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Watershed

A Speculative Atlas of California

Set against a backdrop of drought in the American West and the spiraling impacts of climate change, Watershed: A Speculative Atlas of California surveys the entire California water system in its natural and engineered forms. Exploring themes of control and powerlessness, precarity and resilience, damage and remediation, Watershed dwells on the hulking physicality of California’s water infrastructure and the way it’s come to rest so strangely and heavily on the land.

Over the years I've been working on the project, which I began in late 2014, I’ve had a front-row seat as California has reeled from one water-related catastrophe to another, including drought, wildfire, landslides, aquifer depletion, groundwater contamination, toxic dust storms, municipal water shortages and flooding. But I never set out to document the state's water system specifically through the lens of acute disaster. In fact, for years I shot around its most obvious signifiers. As it endured through both meteorological and media cycles, I hoped Watershed would tell a deeper, more patient story about the historical origins and possible futures of California’s deepening water crisis.

And yet, as it turns out, the geography of disaster is inescapable.

In surveying these altered landscapes, Watershed offers an invitation to consider the complex systems that have been built, to mourn what’s been lost along the way and to pose a vital if unanswerable question: where does California go from here?

This portfolio shows a small representative selection of images from the larger Watershed project, field work on which will be completed in 2024.

A Photographer's Story

The Rebirth of Tulare Lake

I made this short documentary movie about time I spent photographing Tulare Lake in California's San Joaquin Valley.

My first trip on December 30, 2022 focused on the industrial-sublime landscapes of the mostly dry lakebed, drained and channelized by the J.G. Boswell Company (and others) in the 1800s to create one of the world's largest cotton empires.

I had no idea what was coming. The next day, on New Years Eve, the skies over California erupted with a series of storms that would last the better part of 3 months. The state saw widespread, catastrophic flooding.

On a blisteringly hot day in July 2023, I went back to see Tulare Lake again, this time resurrected.