Statement + Bio
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 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 complicated, tradition of landscape photography in this region that I try to put my work into dialogue with. It’s difficult 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 curator. He is Creative Director at Princeton University's Blue Lab and holds an appointment as Professional Specialist at Princeton's Effron Center for the Study of America. Prior to joining the faculty at Princeton, he was Principal & Creative Director at Bixler Creative, a Los Angeles-based social impact branding firm he founded in 2008. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Set out in stark, unflinching images, Bixler’s photographic work explores marginal landscapes and marginalized communities, vernacular architecture and built environments.
Since 2006, Bixler has traveled within and beyond the borders of California to chronicle a range of environmental problems—from water and wildfire to mining and industrial agriculture to overfishing and anti-GMO seed activism. Focusing mainly on the American West, his photographs explore the collisions of—and interstices between—urban, suburban, industrial, rural and wild lands to tell stories about the complex ways in which human beings shape, and are shaped by, the lands they inhabit.
In 2021, Bixler was selected to participate in the Magnum Photos Longterm Mentorship Program, during which he developed and refined his longterm documentary photography project Watershed: A Speculative Atlas of California. Watershed was the subject of a major exhibition at Princeton’s Bernstein Gallery in 2022. In fall 2023, his work will be featured at Review Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico and in the International Juried Exhibition at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California.
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. His photographs, writings, and other art and design projects have been featured in BOOM: A Journal of California, Gastronomica: The Journal for Food Studies, Civil Eats, KCET Artbound, Dwell, LAist, KUSC Arts Alive, the Fresno Bee and the Stockton Record.
A self-taught photographer, he holds an MA in English from the University of Victoria.