Postcards from America
Four renowned photographers roam the Inland Empire.
When the photo agency Magnum embarked on its Postcards from America project in 2011, it was evoking a tradition that goes back at least to the 1930s, when the Farm Security Administration hired photographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks to wander back roads and big cities and document what they found. The Farm Security Administration’s aim was to chronicle the Great Depression, and it believed that the lone photographer — solitary, almost invisible — was the best instrument to portray a nation coming apart.
Magnum was responding to another economic catastrophe, one that saw, among other things, the collapse of many of the commercial outlets that once proudly assigned and published photography. But rather than dispatching photographers on their own, Magnum sent them in groups, as if they were rock bands barnstorming the country. The first group, a quintet, bought an RV and started out on May 11, 2011, from San Antonio, Texas, and arrived in Oakland two weeks later, where they mounted a pop-up show at the Starline Social Club.
Since then there have been five more excursions, and the number of photographers rotating in and out of the band has expanded to 14. The most recent project took place in the Inland Empire, the vast expanse of desert, mountains, and sprawl east of Los Angeles that encompasses the third-largest metropolitan area of California. Instead of buying an RV, Jim Goldberg, Mark Power, Moises Saman, and Alessandra Sanguinetti rented a house in San Bernardino, overlapping with one another for two weeks. As with the previous projects, they employed students from local colleges as their assistants. Then they set out to look for what Evans, Lange, and Parks were in search of 80 years ago: images of hope and desolation, beauty and despair, that might help explain what kind of country we are and might become.
On the bus in San Bernardino and Riverside counties
Photographs by Alessandra Sanguinetti