The beating of Rodney King and the O.J./Nicole Brown Simpson tragedy shaped my conception of Los Angeles as a young man. These incidents were the most vivid real life manifestations of the city’s underbelly, the violence that is the B-side to its sunnier aspects. This duality intrigued me and inspired my initial trip to make photographs. The enclosed pictures are part of a larger, evolving and as yet untitled body of work made in L.A. over the last couple of years. This work, however, is not about a specific act of violence, nor historical moment. It is about my encounter with the landscape of Los Angeles, and, specifically, its incredible sunlight; the tug-of-war between light and shadow gives powerful visual form to the drama inherent to this city’s urban landscape. Much of this drama is created by the diffuse stress the built environment places upon nature and the individuals within it. Whether squeezed into a car interior or a thin rock border in front of a restaurant, the individual and nature respectively play subordinate marginal roles in a story written for vast networks of roads and architecture. A détente exists among the players but it could quickly erode at any moment. Although certainly not the direct cause of the acts of violence sometimes seen here – whether by man or nature – I cannot help but wonder if the preconditions for such occurrences aren’t perfectly set in the drama of this urban landscape?
Isaac Diggs is a photographer and educator. A native of Cleveland, OH, Diggs received his B.A. in English Literature at Columbia University and his M.F.A. in photography from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. He has received support from the Asian Cultural Council, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Puffin Foundation. His work, which is rooted in a committed exploration of the everyday, has been exhibited in the United States and Japan, and is a part of the collections of the New York Public Library, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz, and the Walker Art Center, among others. Diggs has taught at the School of Visual Arts since 2000.
When I reviewed the submissions for the 2011 Photographers’ Fellowship at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, Isaac Diggs’s recent photographs of California immediately stood out for their beautiful and complicated formal structure and their sensitive deployment of natural light. I am impressed by the breadth of motifs within the series, and I am drawn in by the suspended, mysterious actions of the figures in several of the photographs.
– Peter Barberie, 2011
Peter Barberie is the Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His publications include Looking at Atget (2005); Dreaming in Black and White: Photography at the Julien Levy Gallery (co-authored with Katherine Ware, 2006); and “Charles Marville’s Seriality,” in More Than One: Photographs in Sequence, edited by Joel Smith (Princeton University Art Museum and Yale University Press, 2008). Recent PMA exhibitions include Common Ground: Eight Philadelphia Photographers in the 1960s and ‘70s; Mark Cohen: Strange Evidence; and Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art. He is currently organizing Zoe Strauss: Ten Years, a major mid-career retrospective of Strauss’s photography that will open in January 2012.