Richard Misrach

Richard Misrach

2008 Honoree: Achievement in Fine Art



For over thirty years RICHARD MISRACH’s work has dealt with the collision of nature and civilization. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he attended U.C. Berkeley as a psychology major at the height of the Vietnam War protests. Fueled by both the political climate and the great West Coast photographic tradition of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange, he embarked on a career as an artist. As one of the early pioneers of large-scale color photography in the 1970s he is known primarily for his ongoing series on the American desert, which he uses as a metaphor for the greater issues of our time. “Desert Cantos,” a project epic in its reach and length, aims at merging cultural and theoretical issues into the fine art context. There are currently 28 cantos, ranging from the explicitly political to the metaphorical– floods, fires, space shuttle landings, bombing ranges, secret military training sites, car races, mass graves of dead animals. Equipped with an 8×10” camera and a VW camper, Misrach continues to explore the West.

He has also worked further afield, in Europe, Hawaii and the Middle East. In the late 1990s his Cancer Alley series addressed the environmental legacy left by the petroleum industry in the Mississippi River region near New Orleans. His latest project, an elegiac meditation of human interaction with the ocean, and the topic of the exhibit, Richard Misrach: On the Beach, was inaugurated at the Art Institute of Chicago and is currently traveling to museums across the United States, among them the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC., and the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

Misrach’s photographs are held in the collections of over fifty major institutions internationally, among them the Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Musee National d’Art Moderne, Beaubourg. He is the recipient of numerous awards including four grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the PEN Center West’s Literary Award for Nonfiction, the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, and the 2002 Kulturpreis for Lifetime Achievement in Photography.

Among the monographs published on his work are Bravo 20: The Bombing of the American West; Violent Legacies; Crimes and Splendors: The Desert Cantos of Richard Misrach; The Sky Book; Richard Misrach: Golden Gate; Chronologies; and On the Beach.