California through the eyes of four photographers

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Photographers Clément Chapillon, Ricardo Nagaoka, Francesca Allen and Brant Slomovic met for the first time in September 2018. Flying into San Francisco from various corners of the world, the four photographers spent the next 10 days travelling together across California. A filmmaker and a writer joined them on their journey.

California is the third largest state in the US and so the trip was split into two chapters. The group looped around northern California first – San Francisco, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mendocino, Montgomery Woods State Reserve and finally Sonoma County – before flying south and exploring a handful of the state’s more balmy regions – Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Malibu. © Francesca Allen

The commission, run by British Journal of Photography in partnership with Visit California, tasked each photographer with creating a new personal project that would shed light on the lesser-known sides of the state. The photographers approached the subject matter from inside out: looking beyond icons and clichés, and instead immersing themselves in the everyday intricacies of Californian life. For several of the photographers this meant forming intimate relationships – being invited into their subjects’ homes and stepping, albeit momentarily, into their worlds – for others it involved getting lost in vast landscapes; stumbling upon scenes and communities that would otherwise go unexplored. The brief for the commission was intentionally open; it was important that each photographer was afforded the freedom to be creative in their approach.

Each photographer approached the brief differently. Chapillon, who travelled to California from Paris, explored wilderness in both a conventional and unconventional sense; his series places as much emphasis on urban environments as it does vast landscapes. The French photographer searched for liminal spaces with invisible borders, as well as human traces and enigmatic objects found in the middle of seemingly deserted landscapes.

Nagaoka, a Japanese photographer currently based in Portland, set about creating a series of portraits of Asian Americans living in the state. California is home to one of the largest populations of Asian Americans in the US, and was therefore a natural focus for the project, yet in mainstream film and media Asian Americans are rarely depicted. Nagaoka’s series – Gold Mountain – seeks to challenge stereotypes and provide a genuine representation of Asian Americans. © Clément Chapillon © Brant Slomovic

Allen took the opportunity to photograph women, of all ages, across California. Photographing over 50 women during the 10-day trip, the London-based artist experienced the state through the eyes of the women that call it home: a roller skater, an artist, teenage ballet dancers, park rangers. 

Slomovic, a practising accident and emergency doctor from Toronto, explored the restorative qualities of nature and the outdoors. “Often we turn to places of natural beauty for moments of solitude, contemplation and retreat,” he writes. “The portraits [that form the series] are of people engaging with their passions, being brave and cutting against the grain, committing to something unexpected or unconventional, and – in doing so – living their authentic selves.”  

Although the photographers all travelled on the same trip, the resulting projects are wildly diverse, testament to the nature of the state. One minute you could be in a tropical metropolis – towering buildings and palm trees in every direction – the next, you could be walking across mountainous terrain with not another soul in sight.

Above, we share a film that chronicles the photographers collective journey across California. At the end of this article you can also find out more about each  photographer’s process in a series of profile films. © Ricardo Nagaoka

© Clément Chapillon


Francesca Allen

Women of California – Click to read the article.

Clément Chapillon

A Story of Californian Wilderness – Click to read the article.

Ricardo Nagaoka

Gold Mountain – Click to read the article.

Brant Slomovic

Wild Flowers – Click to read the article.

Meet California is a British Journal of Photography commission made in partnership with Visit California. Please click here for more information on sponsored commissions and campaigns at British Journal of Photography.