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On The Beach

For nearly 40 years, Richard Misrach's eye has been drawn to landscapes — or maybe the more accurate term would be topologies: studies of shapes and movement and light, whether the subject be a mountain chain or a forest fire or a collection of people on a beach.

[An exhibition of Richard work is on display in Colorado.]

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Richard Misrach's "On The Beach" series.

As is the case for many photographers, Misrach's early influences were landscape artists like Ansel Adams and social documentarians like Dorothea Lange. With a fastidious technical approach, he surfed the creative artistic wave of the 1960s, arriving at a distinctive vision: large-scale color photographs, teetering on the verge of surreal. Part of this vision, his On The Beach series, is now on display at Atlanta's High Museum Of Art.

It's not easy to capture fleeting beach scenes with a cumbersome 8x10 camera, Misrach once explained in a National Gallery of Art interview. Even when working quickly, it can take over a minute to successfully make a photograph — just enough time for a swimmer to float right out of the frame. But it's that painstaking process that makes Misrach's photos so interesting. His post-production experiments help, too. Using digital tools, Misrach has played with cropping and what he calls "digital intervention" — or removing extraneous objects and figures.

Cropping both the horizon and the sky from the frame, Misrach provides an aerial, seemingly omniscient view of swimmers and sunbathers below. Although the beach is typically a destination for relaxation, there's a certain foreboding and vulnerability to these photos. Which is partially because they were made in the days after September 11, when anxiety was high, as was the desire to just get away. It's these nuances of human behavior that distinguish Misrach's landscapes from those of his predecessors.

  • To learn more about Misrach and his "On The Beach" series, check out the High Museum's Web feature.
  • Hear the artist discuss his work with Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, in a three-part podcast.

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