhabitants we featured recently, Sherry is a graduate of Yale's prestigious MFA programme, but his educational pedigree doesn't end there. The artist also attended the equally noteworthy Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence, thanks in part to the advice of a particularly supportive high school teacher eager for the young photographer to explore the creative potential that, now realised, makes him one of the art world's rising stars.

Sherry's work is consistent in its use of impossibly bright, vivid colour, but varied in subject matter. Series comprise self portraits (the artist regularly takes pictures of himself, sometimes provocatively), hand-made still lifes, abstractions and the saturated, psychedelic landscapes described above. But there's still so much more the artist hopes to cover. "I'm interested in so many things," he tells Phaidon from his base in New York, where he's just opened his first solo show, Astral Desert. "The list [of things still to do] is hundreds of pages long!"

Sherry is a romantic when it comes to subject matter but so too with regards to technique, preferring to use analogue photographic methods while eschewing the kind of digitally manipulated work commonly produced by contemporary image makers. "I shoot 4 x 5 film and print in a colour darkroom in New York," he explains. "This is the case for all of my work. The photographs are all analogue – there's no digital manipulation and no computer used. I'm interested in these final days of film photography, and the areas still uncharted within the medium." 

Although a fine artist, has flexed his analog muscle on a commercial level too, especially at the beginning of his career, having been turfed out of Yale's New Haven campus with little concrete direction. Previous clients include Dazed & Confused, 032c, Vogue Japan and i-D, amongst others, for whom Sherry happily treated fashion commissions like he would a personal project.  

But it's making his own art he's focussed on. Like Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe before him, Sherry scours the American landscape for spots deemed worthy enough of photographic preservation, before "projecting a feeling" on a place by infusing it with a particular colour. "The landscapes are mostly shot out west," Sherry tells us, "in California, Utah, Oregon. I tend to research places before traveling to them, and then shoot the landscapes very naturally, spending long days hiking, walking and sleeping on the sun's schedule."

It sounds idyllic – the artist as nature's creative portal – but what's his ambition, exactly? "I'm hoping to open people's eyes to nature," he explains. "And I'm also trying to brighten the world with colour. I love my work and I love to travel – to explore anything and everything until I have answers, even if they are absurd or fantastical, morbid, enlightening or depressing. My job as an artist is to make sense of what's happening around me, by any means necessary."