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For almost 40 years Richard Misrach has been producing photographs of the American West focusing on man's relationship and impact on his environment. His extended series “Desert Cantos” explored many aspects of the American desert with subjects ranging from fires and floods to military-scarred terrain to luscious skyscapes.
More recently he has turned his attention to the water with a series he titled “On the Beach” photographing the ocean, sunbathers, and swimmers from a hotel balcony in Hawaii. Shot on his 8x10 inch view camera, the photographs yield exquisite detail and sense of light. But Misrach did not intend them to be just pretty pictures.
As he explained, "My thinking was influenced by the events of 9/11, as well as by Nevil Shute's 1950s Cold War novel "On the Beach". I was drawn to the fragility and grace of the human figure in the landscape. For me, the work is both a celebration of our survival and an elegy. Paradise has become an uneasy dwelling place; the sublime sea frames our vulnerability, the precarious nature of life itself."
While some of these photographs have been exhibited over the past few years, an exhibition of 19 of these photographs, some as large as 10 feet wide, has just opened at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and is the first time that this many works from this series can be seen together. It’s a stunning and disquieting view of trouble in paradise.