Richard Misrach (American, born 1949)
Bush #6 Arizona, 1977
Split-toned gelatin silver print 15 in. x 14 1/2 in. (38.1 cm x 36.83 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase1979.9.7
Large-scale color prints have become so much a part of contemporary photography that it has been said the digital print makes the C-print look like a tintype.1 While Richard Misrach figures among the first to pioneer such large-scale work, one of his most compelling series began with the 15 x 15 inch prints that signaled the start of his long artistic engagement with the American desert. Misrach, a native Californian, was inspired by his earliest childhood impressions of the Mojave. What appeared forbidding became a source of mystery. In 1975, he began making black-and-white images that were unique for capturing the desert at night. Doing so called for strobe lighting and long exposures, holding the camera shutter open—sometimes for hours. The resulting prints feature the perfect centering of a creosote bush, fan palm, cactus, or other subject isolated against the landscape by eerie, artificial brightness. In this new take on the landscape, Misrach addressed concerns not uncommon to photography during the 1970s. The nocturnal challenge of photographing in the desert allowed him not only to stretch time, but to reinvent natural phenomena. Such images, rather than being documents, offered interpretation of humankind’s relation with nature. In particular, Misrach’s focus on a single subject establishes an intimacy with the desert that counters the notion of a vast and empty wasteland. This image was chemically toned to lend a soft coloring, and the paper it was printed on is no longer manufactured.
1. Philip Gefter, “Art; Why Photography Has Supersized Itself,” New York Times, 18 April 2004.