Richard Misrach (b. 1949, Los Angeles) graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1971 with a BA in Psychology. Instrumental in pioneering the use of color photography and large-scale format in the 1970s, he is considered one of the most influential photographers of his generation.
For over 40 years, Misrach has photographed the dynamic landscape of the American West through an environmentally aware and politically astute lens. His visually seductive, large-scale color vistas powerfully document the devastating ecological effects of human intervention, industrial development, nuclear testing and petrochemical pollution on the natural world. His best known and ongoing epic series, Desert Cantos, comprises 39 distinct but related groups of pictures that explore the complex conjunction between mankind and nature. Otherworldly images of desert seas, rock formations, and clouds are juxtaposed with unsettling scenes of desert fires, nuclear test sites, and animal burial pits. The most recent chapters capture the highly charged political climate following the 2016 US presidential election through photographs of spray-painted graffiti messages scrawled on abandoned buildings and remote rocky outcroppings in desolate areas of southern California, Arizona, and Nevada.
Other bodies of work include Golden Gate, a careful study of times of day, weather, and light around San Francisco's famed bridge; On the Beach, aerial views of individuals and groups against a backdrop of water and sand; Negative, ravishing landscapes and seascapes in a reversed color spectrum; Destroy This Memory, a haunting document shot with a 4-megapixel pocket camera of graffiti found in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and Petrochemical America, an in-depth examination of petrochemical pollution along the Mississippi River produced in collaboration with landscape architect Kate Orff.
Over the last decade, Misrach's photographic focus has been the increasingly militarized 1,969-mile border between the United States and Mexico: sections of the Wall installed in varying lengths and materials, Border Patrol shooting ranges, Effigies or scarecrow-like figures fashioned by anonymous makers out of tattered clothing and dry agave stalks, tire drags used to monitor migrant traffic in desert sand, personal artifacts left behind from migrants' journeys and glimpses of everyday life from both sides of the border. A multimedia collaboration with experimental composer Guillermo Galindo, Border Cantos examines the complex socio-political dialogue surrounding immigration and was exhibited at the San Jose Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville in 2016-17.
Misrach's photographs have been the focus of numerous other solo exhibitions, such as his midcareer retrospective Crimes and Splendors: The Desert Cantos of Richard Misrach, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1996) and later shown at the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson; Cancer Alley at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2000); Richard Misrach: Berkeley Work, mounted by the Berkeley Art Museum (2002); and Richard Misrach: On the Beach at the Art Institute of Chicago (2007) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2008). On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Untitled [New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 2005] debuted at the New Orleans Museum of Art (2010), traveling to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2010). The High Museum of Art, Atlanta presented Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach's Cancer Alley (2012), which was also shown at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University (2013).
His work is represented in major institutional collections around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; among others.
Misrach is the recipient of many distinctions, including four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1973, 1977, 1984, 1992), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1979), the International Center of Photography Infinity Award for a Publication (1988), the Distinguished Career in Photography Award from the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies (1994), the Kulturpreis for Lifetime Achievement in Photography from the German Society for Photography (2002), the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fine Art Photography (2008), and PHotoESPAÑA's Best Photography Book of the Year (2011).
His prize-winning monographs include Telegraph 3 A.M.: The Street People of Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley (1974); Desert Cantos (1987); Bravo 20: The Bombing of the American West (1990); Violent Legacies: Three Cantos (1992); Crimes and Splendors: Three Desert Cantos of Richard Misrach (1996); The Sky Book (2000); Richard Misrach: Golden Gate (2001); Pictures of Paintings (2002); Chronologies (2005); On the Beach (2007); Destroy this Memory (2010); Petrochemical America (with Kate Orff, 2012); The Mysterious Opacity of Other Beings (2015); and Border Cantos (with Guillermo Galindo, 2016).
Misrach lives and works in Berkeley, CA.