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Symbol and Meaning

I use palm trees and power lines as contemporary cultural symbols for Southern California. This region, once inhabited by the indigenous tribes of Tongva, Cahuilla, Kumeyaay, and Serrano, with their rich cultural heritage and history, is now mythologized for its non-native plants and a littered skyline.

My photographs are not about the location of a specific palm tree or power line but that they are everywhere, ruling the California horizon from Malibu to Joshua Tree, Lancaster to San Diego, Chula Vista to Imperial Valley, and back to Victorville.

The palm tree is the mascot for Sunny So Cal. Their softly waving tropical fronds send a message to the world, “Come to California and become a star.” But like Hollywood, they are a myth. The only palm native to California is the fan palm (Washingtonia filifera). The scores of other palms are transplants, including the non-native Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta), now the region’s icon and, ironically, considered invasive in some areas.Power lines, of course, are not native anywhere. Civil engineers plant them to expand the electric and information grid to power our daily lives.

The ubiquity of palms and power lines is why I photograph them. They are at the center of our altered and irreversible landscape. They are the myth of nature, not native flora and fauna, but Disneyfied tropes from Hollywood’s lens. They are a facade against which I pick at with my camera.


I sew/suture these subjects together as a critique of photography. Photography and landscapes have been intertwined since the medium’s inception, seemingly disparate at first but intrinsically linked. It can be argued that nature was photography’s first subject, as it certainly was for William Henry Fox Talbot’s “Pencil of Nature.” The tradition of recording one’s natural surroundings with a lens and its reaction to light represents a rich lineage in photography.

I feel a kinship to mundane images of the New Topographics. At the same time, many other landscape photographers climb the branches of Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson, who portrayed nature with grand romanticism, beginning the tradition of sublime vistas and wondrous creations. Even when the view is awe-inspiring, creating pictures so deeply tainted by romanticism is disingenuous because the means used actively ruin the land.


Hands and Machines

The association between hands and machines is a recurring theme in my photographs. Hands appear as shadows on the print, through cutting the paper and the sewn marks. In the printing phase, I will hold my hand out for an extended period over the paper to leave a mark. In the next stage, I cut off pieces of the print that I don’t wish to keep, creating unusual paper shapes. Next, I machine sew and hand embroider elements to draw, add color, and emphasize specific sections. Finally, I spot-bleach the print in areas I wish to bleed or obliterate.

I emphasize the correlation between hand-made and machine-made because hands create and wield tools. Machines do not autonomously mine the planet, build and connect power lines, or document the landscape without the intention of the human user. Just as I am responsible for my photographs, we too, are responsible for destroying our environment through irresponsible environmental interference and misuse of science and chemicals.


Toxic Photos

I feel most connected to the pictorialist because I’m not interested in documenting reality with “straight photography.” I aim to use development metaphorically by bringing photo chemical processing methods to the foreground rather than masking them behind the notion that they are somehow separate from the image.


Photographic chemicals are poisonous. It is a well-known rule in the darkroom not to dump the fix down the drain because it is toxic to the environment. I am keenly aware of chemical waste management and regularly seek ways to reuse my materials.

We should examine this relationship, reframe the idea that a camera is an impartial witness to nature, and recognize that the camera and photographic processes are tied to the environment.

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