Battleground Point is part of Richard Misrach's Desert Cantos series; this installment documents the rare presence of water in the Nevada desert. Every decade or so, heavy winter storms batter the desert of northern Nevada, filling the Carson and Humboldt Rivers beyond capacity and flooding the Carson Sink. As high waters receded from the sink in the mid-1980s, hundreds of graves slowly emerged from the mud. Archaeologists accounted for 416 individuals who lived in the area over the course of 3,000 years, some of whom may be the genetic ancestors of today's Toidikadi (also called the Stillwater Paiute). According to oral history, the Toidikadi once were at war with a tribe of red-headed giants about whom little else is known. Of the legendary battle, won by the Toidikadi, only the site and its name remain today: Battleground Point. In 1998, torrential rains again flooded the Carson Sink. These photographs were made by Richard Misrach that spring for The Nature Conservancy exhibition In Response To Place.
Richard Misrach was born in 1949 in Los Angeles, California. He attended the University of California, Berkeley during the 1960s. He received his first National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for a series of images documenting street life on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Misrach recalls driving across the Mojave Desert — a seemingly desolate and foreboding place — as a child with his family. Returning to the desert many years later as an artist, he was struck by its beauty. In 1979, Misrach began an ongoing series of photographs entitled Desert Cantos, simultaneously portraying the unique light, terrain, and inhabitants of the desert and addressing the controversial politics of this unique environment. Battleground Point is the twenty-fourth installment in the Desert Cantos series.
The recipient of numerous honors for his work, Misrach has received four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships as well as the 2002 Kulturpreis from the German Society of Photography; the 2001 Knight Purchase Award from the Akron Museum of Art; the Koret Israel Prize (1992); the Eureka Fellowship from the Fleishhacker Foundation (1991); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (1979). His work is included in a wide array of international museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Publications include Pictures of Paintings (Blind Spot Books, 2002); Golden Gate (Arena Editions, 2001); The Sky Book (Arena Editions, 2000); Crimes and Splendors (Bulfinch Press, 1996); Violent Legacies (1992); Bravo 20: The Bombing of the American West (1990); Desert Cantos (University of New Mexico Press, 1987); and Telegraph 3 A.M. (Cornucopia Press, 1974).
Richard Misrach's graceful 'Battleground Point' photographs are the latest episode of his 30-year pictorial saga of the American West, which includes his well-known images of the ecological consequences of desert weapons testing.
Battleground Point is in northern Nevada's desert; its name memorializes a legendary confrontation between the ancestors of today's Toidikadi tribe and a band of malevolent giants. In 1998 unusual winter rains flooded the area, creating dramatic, desolate landscapes.
Misrach was commissioned by the Nature Conservancy. Battleground Point #5, like the other pictures in this series, is a huge color print. Foreground and sky diminish radically, converging in a distant horizon line, virtually wrapping the panorama around the viewer's field of vision. At front and center is an expanse of desert floor neatly corrugated by the slowly receding tide of a storm-created lake. Only a pond remains intact, temporarily sheltered against a windswept dune.
The serenity and clean, sunny pastels of Battleground Point #8 suggest a subtle conflict underlying Misrach's work. We can luxuriate in his pictures, but the desert is not a place to contemplate the splendor of nature. For Misrach, its very purity is a function of its indifference to human sensibilities. These shots were taken in temperatures up to 110 degrees, between gales of grit and dust. In Battleground Point #22 a long, low dune and its mirror image reflected in placid floodwater stretch across the center like giant sealed lips. The sky and its reflection frame the lips so that they appear suspended in the clouds. The strange, hovering formation seems to offer testimony both to the desert's propensity for violent change and its power to endure.
The New Yorker
March 25, 2002
This is the twenty-fourth installment of Misrach's "Desert Cantos" series in nearly as many years and it's stunning. The current batch were taken in Nevada's Carson Sink, in an area that floods every decade or so, and its images of a watery desert landscape connect sky, sand, and water in a way that seems positively unearthly. In one sequence, the shifting light captured in print after print makes the same dune almost unrecognizable. Misrach's huge color prints create a majestic vision of a world acting strangely.