When photographer Richard Misrach and his wife trimmed back the vegetation that pressed up against their new home perched atop a steep Berkeley hill, a stunning view met them. Across the way, the Golden Gate Bridge in miniature rested, toothpick-like in its delicacy. For the next three years, Misrach found relaxation in capturing the beauty of the bridge with his 8-by-10 camera.
The resulting book, “Golden Gate,” is being published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the building of the bridge. It shows the bridge dwarfed by rolls of low-riding clouds, incoming storm systems and burning orange sunsets. Sometimes, the weather obscures all but the two towers, or disappears completely, leaving you heartbreakingly alone with the surrounding islands.
“It’s like photographing babies or a wedding. A serious photographer should stay away from a subject like that,” Misrach says. “But for me what made it really interesting is the perspective from Berkeley.”
During a phone interview from his home, Misrach sits on his bed, watching a gaggle of puffy clouds enter that familiar frame. “At one point I overheard a couple people at one of my exhibitions … I think the woman said something about the photograph, and the guy says, ‘No, forget the photographs. I want this house! I want this view.’ ”
“Golden Gate” takes a serious departure from his other work in both tone and underpinnings. Misrach’s “Cancer Alley” series, which was commissioned by the High Museum in Atlanta (currently on exhibition) in the middle of his “Golden Gate” project, focuses on environmental contamination along the Mississippi River.
“I’m always trying to reconcile my interests, whether it’s from the political to the sheer aesthetic photography, “ Misrach says, “Much of it was the way that I learned the medium. I sort of resist getting stuck and pigeonholed in an area not just for the outside world but for myself.”
The message in “Cancer Alley” is confrontational. Though it is saturated with beauty, there is none of the joy of “Golden Gate.” More importantly, opposite (but not mutually exclusive) meanings pervade the parallel projects. Much of Misrach’s work deals with what he calls “the collision between man and nature.”
This is one of the reasons why Misrach treasures the Golden Gate: because it is a place where humans affected the environment in a beautiful way. “I love it. It’s beautiful to look at, its scale. Everything about it was just magnificently done, “Misrach says.