The Last Free Place

The Last Free Place

For three years I lived part-time in Slab City, a squatter’s community located on a desolate swath of southern California’s Sonoran desert wedged between the Salton Sea and an active bombing range. Since shortly after World War II The Slabs have been a refuge for drifters, dropouts, artists, outlaws and other cultural dissidents who settle alongside the addicted and the elderly on the concrete foundations of an abandoned military base.

Slab City is a collection of fiercely independent, utterly original individuals. Cast out of, or just drifting away from, the “American Dream,” they come here seeking freedom from rules, rent, and the assaults of a society often unsympathetic to the underclass. Some are victims of poverty, of bad choices and bad luck. Others have renounced the “material world,” refusing to trade their time for money; many simply yearn for the sense of freedom that comes from vast open spaces.

And though desert life can be extremely harsh, and in truth there is little freedom in poverty, here they find love and strength within a community that accepts and nurtures the individuality of its members.

Inspired by the early images of the disenfranchised as depicted by the WPA photographers of the 1930’s, I began a series of portraits documenting the people of Slab City. Using available light, film and traditional printmaking methods, I attempt to capture the universal tension between hope and resignation, between community and isolation.

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