Gina Genis has decided to take on a photographic odyssey, to photograph everyone in the small village of Idyllwild which is perched up in the mountains overlooking the Los Angeles basin. She has determined that to be entirely inclusive of this community, it will take her perhaps 14 years and as many volumes to complete this project. As environmental portraits, I think even August Sander, the German photographer who had similar goals of capturing the essence of a community, realized that the photographer is standing on the shifting sands of time.
Genis has labeled this project as a collection of “Environmental Portraits” from a specific area, but in reading her photographs, it raises for me a question as to what constitutes an “environmental” portrait. Firstly, this is a collection of portraits of individuals. Her subjects are placed in a recognizable place associated with her subject or holding a prop that is associated to the subject’s identity. Genis has reduced the ambiguity as to who this person might be and provided a context as to the individual and their place in this creative community, with a few but very interesting exceptions.
It is these exceptions which interest me the most and hold my attention. At the top of my list is the portrait of Robert “Auto” Adolph, top image below. His gaze into the camera lens is direct, with a mild appearance of resignation compared to the other smiling faces. The way he is holding his hands together as he leans into the boulder for support is intriguing. He is situated in the forest, but from the appearance of his boots and jacket, it appears to me that this may indeed be his environment, as he may be out wandering through the woods often.
The second is the nude (okay, apparently she is wearing her cowgirl boots) portrait of Windean Dahleen situated in a house she once owned. Like that of Auto Adolph, her demeanor is ambiguous and in relationship to the other environmental portraits raises questions as to why here and why undressed (the only exception in the book)? Her gaze, similar to Auto Adoplp is directed straight into the lens, thus creating an unflinching contact with the viewer.
The third portrait of interest to me is that of Chris Tota, the guy balancing on a cord, last photograph below. Similar to the other two photographs discussed above, why is this considered an environmental portrait? I can assume that the cord is a prop associated with Tota as the others, but there is more ambiguity in this setting. Unlike the other subject, Tota does not face the camera, which seems to make this portrait all of the more interesting in comparison to me.
The book as an object is a case-bound hardcover, which is well printed with a solid binding. The photographs have ample white margins and the book opens to easily display the entirety of each image. The portraits are on one page of the spread and on the opposing page is the question and answer text that accompanies each portrait. The introductory essay is provided by Peter Frank.