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Photographs by Richard Misrach.
Fraenkel Gallery / D.A.P., San Francisco, United States, 2005. 280 pp., 135 color illustrations, 15x12".

Richard Misrach’s work has invariably concerned itself with place, most famously the American desert of the West and Southwest. His monumental, ongoing project Desert Cantos has consistently brought to the fore questions about our society’s use of land—whether as natural resource, dump site, military training ground, or vacation arena. While the Desert Cantos may be considered his magnum opus, numerous smaller bodies of work have been realized along the way, including his series of photographs of the Golden Gate bridge, and his recent work, On the Beach—work that was inspired by Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel of the 1950s. If the physical world is compared to an X and Y graph, place may be thought of as one of the axes, and time the other. Chronologies, as a book, fleshes out the element of time in Misrach’s work, summarizing and subsequently enlarging on what we know of this artist and his work. By removing the photographs from all context— as part of this or that completed project—and simply putting them in chronological order (and acutely limited to just 135 pictures), one learns a great deal about several things. First, there is a depth of concern with the landscape in front of him brilliantly coupled with intense engagement and experimentation with the picture plane. Secondly, we learn by example. We witness the ebb and flow, over years, of attraction to subject matter or concern with certain compositional problems. Penetrating attention to specific subject matter gives way to lyrical ramblings. It’s a fascinating journey. Misrach is clearly far from terminating his production of images—many more will come, hopefully, over the next 20-30 years. Chronologies allows us to witness how a mature artist has approached simultaneous projects at once—the book deftly weaves the threads of these projects together through the altogether simple construct of time. Moving beyond a simple anthology of best works, Chronologies guides and directs, jogging this way and that, but ultimately reveals a gait that is satisfyingly photographic and uniquely American. DARIUS HIMES

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