What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

February 14, 2019

In the Sunshine of Neglect
Defining Photographs and Radical Experiments in Inland Southern California, 1950 to the Present
California Museum of Photography, Riverside, CA
January 19 - April 28, 2019

installation view / Christina Fernandez / Ken Marchionno

In the Sunshine of Neglect: Defining Photographs and Radical Experiments in Inland Southern California, 1950 to the Present is an expansive group exhibition located at both the California Museum of Photography and the Riverside Art Museum. First, it is necessary to understand what constitutes Inland Southern California, in other words the Inland Empire — an area outside metropolitan Los Angeles that includes: western Riverside County and southwestern San Bernardino County. Sometimes the desert communities of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley are also included in the rubric. The is no hard line or boundary to the Inland Empire and the exhibition traces the work of photographers who are both from the area as well as those who have photographed there. One of the most prevalent themes is the impact of urban development on the natural landscape. Yet this is not a didactic exhibition. The works are poetic and abstract as well as documentary. Surprisingly, some of the artists have works in more than one section, which allows for the idea of cross pollination, as what is intriguing about the exhibition is its expansive look at contemporary photography.

Thoughtfully conceived of and organized by Douglas McCulloh, the exhibition is divided into seven sections. These include: New Topographics and Downstream Explorations, Social Landscapes, Interventions: Photography is Performance, Fires Flood Faultlines, Speculative Terrain, Peripheral Visions and Contested Landscapes. With the participation of more than 50 artists, there are works by those often associated with the California landscape like Ansel Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Julias Shulman and Joel Sternfeld as well as images by educators and recent graduates from area schools like UC Riverside and CSU San Bernardino.

Although there is some experimental work, this is an exhibition that focuses on straight photography. One could ask, and the exhibition does attempt to answer: what is straight photography in the digital age? Ken Marchionno's, Crestline Panorama 05 (Home), 2016 is a long horizontal image that spans a freestanding wall and is comprised of numerous digital exposures seamlessly stitched together. The same section, Peripheral Visions, includes Sant Khalsa's Trees and Seedlings, black and white transparencies of burnt trees sandwiched between glass and slotted into tall wooden planks of varying sizes that lean against the wall to reference the way lumber is sold. Also in this section (on view at the Riverside Art Museum) are Robbert Flick's composite images of a willow tree exposed over time. Located at Frank Bonelli Regional Park, Flick documented the same site over and over to create works he terms 'extended views.'

The exhibition begins at the California Museum of Photography (CMP) with section one: New Topographics and Downstream Explorations. Here black and white and color images from the 1970s to the present (2017) trace the changes in both the natural and built environment. The works collected under the heading Social Landscapes also span past to present and range from Mark McKnight's close up images of walls and gutters to Thomas McGovern's photographs of swap meets and people in cars, as well as Nadia Osline's surreal photograph Sacred Datura, 2010 depicting a poisonous flower floating over the lights of a city. Interventions includes John Divola's spray painted additions to abandoned desert shacks, Bystedt & Egan's contemporary recreations of faded color snapshots and Kim Abeles' The Map Is the Legend (Equidistant Inland Empire), 2018, an evocative and expansive photo-sculpture that includes the participation of myriad artists and scholars.

As expected, the California landscape is home to numerous fires, floods, droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters. In this section Joe Deal, Noah Berger, Joel Sternfeld, Sant Khalsa among others record the effects of these occurrences. Speculative Terrain features Ellen Jantzen's hybrid color photographic constructions picturing fields of wind turbines and Leopoldo Peña's black and white photographs from the Desert Errant series of incongruous objects that populate the landscape. The concluding section, Contested Landscapes also spans from past to present and includes works that exhibit man's mark on the environment over time, like Ron Jude's, Target Practice #2 (Box), 2014 or Citrus # 1 (w/ tire), 2013, J. Bennett Fitts' images from No Lifeguard on Duty, 2005, as well as Kim Stringfellow's Mojave Series.

As in any large group exhibition, there are many themes and ideas that weave through the works and numerous connections that can be drawn between images and artists. In the Sunshine of Neglect: Defining Photographs and Radical Experiments in Inland Southern California, 1950 to the Present, is an intelligent and thoughtful exhibition that looks at a particular area of California through the eyes of a wide range of artists who use photography as a tool to document, comment upon and celebrate the landscape the surrounds them.