The Observer - August 3, 1993


ART: Photographer John Divola captures the con­trasts at the outskirts of civilization.

By EITAN KADOSH Observer Staff Writer

Most of Southern California seems a landscape of endless asphalt development, a mega­lopolis with no end in sight. But travel far enough east, to the very fringes of what could rightfully be called a popula­tion and nature reclaims the land for itself.

In this bleak and vast expanse of sand and mountains, Venice photographer John Divola has found the last vestiges of the outskirts of SoCal civilization.

In photo after photo of his show, now featured at the Patricia Faure Gallery, tiny cubes of houses sprout from the desert terrain, literally the last outposts of humanity before the absolute nothing of the desert takes over.

Divola's work explores the intersection of man and nature at these most remote locales through stark images of home­steader shacks set under parch­ment skies of pink and lumines­cent blues. He documents the feeble impact of man against the terrain, focusing his lens on the nature of human impact as an element of the environment, and vice versa.

The focus in Divola's work is on the land, the way in which the houses at once become an integral element of and stand apart from their surroundings.

In some photographs, the tiny shacks seem a natural extension of the desert. In others, the pre­fabricated hovels become noth­ing less than a blot on the scenery.

But no matter the effect, one is always reminded of the human element, the fact that someone built and may even live in each of these homes.

In a way, these are land­scapes of humanity, cultural documents, that, despite the absence of real people, main­tain humans as their central focus.

Particularly compelling is the image of one pink home, its hue echoing the sunset behind it. The photo is bisected by the silhouette of distant mountains. Beyond an intriguing use of color and shape, the work forces the viewer to wonder about the home's occupants,­their psychology, their lives ­amist the glorious desolation. Theirs, after all, does not seem an easy existence. It certainly is a different one

It is the details, some subtle, some less so, that make a few of these homes seem occupied while others appear as empty as the landscape - the well-main­tained coat of pink paint, the pair of dogs yapping in the front yard, or the orange g1ow of incandescent light.

One of the images sparkles with the distant glow of other houses and passing cars - the only chinks in the armor of des­olation that otherwise pervades every shot.

Also on display in the gallery is a portfolio from the tum of the decade, entitled "Four Landscapes." Divola was adamant that these photos be shown in conjunction with his current work, and it is not hard to see why.
The multiple landscapes take the viewer on a journey from the sea, to the city, and to the mountains, before landing squarely in the desert, and the same subject matter as the rest of the show.

Shot in black and white 35mm, the greatly enlarged shots stand in sharp contrast to the crisp color images in the next room (which utilize medi­um-format film). These older photos offer a different yet complementary take on the landscapes we so seldom stop to contemplate.

Divola's work can be seen at the Patricia Faure Gallery in the Bergamot Station at 2525 Michigan Avenue through Sept. 12.