Thursday, March 21, 2013


Published in 2005, Chronologies draws from a period of some thirty years, from 1975 to 2003, in the career of the American landscape photographer Richard Misrach.  The book collects 125 images re-sequenced into the chronological order.  Representing an explorative study, rather than an anthology or retrospective, the collection reveals a progression of idea, themes and process over a period of 30 years.

"White Man Contemplating Pyramids", Egypt, 1991 [and] "Untitled" On the Beach Series, 2004

Photos are now re-presented out of their original context as a collection of work in themselves. Previously sequenced images are now reorganised into a ”stream of consciousness” providing insight into Misrach’s thinking and evolution as a photographer.  Throughout the journey we see common threads emerge; in subject matter and in composition. Formal and conceptual connections surface as his work weaves in and out of different themes.  There is a sense that we are on a journey of discovery and its not just for our benefit. 

"Train Tracks", 1984 [and] "Tracks", 1989
The book is principally about time.  It reinforces the importance of time within Misrach’s frames while also highlighting its role as the revealer of new meanings and unexpected relationships as the frames become re-arranged consecutively over a 30 year span.  Furthermore, the book becomes a timepiece in itself with every turn of the page representing progression.

Cameras are clocks for seeing -  Roland Barthes

It is the Salton Sea series of photographs that he illustrate so vividly the fragility of our habitation over time. A decade of flooding was caused at this artificial lake in the late 1970s when control of the water levels were lost.  There exists a blurring of the horizon line in Misrach's images of the disaster.  Man made objects rest perilously between the sea and the sky as they are slowly swallowed up.  The objects sit like melting ice caps whose presence will slowly be erased.

"Flooded Snack Bar",  "Submerged Trailer", Salton Sea, 1983

Throughout the work we see Misrach’s ongoing concern with the landscape and humanity’s interaction with it.  He continually reminds us of our subservient role to the forces of nature.   The Salton Sea and Oakland fire series of photos, both representing environmental disasters shot eight years apart, are reminders to our transient existence. Swimming pools remain as traces of our being.

"Diving Board", Salton Sea, 1983 [and] "Swimming Pool", Oakland, 1991

Nobody else has made such a sustained political enquiry into our maltreatment of the wilderness in a vocabulary of such exquisite beauty.—Francis Hodgson

The book begins with a cactus taken from his first series of photos (A Photographic Book) in 1975 and concludes with images from his “On the Beach” series (2003).  The timelessness in the first is replaced with the endlessness of nature in the last. Feelings of privacy are replaced with that of isolation. We are but dots in the ocean. Time has erased the comforting horizon, evident in most of Misrach's work to that date, and replaced it with a celestial view point highlighting our insignificance in the landscape.  

"Ocotillo", 1975 [and] "Untitled", 2005