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Richard Misrach retrospective considers man and nature

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Richard Misrach creates large, eye-pleasing photographs of deserts, oceans and other grand embodiments of nature, with an interest in how people relate to, and often destroy, these vast natural landscapes.

“Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975-2015” at Fraenkel Gallery in The City reveals how the influential photographer – whose work is in collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – has presented the human figure in his work and looks at his 40-year career. Known for bringing color and the large-scale format to fine-art photography, Misrach has described his images as both politically and aesthetically driven. In this show’s approximately 20 images, human figures – often nonexistent in Misrach’s work – appear as minuscule, transitory presences in striking, immense, permanent landscapes. Frequently shot from a distance, they appear not as detailed personalities, but as generic representations of humankind.

Aerially shot, detailed images of the ocean make up a significant portion of the show. Some are from Misrach’s “On the Beach” series of the previous decade. Others, such as “Untitled (January 17, 2015, 6:32 p.m.),” reflect a return by the artist to the theme. Human subjects look isolated and fleeting but also (especially in the later photos) appear harmoniously at leisure as they interact with nature.

From his “Cancer Alley” project – images of the Mississippi River notoriously lined by petrochemical facilities – comes “Night Fishing, Near Bonnet Carre Spillway, Norco, Louisiana” (1998). A man stands at the river with a fishing pole, while signs of industry operations – a barge, a factory – appear nearby. It’s a chilling image.

“Untitled (9740 #FC),” a 2007 print, is among several featured works from “Color Reverse,” a series of large prints presented in negative form. Suggesting a scene from a sci-fi film, the individuals in the picture look like glowing, other-worldly creatures occupying a sinister, perhaps polluted, sea.

Other works on view include “Tourists, Utah” (1994), in which two white-shirted figures appear like flecks in a canyon; a 1976 self-portrait taken in White Sands, N.M.; and a recent 14-foot panorama of the fence separating the U.S. from Tijuana, Mexico.

“Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975-2015” coincides with the publication of “The Mysterious Opacity of Other Beings,” Misrach’s latest book.


Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975-2015

Where: Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary St., fourth floor, S.F.

When: Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes May 30

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 981-2661, www.fraenkelgallery.com

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