Photo Essays

An Atlas Gathers the Most Creative Contemporary Maps

The Atlas of Design (Image courtesy of Caroline Rose)
The ‘Atlas of Design’ (Image courtesy of Caroline Rose)

Considering how long the earth’s been around, you’d think it would have already been exhaustively charted. But in recent years, mapmaking has exploded, with more and more cartographers producing maps that tell fascinating stories about the environments they describe.

The 32 specimens printed in the second volume of the Atlas of Design represent some of the best recent efforts. Take Dong Zheng’s expansive “Map of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway,” inspired by an early Qing Dynasty map of the Yellow River. The Chinese artist replaced the snaking waterway with the bullet train inaugurated in 2011. “I wanted to give the impression of how, as this modern high-tech transportation carries people from one city to another, it also connects historical heritage and beautiful natural scenery,” he writes in a short essay for the book. “In a rapid-development environment, we should not forget to preserve tradition and beauty.”

Another standout is Andrew Umentum‘s charmingly chaotic “Road to Madison.” Using delicate illustration and lettering, the map chronicles a five-month bicycle trip he took from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast and back last year. “My two companions and I were directed by circumstance and curiosity,” he explains, “which led to an entirely unique perspective that I attempted to capture in this work.”

Published biennially, the book was edited by Daniel Huffman, Sam Matthews, and Marty Elmer, who curated their selections from a pool of 300 entries representing 23 countries; sales will benefit the North American Cartographic Information Society. In an introduction to the book, Kenneth Field explains that one trait the diverse maps selected have in common is they were all created by “professionals” — people who actually studied cartography, something increasingly rare at a time when anyone with Photoshop and a data set can produce a visually beautiful map.

“Maps are not made in a vacuum, and it is our experiences as scientists, artists, cartographers, and as human beings that shape what we bring to our work,” he argues. “We should celebrate that work, and encourage wider appreciation of and aspiration towards it.”

Andrew Umentum, "The Road from Madison — Umentum" (Image courtesy of the Norther American Cartographic Information Society)
Andrew Umentum, “The Road from Madison” (all images courtesy of the North American Cartographic Information Society unless otherwise noted) (click to enlarge)
Dong Zheng, "Map of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway"
Dong Zheng, Detail from “Map of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway”
Roger Smith, "The Milford Track" (click to enlarge) (image courtesy of the North American Cartographic Information Society)
Roger Smith, “The Milford Track” (click to enlarge)
Ryan Sullivan and Matthew Hampton, "¡Vámonos!" (Image courtesy of the North American Cartographic Information Society)
Ryan Sullivan and Matthew Hampton, “¡Vámonos!” (click to enlarge)
Kelly Abplanalp, "Mt. Hood"
Kelly Abplanalp, “Mt. Hood” (click to enlarge)
Andy Woodruff, "MBTA Bus Speeds"
Andy Woodruff, “MBTA Bus Speeds” (click to enlarge)

The second volume of the Atlas of Design is available for purchase here.

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