As a photographer, I’m drawn to borderlands, boundaries, marginal places. Abandoned shipyards. Factory towns in decline. Outskirts and suburbs of major metropolises. Oilfields and quarries. Sprawling industrial farmlands. Warehouse districts. Desert communities. Clearcutting sites. Seaside towns and carnival parks in the off season.
Part of my attraction to such places is idiosyncratic: I simply like the feeling of being lost on a backroad with a camera and no particular plan—just the sheer potential of a dawnrise in another trucker motel.
Part of the attraction is pragmatic: chances are no one else has shot this particular place (or could ever find it) and you can work relatively unmolested (save for the occasional security guard / attack dog / unmarked mineshaft / toxic waste dump).
Part of the attraction is aesthetic: the way human interventions in the landscape manifest themselves often makes for rich subject matter.
And the final part of the attraction isn’t so much an attraction as it is a deeper, more urgent sense of responsibility: as a photographer you have the ability to show people things they otherwise might never see—things that could change the way they think about the world and the impact they have on it—so you’d better have at it.
My work has focused mostly on the American West because it’s the place I’m from, and there’s a long tradition of landscape photography in this region that I try to put my work into dialogue with.
Also, it’s hard to get around the mythic significance of the West and the place it holds in the national imaginary as a land of open space and boundless opportunity. I guess you could say my pictures attempt to show the hangover to this great optimism, a world waking up to the headache of its own excesses.
So when people see my pictures, what I hope they walk away with is a question along the following lines: “This is where we’ve come. This is the price we paid to get here. In the grand scheme, was it all worth it?”
Barron Bixler was born in Ohio in 1974. In 1978, his family relocated to California and since then he has called the state home.
Set out in stark, unflinching images, Bixler’s work explores marginal landscapes and marginalized communities, vernacular architecture and built environments.
Since 2002, Bixler has traveled within and beyond the borders of California to chronicle the impact of rapid settlement and development in the American West. His photographs address the environmental complexities that attend such development, and focus on the collisions of—and interstices between—urban, suburban, industrial and rural landscapes.
Projects in this vein include: “A New Pastoral: Views of the San Joaquin Valley”; “Industrial Materials: Mining California”; “L.A. Environs”; “Oregon: A Field Survey”; and “Along I-70: Views of Central Colorado.”
In 2008, Bixler began work on two long-range, environmental documentary photography projects in South America; the first looks at life in a small Brazilian fishing village; the second examines the social and environmental impacts of mining in the mineral-rich Atacama desert of northern Chile.
Bixler is a founding member of the Los Angeles-based arts collective Project 51, which was awarded a grant by ArtPlace America for its project Play the LA River. He lives in Los Angeles. A self-taught photographer, he holds an MA in English from the University of Victoria.