Photographer chronicles hope and despair in the California desert


Armed with a Leica M9 and a tripod, Osceola Refetoff searched the wide-open spaces of the California desert to document images of bleak landscapes that can be seen only through the windows of abandoned homes.

“I set out to photograph the melancholy of decay and transience of human endeavor,” Refetoff, a freelance photographer and location scout, said in an interview. “Through it all, I tried to imagine who lived in these places, and capture the views these dreamers and broken spirits considered while looking out these windows.”

The payoff is in the images by Refetoff assembled for an exhibition titled “High and Dry: Dispatches from the Land of Little Rain,” scheduled to open March 22 at the Los Angeles Art Assn./Gallery 825.


Refetoff generally used a single, medium-wide lens to achieve a consistent, neutral perspective. “They are the actual views that existed at the moment of exposure,” he said.

These are portraits of hope and despair in extreme conditions. The view from an abandoned farmworker’s trailer window is of flat desert plains cleared for alfalfa cultivation. Another kitchen window looks out on an adjacent mobile home also shredded by vandals and wind. And in another splintered kitchen, someone scrawled in black spray paint: “It’s a Mess Without You.”

The exhibition is a manifestation of an ongoing collaboration with writer/historian Christopher Langley aimed at documenting the gloried and beleaguered California desert at their newly launched website