These photos were made between 2009 and the present in locations like Olancha, Lone Pine, Trona, and Last Chance Canyon. Made concurrently with my black & white work, the images are concerned less with traditional, art historical representations of the desert, but rather with interpreting the palette of the living landscape. Traveling with multiple cameras, I generally make choices about “what the picture wants to be” in the fullness of the moment. In some instances, I will capture a color, an infrared B&W, and a pinhole exposure so I can decide later which treatment best suits the subject at hand.
Trailer off Schabbell Lane - Fort Independence, CA - July 4, 2011
First printed: 2015
On the 4th of July, 2011, I explored what appeared to be an abandoned double-wide trailer on the Indian reservation in Fort Independence, California. The original fort was established in 1862, during the Owens Valley Indian War that deprived indigenous Shoshone and Paiute peoples access to lands for which their culture knew no concept of ownership. After capturing this image, and another
shortly before, an Indian woman appeared at the door and asked me to leave her property.
My work often involves trespassing into what appear to be abandoned structures. I often experience a sense of remorse amongst the ruined homes and discarded processions of inhabitants long absent and forgotten. But on this particular day, America’s Independence Day, I felt an exceptional sorrow for those whose land was expropriated by a young nation with great aspirations. Just fifty years later, the City of Los Angeles would buy up large parcels of the Owens Valley in order to make off with much of its water, leaving the valley's new residents without the means to sustain their farms.
I returned to my car and later attended the parade through the town of Independence, just a few miles up the highway. There was much to reflect upon our nation’s complex history. I feel this image captures the sensation of being an interloper and a voyeur, bearing witness to a scene that can never be fully comprehended. Magic and Realism: Photographs by Osceola Refetoff & Bill Leigh Brewer
Curated by Shana Nys Dambrot - Chungking Studio - 2015