On May 12th from 4pm to 6pm writer/historian Christopher Langley and photographer Osceola Refetoff will be having an opening reception at MOAH (Lancaster Museum of Art and History) for their exhibition “High & Dry: Land Artifacts.” This is part of a long-term collaboration between Langley and Refetoff who have been collaborating on High & Dry since 2013 and their work regularly appears on KCET’s Emmy-winning Artbound. Their partnership has birthed a book and this exhibit using Langley’s historically influenced writing contextualizing Refetoff’s dramatical infrared black and white images.
Their collaborative efforts offer both historical and personal perspective. Refetoff put it this way, “From the beginning of human time we have been leaving things in the desert. Those things, when you look at them, tells you about the people who lived there before.” The idea of documenting human activities through these remaining artifacts to what appears to be pristine environment is telling. These remains littering these arid lands speaks volumes of people hopes, aspirations, losses and failures. It is the natural extension of the human spirit and mind to speculate and to wonder why it happened or what went wrong? These artifacts captured in Refetoff’s black and white images are the ghost and bones of human habitation: of failed lifestyle experiments or doomed enterprises. Langley and Refetoff attempt to offer written resolutions to these remains and photographic evidence we all can relate to in this exhibition of High & Dry.
One of the goals of “High & Dry: Land Artifacts” is to raise awareness about what we leave behind in the desert and the kind of legacy we want to leave to future generations. Energy harvesting has been wholeheartedly embraced in the Mojave Desert, but what will become of these turbines and solar farms? What is the environmental impact of leaving these things behind? Langley and Refetoff are hopeful that their work will be part of a meaningful dialog on how and where wind turbines and solar arrays will be used in a sustainably responsible way, saving the desert environment, and not to have them become abandoned relics as part of lingering detritus littering the desert floor.
In my discussion with Refetoff, I discovered he has a cinematic background graduating from NYU and in keeping with that theme he referenced 3 important influences on his photographic work. In regards to visual arts and composition in black and white, he looks to Orson Welles, Fritz Lang and Jean-Pierre Melville composition and content. In each of his photos, Refetoff wants to conjure up an idea or is some way to tell a story. These black and white images of his set on a matte finish, which are rich and painterly to the eye. These images are both impressions and documents, imagination and the tangible remains of human visitations and moving arid vistas.
Langley has been an educator for the majority of his life. He has lived in and studied the Mojave Desert for over 45 years. His work as a film historian, founder of the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, and Inyo County Film Commissioner focuses on the desert’s complex relationship with cinema, and how land plays a primary role in the story of our lives. Langley’s environmental advocacy has won the National Conservation Cooperation Award. His writing is widely syndicated. He has written three books on California’s arid landscapes.
Langley and Refetoff mutual interest in cinema make for a nice pairing with an eye to making the most of both words and images. Both see themselves collaborating in a similar manner like other 20th century partnerships of writers and photographers: referencing, Walker Evans with James Agee and Dorothea Lange with Paul Taylor, who was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the Roosevelt administration.
“High & Dry: Land Artifacts” will be the first art exhibit to incorporate elements from MOAH’s permanent collection of historical artifacts. Langley and Refetoff encourage visitors to bring a single item, something non-toxic, that they would like to leave behind for future generations in a time capsule to be created in part of this exhibit. “High & Dry: Land Artifacts” books and photographs will be available to peruse and purchase.
Top Image: Infrared Exposure – First printed: 2018 Land Artifacts – Solo Show – Museum of Art & History (MOAH) – Lancaster, CA – 2018
“Hight & Dry: Land Artifacts”
May 12 – July 15, 2018
May 12th 4-6pm
Sunday, June 3 1pm
Lancaster Museum of Art (MOAH)
665 W. Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster.
MOAH is about an hour away from DTLA for those interested in an adventure and an experience.