The Good Life: Palm Springs
by Nancy Baron
While the subject matter of Nancy Baron’s work can vary from motorcyclists to hand-crafted churches, its gestalt is clear—her photographs bring compassionate attention to what can otherwise be underestimated or overlooked. In her most recent series, “The Good Life: Palm Springs,” Baron photographs the vibrant, dreamy, and sometimes misunderstood domestic life of Palm Springs and its citizens.
Q: Palm Springs has a rich public image—resorts, midcentury modern architecture, casinos, and fine art—but your photographs show a much more intimate, personal side to Palm Springs, as a community and as a domestic space. What first inspired you to begin photographing the city?
BARON: When I became a part-time resident of Palm Springs in 2006, I began to see this iconic resort town in a completely different way—literally from a new angle, the angle of a resident, rather than a tourist. In general, my work documents the exotic world next door that is sometimes misunderstood or overlooked. The rich, behind-the-scenes world that I was discovering (and still am discovering), only steps away from the resorts and main drag, is a perfect fit for what I like to document and share.
Q: Many of the photographs in “The Good Life: Palm Springs” include images of fellow Palm Springs residents’ homes, intimate spaces, and the residents themselves. Do you consider these photographs more of a portraiture of your individual neighbors or more of a document to the spirit of Palm Springs, overall?
BARON: These photographs are my personal impression of one side of life in Palm Springs. Internationally, people have an idea of what Palm Springs is. Regardless of what that idea is, it is accurate because this desert town has many facets that attract a diverse population. What I am showing about Palm Springs in this particular series, “The Good Life: Palm Springs,” is that it is a small town with big-city sophistication, rooted at once in the past, present, and future, with something for everyone. Here in this desert setting, under clear, blue skies in a glorious climate, is the American dream where anyone can live the good life, whether in a trailer or a midcentury modern masterpiece. This holds true for this series of work, regardless of my relationship, spatially or personally, to the subjects.
Q: What did you find most surprising during the composing and photographing of this series?
BARON: That would be hard to say because becoming a homeowner in Palm Springs revealed a rich and completely unexpected world to me in so many ways. I was aware of the midcentury-modern design aesthetic in architecture, fashion, automobile design, and art in Palm Springs, but not of its richness, the depth of its roots, and its international significance. Also, I never cease to be amazed and appreciative of how nice the people are—which is both cause and effect of the pervasive ease of the Palm Springs lifestyle.
Q: You have a history in documentary-style film and photography. How do you think that has influenced your photographic sensibilities?
BARON: In documentary filmmaking, as well as in my still documentary work, I aim to share my observations of the world around me in a nonjudgmental way (as in cinema verité)—which is different from being objective. The moment and choice of capture is subjective, but the way in which the images are edited is where the story is told. My goal is to present my point of view, while leaving the viewer plenty of room for interpretation. I don’t set out looking to illustrate a preconceived idea that I have, but rather allow the idea of a place, person, or time to present itself.
Q: Do you plan on continuing this series? What do you think is next for you?
BARON: After over eight years of part-time life in Palm Springs, I feel that I’ve barely nicked the surface. Regardless of my intent for making this work, I would find it difficult to stop documenting my endless discoveries. I do have nine other bodies of work, some of which I will most likely revisit. I have a couple works in progress and many more on my wish list. It’s a big and wondrous world out there with so many cultures to explore, many of which are right under one’s nose.
Nancy Baron is a fine-art documentary photographer, currently working out of California.