Richard Misrach is one of the most influential photographers of his generation. In the 1970s, he helped pioneer the renaissance of color photography and large-scale presentation that are in widespread practice today. Best known for his ongoing series, Desert Cantos, a multi-faceted approach to the study of place and man’s complex relationship to it, he has worked in the landscape for over 40 years.
A recent chapter of the series, Border Cantos, made in collaboration with the experimental composer Guillermo Galindo, explored the unseen realities of the US-Mexico borderlands. In subsequent chapters, Premonitions and The Writing on the Wall, Misrach documents graffiti on abandoned buildings throughout the Southwest and Southern California, finding an angry and ominous response to the highly charged political climate before and after the 2016 election. Both series premiered at Fraenkel Gallery in 2017.
Other notable bodies of work include a long-term study of weather, time, color and light in Misrach’s serial photographs of the Golden Gate, documentation of the industrial corridor along the Mississippi River known as “Cancer Alley,” and On The Beach, an aerial perspective of human interaction and isolation.
Recent projects mark departures from his work to date. In one series, he has experimented with new advances in digital capture and printing, foregrounding the negative as an end in itself and digitally creating images with astonishing detail and color spectrum. In another, he built a powerful narrative out of images of graffiti produced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, made with a 4-megapixel pocket camera. In fall 2012, in collaboration with landscape architect Kate Orff, Misrach launched a major book and exhibition entitled Petrochemical America, which addresses the health and environmental issues associated with our dependency on oil. In 2023, Misrach collaborated with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, creating large-scale visuals to back the company’s heart-stirring choreography.
Misrach has had one-person exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, among others. A mid-career traveling survey was organized by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in 1996. His photographs are held in the collections of most major institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In fall 2010, on the five-year anniversary of Katrina, the exhibition Untitled [New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 2005] made its debut at the New Orleans Museum of Art and was also shown at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The series, 1991—The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath, was presented in the fall of 2011 at the Berkeley Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, concurrently. The body of work, Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley, was inaugurated at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, in summer 2012 and traveled to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in 2013. Border Cantos, a collaboration with the composer Guillermo Galindo, was on view at San Jose Museum of Art and Amon Carter Museum of American Art in 2016, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in February 2017, and has continued to tour at seven additional museum venues through 2022.
Over a dozen monographs have been published on Misrach’s work, among them Telegraph 3 A.M.: The Street People of Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley; Richard Misrach: 1975-1987; Bravo 20: The Bombing of the American West; Crimes and Splendors: The Desert Cantos of Richard Misrach; Violent Legacies: Three Cantos; The Sky Book; Richard Misrach: Golden Gate; Pictures of Paintings; Chronologies; On the Beach; Destroy this Memory; 1991 —The Oakland/Berkeley Fire Aftermath; Petrochemical America; 11.21.11 5:40pm; Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo | Border Cantos; and Notations. He is the recipient of numerous awards in the arts including four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2002 he was given the Kulturpreis for Lifetime Achievement in Photography by the German Society for Photography, and in 2008 the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fine Art Photography.