California City, California (2014 – 2018)

This is a project on a master-planned community in the Mojave Desert conceived by sociologist turned real estate developer Nathan K. Mendelsohn in the 1950s.  The city was envisioned as the next major development in California in response to the rapid population and economic growths Southern California experienced after World War II.  To appeal to potential homeowners, the early promotional materials for California City employed water as a recurring motif and even made the claim that the land possessed the largest concentration of water wells in the entire Mojave Desert that would enable the creation of a“water-rich” wonderland. However, this claim that the land was rich with underground sources of water was later found to be largely unsubstantiated.  Today, California City exists as a place that has yet to meet the original ambition of its developer and the idyllic image that was promoted to the public.  My photographs focus on a vast section of California City that is largely uninhabited, despite having a complex network of streets that stretches for miles across the landscape.  I employed aerial photography to document the scale of the vision Mendelsohn proposed in the desert and the unintended legacy that remains on the land.  The photographs show the site seemingly suspended in time: clearly there to host a city in the future but also without any signs if that future will ever arrive.  This project explores the gap between the image that was projected onto the landscape by Mendelsohn in the 1950s and the image of California City that exists today in reality.

Using Format