Richard Misrach: Scenes from the American Desert

For Misrach, the wilderness is a rarified condition of the American landscape, and it is, therefore, unrealistic to expect a panorama without some vestige of man…So ubiquitous is a man’s presence that the issue of intrusion into the sacred land is no longer sufficiently valid. Good or bad, cultural artifacts are a legitimate element of the landscape. It is, as Misrach observes, not paradise lost, but paradise changed. — Kathleen Guss, New American Photography (LA County Museum)

For the past five years Misrach’s work has focused on the desert of the Coachella Valley in Southern California. In the course of this portrait of the desert, several distinct concerns have emerged, especially the fires that ravage the landscape daily, and the floods that have created the vast area known as the Salton Sea. Though these subjects are usually considered the domain of journalism, Misrach’s photographs clearly recognize a larger metaphorical significance in these subjects.

Considered one of the most influential photographers working in color, Misrach’s new work evidences an extraordinary sensitivity to light and its atmospheric effects on the land. His use of the cumbersome 8”x10” view camera fills the photographs with dense and rewarding detail. Misrach is the recipient of three NEA and one Guggenheim fellowship. “Scenes of the American Desert” will be published as a monograph in 1986 by University of New Mexico Press.