The pictures in ZZYZX by Gregory Halpern begin in the desert east of Los Angeles and move west through the city, ending at the Pacific. This general westward movement alludes to a thirst for water, as well as the original expansion of America, which was born in the East and which hungrily drove itself West until reaching the Pacific, thereby fulfilling its “manifest” destiny. Early settlers dubbed California The Golden State, and The Land of Milk and Honey. Today there are the obvious ironies – sprawl, spaghetti junctions and skid row — but the place is not so easily distilled or visualized, either as a clichéd paradise or as its demise. There’s a strange kind of harmony when it’s all seen together—the sublime, the psychedelic, the self-destructive. Like all places, it’s unpredictable and contradictory, but to greater extremes. Cultures and histories coexist, the beautiful sits next to the ugly, the redemptive next to the despairing, and all under a strange and singular light, as transcendent as it is harsh. The people, places, and animals in the book did exist before Halpern’s camera, but he has sewn these photographs into a work of fiction or fantasy — a structure, sequence and edit which, like Los Angeles itself, teeters on the brink of collapsing under the weight of its own strangely-shaped mass.
Halpern has published three other books of photographs, including A (J&L Books, 2011), Omaha Sketchbook (J&L Books, 2009), and Harvard Works Because We Do (Quantuck Lane, 2003). He is the editor, along with Jason Fulford, of The Photographer’s Playbook: Over 250 Assignments and Ideas (Aperture, 2014). Most recently he released East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Études Books, 2015), a collaborative book with Ahndraya Parlato. Halpern holds a BA in History and Literature from Harvard University and an MFA from California College of the Arts, an currently teaches photography at Rochester Institute of Technology. In 2014, he received a fellowship from Guggenheim Foundation. Halpern participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in August 2014.