Photographs by Richard Misrach.
Fraenkel Gallery / D.A.P., San Francisco, 2005. 280 pp., 135 color illustrations, 15x12".
work has invariably
concerned itself with
place, most famously
the American desert
of the West and
Southwest. His monumental,
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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