“California is the land of plenty. People tend to see it through its clichés: Hollywood, the roaring success of Silicon Valley, boundless natural wonders and the ever-present palm tree,” writes photographer Ricardo Nagaoka. “However the Golden State is so much more than just its loudest components.”
It is the quieter, arguably more unassuming side of the state that will be the focus of Meet California. The British Journal of Photography commission, run in partnership with Visit California, will see four photographers travel across California and each create a new body of work that explores a different facet of its identity. While the iconic landmarks of the state will no doubt feature, the photographers will also shed light on the daily occurrences and extraordinary realities that give California its distinctive character.
The winning photographers – Ricardo Nagaoka, Francesca Allen, Clément Chapillon and Brant Slomovic – will fly to San Francisco on 05 September and spend 10 days travelling across California as a group. The trip will be split into two chapters – northern and southern California – and will include stops in Oakland, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Sonoma, Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Malibu.
The task of judging the competition was handed to a prestigious panel of industry experts: Simon Bainbridge, editorial director of British Journal of Photography; Zelda Cheatle, an independent curator and photography consultant; Max Whittaker, a California-based photojournalist and Visit California’s official photographer; and Charlie Pinder, international photography manager at Red Bull Media House.
The resulting bodies of work will be published on BJP-Online throughout the latter months of 2018, but you can follow the trip as it progresses here and across BJP’s social media channels. A series of short films, published throughout the trip, will document the commission as it unfolds.
Below, each of the four winners share their vision for the commission.
Ricardo Nagaoka is a Japanese-Latino photographer, born and raised in Paraguay. He immigrated to Canada with his family as a teenager and, in 2015, moved to America. Today he lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Nagaoka’s work draws upon his own experiences of what he describes as being an outsider in his own home, and seeks to explore constructs and ideas of home, heritage and selfhood in an increasingly diverse world.
Project proposal: The Golden State is so much more than just its loudest components. For example, during a 20 mile drive across Los Angeles County you can run into myriad neighbourhoods that are dominated by their respective cultures. Asian Americans in places like Torrance, Cerritos and Monterey Park; Latinos in Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights; and Armenians and Thai communities right across from each other on Sunset Boulevard.
California has the largest Asian American community in America and is home to an immigrant population that has established itself over several generations. I am interested in creating an honest and genuine representation of Asian American identity in America. How has California shaped Asian American identity? How has urban sprawl and the subsequent establishment of multi-generational neighbourhoods affected how these communities see themselves?
I am also curious about the effect that the vast expanses of land in California have had on Asian American communities and how they have flourished over generations. The sprawling nature of the Californian landscape has given communities and subcultures the opportunity to create their own worlds from the ground up.
Francesca Allen is a London-based photographer. Her work explores the fragility of adolescence, the hopefulness of female friendship and the intimacy between herself and her subjects. In documenting those around her, Allen aims to paint an honest and emotive portrait of young women today.
Project proposal: As an extensive exploration of female friendship across different cities and cultures in California, my project will document the intensity and love that can develop in a friendship between girls and women at any age. My photographs will record intimate and candid observations of the friendships I observe, capturing the vulnerabilities and strengths that come with an openness towards others.
California speaks to me as the voice of diversity and of tolerance. The juxtaposition of incredible and diverse landscapes with high-tech infrastructure and modernity is set against a backdrop of indigenous history and frontier culture. In such a place, creativity and innovation flourish.
It is important that the stories I tell come from my subjects, and I make a conscious effort to avoid projecting my own ideas onto my portraits. I see the position of a photographer as one of both great privilege and great responsibility and, for me, it is very important to refute the role of power between the representer and the represented, and thus to portray the truth of the lives of others.
French photographer Clément Chapillon first picked up a camera aged 17. In 2016, more than 15 years later, he quit his job in a communications agency to become a full-time photographer. Soon after he begun working on Promise Me a Land, a documentary project exploring the link between the land and the people in Israel and Palestine. This series won the Leica Prize at Les Rencontres d’Arles and will be exhibited in Paris and Milan in 2018.
Project proposal: I have visited California once before. I felt a personal nostalgia – a certain familiarity – but I also remember being overwhelmed by the vastness of the landscape. I did not expect it to be so wild. My project will explore how the two fundamental aspects of California – urban California and wild California – cannot be split. They are inherently connected and give the state its unique identity.
A quote by Lawrence Durrell is central to my project and will be my basis for exploring the state: ”We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behaviour and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.” It is well-known that Californians live their lives outdoors and across the state there is a consciousness of something bigger; a human vulnerability at the hands of its strong and wild nature.
Do the people of California control the land or does the land control them? Does the wilderness have something to do with California’s unique creativity? Does this link with nature make Californian’s lives more balanced?? Is the wilderness still important in the digital age?
Brant Slomovic is a Canadian photo essayist and emergency medicine physician based in Toronto. “My experience as a healthcare provider informs my perspective on the human condition and imbues me with an extreme sense of professional responsibility,” he says. “These attributes are integral to my role as a storyteller and image maker.” In his work, Slomovic seeks to explore narratives of cultural identity. His most recent series – The Shinny Project (pictured) – is a long-term documentary series that explores the tradition of shinny hockey as part of the fabric of Canadian identity.
Project proposal: California is a place where people go to find themselves. In an age of digital connectivity, many are filled with ambivalence as to the essence of those connections; people are searching for something different. Often we turn to places of natural beauty in an effort to connect to the physicality of the land; for moments of solitude, contemplation and retreat; and as an escape from the rigours and challenges of modern urban living. More importantly, it is in those places that we are able to connect with our true selves.
In California, I will explore these loosely defined themes. I am interested in places of connection and community, specifically in relation to nature and our chosen surroundings. I will be looking for subjects who are celebrating life and who are engaging with a daily practice, whether it be physical or spiritual, to create new connections and communities.
During the commission, I will grant myself a level of freedom and openness that I have not previously. Though I will begin the journey with a comprehensive list of storylines, I will concentrate on not being limited by the confines of a strict, premeditated narrative. In the past, I have maintained a high level of discipline in my practice that has yielded quiet and direct images, specifically in my portrait work. For this assignment – in order to go deeper and find a new level of authenticity – I will allow for chance encounters to fully realise themselves. I will let go of preconceived ideas and shot lists and, in doing so, create a space for things to progress naturally, to find a flow, and a deep sense of ease in my interactions with people and my surroundings. My belief is that this approach will enable me to most successfully capture the character of California.
Words: Anya Lawrence
Meet California is a British Journal of Photography commission made in partnership with Visit California. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.