I started out inspired by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, the West Coast f/64 group of landscape photographers. And then, going to Berkeley in the late ’60s, I was exposed to a lot of heavy-duty politics. And the two collided. I think my work has been reconciling the aesthetics of the medium, which I have a great passion for, and my interest in the social, political, environmental world. There are bodies of work that are strictly about the aesthetic language of the medium, and there’s work that is much more in a documentary tradition of taking on things that are impacting our world. I think the best work is where the two come together, but it’s always going back and forth.Since his adverse reaction to an early phase of photographing street people in Berkeley, Misrach has consciously veered away from aiming his camera at people except as tiny figures in an enveloping landscape that he thought of as “stand-ins for humanity,” not unlike those he recently admired in Turner’s and other 19th century landscape paintings. But that has begun to change as he returns to his other recurring series: On the Beach. As an elemental counterpoint to the desert, the ocean’s edge has given Misrach many years of image-making that have investigated man’s disruptive, and vulnerable, place in nature. In an earlier oversized monograph, figures were captured from far above lying in various poses on wave-lapped sand. In the latest series, The Mysterious Opacity of Other Beings, the figures are now floating out in “the sublime” of the sea itself. Misrach thinks of these as portraits, and in fact they might be considered as the flip side of street photography — revealing in candid gesture and bodily splay the humanity of the strangers that he chances to shoot. Richard Misrach, The Mysterious Opacity of Other Beings (Aperture).
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