California through the eyes of four photographers

For a photographer, California is a wonderland. There are few places in the world that offer the vibrancy of iconic cities, the beauty and tranquility of unspoilt coastline, swathes of luscious forest, vast deserts and towering mountain ranges. Travel photography of the state, however, tends to focus on its famed landmarks but what does California look like in its truest sense?

The project

Studio 1854 teamed up with Visit California to launch a brand new competition. The four winning photographers – Francesca Allen, Ricardo Nagaoka, Brant Slomovic and Clément Chapillon – were flown to San Francisco where they embarked on a 10-day photography commission. Together travelling the length of the state, each photographer was tasked with creating a new personal project that would shed light on the lesser-known sides of California. A filmmaker and Studio 1854 writer Anya Lawrence joined them on their journey.

© Ricardo Nagaoka

© Ricardo Nagaoka

“Asian Americans are rarely depicted. If we are, we are often forced into these clichéd tropes: the nerdy Asian, the submissive Asian, the exotic Asian. I am looking to create a genuine representation” — Ricardo Nagaoka

© Francesca Allen

© Francesca Allen

Women of California | Francesca Allen

Photographing 50 women in 10-days, Francesca Allen explored California through the women that call it home. Each day that she was in California, the London-based photographer met with different women: a roller skater, an artist, teenage ballet dancers, park rangers, a former prom queen. The portraits are set against a variety of backdrops. In Mendocino: a grassy clearing and an organic farm. In LA: a residential car park turned vegetable patch, the boardwalk looking out to the ocean, the back seat of a Volvo.

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Wild Flowers | Brant Slomovic 

A practising accident and emergency doctor from Toronto, Brant Slomovic explored the restorative qualities of nature and the outdoors. “Often we turn to places of natural beauty for moments of solitude, contemplation and retreat,” he writes. “The portraits [that form the series] are of people engaging with their passions, being brave and cutting against the grain, committing to something unexpected or unconventional, and – in doing so – living their authentic selves.”  

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“It is barely midday in Palm Springs but outside the temperature is already topping 40 degrees. It is an unfamiliar heat and instinct tells you to open the window. I do so and instantly regret it; this is a city where air conditioning is not up for discussion. The landscape is surreal: towering palm trees sway in the humidity; cacti squeeze through pavement cracks; one minute you are driving along pristine tarmac roads, the next dusty, rock-strewn terrain. Coffee spots, diners and shops line the streets – all the tell-tale signs of a bustling city – yet somehow Palm Springs feels wonderfully different. It is impossible to figure out where the city stops and the desert starts. There is little distinction; the two cannot be split”

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ricardo-nagaoka-lassen-california-studio1854

© Ricardo Nagaoka

clement-chapillon-california-studio1854

© Clément Chapillon

Gold Mountain | Ricardo Nagaoka 

Ricardo Nagaoka, a Japanese photographer currently based in Portland, set about creating a series of portraits of Asian Americans living in the state. California is home to one of the largest populations of Asian Americans in the US, and was, therefore, a natural focus for the project, yet in mainstream film and media Asian Americans are rarely depicted. In questioning what it means to be Asian American, Nagaoka’s series seeks to challenge stereotypes and provide a genuine representation.

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Californian Wilderness | Clément Chapillon

Home to almost 40 million, California is the most populated state in the US. It also has one of the largest expanses of classified wilderness. Clément Chapillon’s project explores wilderness, yet not as we typically understand it. The series places as much emphasis on urban environments as it does vast landscapes. Chapillon searched for liminal spaces with invisible borders, human traces, and enigmatic objects found in the middle of seemingly deserted landscapes. 

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Film

A look behind the scenes of the commission 

How each photographer approached the commission

Clément Chapillon 

Ricardo Nagaoka

Francesca Allen

Brant Slomovic

© Francesca Allen

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