Richard Misrach: The Playboys

Since 1975, Richard Misrach has been photographing the deserts of the American West. Earlier segments of Misrach’s Desert Cantos series depicted various aspects of the desert landscape such as man-made fires and floods, and events such as the space-shuttle landing. While the earlier Cantos addressed the state of our man-mauled environment through lyrical metaphor, the most recent series have been unmistakably political. The current series, entitled Desert Cantos XI: The Playboys documents two Playboy magazines which Misrach discovered in his documentation of a nuclear test site in the northwest corner of Nevada. The Playboy magazines were used for target practice by persons unknown. Although the women on the coves were the intended targets, all aspects of American culture, as reflected inside the magazines, were riddled with violence.

Printed as 40×50” color photographs, these images virtually explode with social commentary. The exhibition includes an advertisement for Sassoon hair products featuring Andy Warhol with his eye socket and half his face bullet-riddled. Several pictures of women, one of an illustration of a Mulatto woman, document an eerie and poignant misogyny incarnate, while other pictures of abstract text layered upon abstract text create some strange postmodern pentimento.

Considered one of the most significant and influential photographers working in color, Misrach in his recent work evidences an extraordinary sensitivity to light and its atmospheric effects on the land. His use of the cumbersome 8×10” view camera fills the photographs with dense and rewarding detail. Misrach has received numerous fellowships and awards including three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1973, 1977, 1984), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and the International Center for Photography Award for outstanding publication (Desert Cantos, University of New Mexico Press). Misrach’s most recent book which has just been completed this month is entitled Bravo 20 (Johns Hopkins University Press) which documents illegal test sites of high-explosive bombs on public land near Fallon, Nevada. He has recently been awarded the prestigious Eureka Fellowship from the Fleishhacker Foundation.