Image: Lake Mead by Starlight
(Los Angeles, California, 1949 - )

Lake Mead by Starlight (3/14/97, 8:12 p.m. - 10:20 p.m., 2 hrs and 8 minutes), from Desert Canto XXV: Nightscapes , 1997 (printed 2001)

Chromogenic print
45 1/2 in. x 57 1/2 in. (115.57 cm x 146.05 cm)
Anonymous Gift
2001.7
Richard Misrach has spent almost three decades photographing the negative impact humans have had on the American Desert.  This body of work, entitled the Desert Cantos, is structured so that each canto, or chapter, presents a different aspect of the desert environment, from recreational lakes, floods, skies and fires to the remains of nuclear test sites.  

The Cantos enthrall with spectacular beauty—both of the images and the land—without neglecting the harsher realities of desert life, including dead animal pits and the remains of military bombing ranges.   Lake Mead by Starlight seems a pure, romantic depiction of nature’s wonders until we learn that only the curved lines in the sky are stars.  The straight ones show the paths of airplanes taking off and landing in Las Vegas.  “Beauty,” says the artist, “can be a very powerful conveyor of difficult ideas.  It engages people when they might otherwise look away.”

The Desert Canto photographs acquired by the museum were shot between 1984 and 1999 and printed in 2001 especially for the museum.  Misrach, who shoots with film, used the Knight prize as an opportunity to experiment with the new digital printing technology to expand the scale of his images.  The artist found that this led to a breakthrough in his work.  “Those first digital prints opened up a subtle but unique lexicon for me.”

  
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Online Collection paid for with a grant from
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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