As a photographer, I’m drawn to borderlands, boundaries, marginal places. Abandoned shipyards. Factory towns in decline. Outskirts and interstices of big cities. 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 see more clearly, more viscerally, when I’m lost on a backroad with a camera and no particular plan—just a restless curiosity illuminated by another dawn glowing darkly beyond my motel window.
Part of the attraction is pragmatic: chances are no one else has thought to shoot this particular place and I can work methodically and without interruption (save for the occasional security guard / attack dog / unmarked mineshaft / toxic waste dump).
Part of the attraction is aesthetic: our compulsion to remake in our own image the lands we inhabit reveals something profound about who we are.
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 can show people things they otherwise might never see or consider worthy of rumination—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 focuses on the American West because it’s the place I’m from and there’s a long, if troublesome, tradition of landscape photography in this region that I try to put my work into dialogue with. It’s likely impossible to crawl out from under the mythic weight 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, I hope they walk away with a question along the following lines: “This is where we’ve come. This is the price we paid to get here. In the end, was it all worth it?”
Barron Bixler is a social-environmental documentary photographer, writer, designer and creative director. He holds an appointment as Art and Media Specialist at Princeton University’s High Meadows Environmental Institute and is Principal & Creative Director at Bixler Creative, a social impact branding firm he founded in 2008.
Set out in stark, unflinching images, Bixler’s photographic 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 2015, Bixler began work on a long-range survey of the ecological—and existential—problem of water in California. Set against a backdrop of ongoing drought in the American West and the spiraling social-environmental impacts of climate change, Watershed: A California Idyll is the first photographic project of its kind to survey the full breadth and complexity of the California water system—in its multiple natural and engineered forms. Field work on the project will be completed in 2022.
Bixler is a founding member of the Los Angeles-based arts collective Project 51, which was awarded a major grant by ArtPlace America for its project Play the LA River. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey. A self-taught photographer, he holds an MA in English from the University of Victoria.