When Richard Misrach arrived from Southern California onto the UC Berkeley campus, as an undergraduate mathematics student, he found himself in the tumultuous atmosphere of 1967 Berkeley amidst anti-war protests, class shut downs and teach-ins. He also discovered the ASUC Art Studio.
“…I went there to learn how to throw pots, but I quickly became interested in photography,” Misrach says. “At the same time, things were heating up on campus with the People's Park riots and tear gassings. I picked up the camera to photograph the world exploding around me.”
This foray into photography would not only have a profound effect on his life but also establish a powerful, socially conscious character to Misrach’s photography and a subsequent, concurrent theme—the contemplation of people, industry and society’s influences upon the landscape and the negative impact on the environment that ensues.
“Night Fishing, Near Bonnet Carré Spillway, Louisiana,” (1998), by Richard Misrach. Photo courtesy of the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.
“I wasn't a particularly politically engaged person before entering Berkeley, but it was impossible not to have one's value systems challenged during this period,” he says. “My initial interest in photography was the great f64 landscape tradition of the West Coast (Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, etc.), but soon my interest in the aesthetics of photography melded with my political awakening and I began looking at the work of people like Dorothea Lange and Bruce Davidson. My work has been trying to reconcile the two poles ever since.”
An internationally acclaimed landscape artist, Misrach’s spends much of his time working in solitude in the deserts of the Southwest for his ongoing series, “Desert Cantos,” initially with an 8”X10” Deardorff camera and now with a medium format, digital Hasselblad and his iPhone.
|“Self-Portrait at Night, White Sands, New Mexico,” (1976/2014), by Richard Misrach. Photo courtesy of the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.|
“It's so hard to explain, but photography and working in the landscape (primarily the desert, but also in Hawaii and Louisiana) is hugely rewarding. For over forty years, it has proven intellectually and emotionally engaging and challenging. And physically, I love being in the desert. I find the heat sensual and have a self-awareness of myself on the planet in a way I don't feel anywhere else,” he says. “The silence is magnificent. Moreover, I've always thought of the desert landscape as a place where culture-civilization stands out in relief. I think my ongoing “Desert Cantos” project (1979-present) has been driven by this idea. Whether it's military testing, environmental degradation or government policy, the desert is one of the places where civilization and nature collide.”
While his new exhibition, “Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975-2015,” at the Fraenkel Gallery focuses upon landscapes, each of the approximately 20 works feature human figures.
|“Untitled (9485 #FC),” (2008), by Richard Misrach. Photo courtesy of the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.|
“If you asked most people, who are involved in any way, they would say that Richard Misrach is a landscape photographer,” says Frish Brandt, executive director of the Fraenkel Gallery, “but this show points out that his landscape photography has always been about how we live in the land and the human element in the land, so whether there’s people or not, there’s always been the essence of humankind.”
|“Untitled (November 10, 2012, 3:08 p.m.),” (2012), by Richard Misrach.
Photo courtesy of the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.|
through May 30. (Book signing with Misrach for his book “The Mysterious Opacity of Other Beings”: 2 p.m. May 9.) 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 981-2661. www.fraenkelgallery.com