Desert Paradise

Allgemein, Photography

Diploma Project from 2016


These people who, through the sadness of this place that is believed to be a dead town in the middle of the Californian desert, found their peace of mind, their sanctuary, their freedom, their home, their alternative way of living, their friends, their lovers, their playground, their empty canvas ready to be played on – they found their Desert Paradise.

Desert Par­adise ist eine fotografis­che Arbeit über die Bewohn­er in der kali­for­nischen Wüste rund um den Salton Sea. Stelle dir eine ver­wahrloste Geis­ter­stadt an einem Salzsee vor. Du spazierst an einem von Fis­chka­dav­ern gesäumten Strand ent­lang, unter dir krachen die tausenden kleinen Fis­chknochen unter deinen Schuhen in sich zusam­men und ein unan­genehmer Schwe­fel­geruch zieht dir in die Nase. Salz verkrustete Ruinen trüben deinen Blick auf den See im Son­nenun­ter­gang. Du fährst weit­er nach Süden und triff­st nach ein paar Kilo­me­tern auf Slab City, einen von Müll bedeck­ten Trail­er­park auf ein­er aufgegebe­nen Mil­itär­ba­sis, der wed­er an Kanal­i­sa­tion noch an das Strom­netz angeschlossen ist. Klingt nach einem Hor­ror­trip in eine andere Welt? Doch für die Bewohn­er bedeuten diese Orte alles andere als Tod und Verder­ben. Diese Umge­bung dient ihnen als leere Lein­wand für unerfüllte Träume. Sie ist Pro­jek­tions­fläche für Aussteiger, Künstler und Aben­teur­er. Natürlich ist das Leben in der uner­bit­tlichen Hitze nicht immer rosig, und jed­er Ort ver­birgt seine dun­klen Seit­en. Doch jed­er Einzelne hat sich bewusst für das Leben in der Wüste entsch­ieden und baut sich seine eigene kleine Welt auf. Eine unbarmherzige Welt mit Tiefen, aber auch mit vie­len Höhen.

In mein­er fotografis­chen Arbeit sind Men­schen zu sehen, die genau diese Geschicht­en zu erzählen haben. Die in der Tristesse dieser tot geglaubten Orte in mit­ten der Wüste Kali­forniens ihre Frei­heit, ihr zu Hause, ihre alter­na­tive Lebens­form – ihr Desert Par­adise gefun­den haben.

Meine Arbeit beste­ht aus einem Buch mit Inter­viewteil am Ende, ein­er Ausstel­lung und einen Film.

Blät­ter dich hier durch das Buch:

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It’s freedom that can‘t be experienced anywhere else. If you have an idea you
can just jump up in the morning and do it that day.

My name is Cave­men, I am 24 and I run the library with Cor­nelius. She is in town get­ting some gro­ceries right now. The library works as a dona­tion base sys­tem. I guess where peo­ple bring in the extra books they have and some­times they trade out books or they give them to us as a dona­tion, because they like what we are doing here. All we basi­cal­ly do is try­ing to keep it on the show, just keep them dry, get them out of here so that we can get more books in. And I just like to do it, because it’s a good com­mu­ni­ty pro­gram. There are a lot of fam­i­lies that come in here. They get like edu­ca­tion­al mate­r­i­al for their kids or what ever. We also have the free table, with ran­dom free stuff and the food bin over here that is free for any­one. I‘ve been in the slabs for about a year and a half all year around. I think this sum­mer will be prob­a­bly a lot eas­i­er than the first one. We‘ve adapt­ed qui­et a bit. Slab City is just free­dom. No one is try­ing to tell you what you can and can‘t do. This place is made of sal­vages so no inspec­tor gonna come and like show us down or any­thing. It’s free­dom that can‘t be expe­ri­enced any­where else. If you have an idea you can just jump up in the morn­ing and do it that day. You don‘t have to like get some paper­work done or any­thing, you can just do it.

There is no regulation or anything. Everyone here lives in a certain system and
if you can live within that system you are fine.

 I am Nan­cy, I am 21 years old. I am born and raised in South Flori­da. I start­ed trav­el­ing two years ago. Since Decem­ber I live in my car trav­el­ing that way. I came to Slab City on Christ­mas Day in 2015. Life is going on. I kind of knew what the Slabs were about. It is the last free place. There is no reg­u­la­tion or any­thing. Every­one here lives in a cer­tain sys­tem and if you can live with­in that sys­tem you are fine. It is a good place to wait for win­ter to be over. I want to head to Alas­ka, like the guy from “Into the Wild“. I hope my jour­ney will end bet­ter than his. That is my goal. I always trav­el for a cou­ple of month and then I go home to see my mum. I want to make sure that she is alright. I tried col­lege for a year and a half. But nobody around me was moti­vat­ed so I quit. I was trav­el­ing with my ex. Two of our pup­pies died yes­ter­day and we hope that the oth­ers will sur­vive. This one here didn‘t get sick so I am grate­ful for that.

So I‘ve been staying in the Slabs for like 6 or 7 years, I don‘t know.
I leave for the summer time though, which we call a snow bird.

I am Josh, just Josh. So I‘ve been stay­ing in the Slabs for like 6 or 7 years, I don‘t know. I leave for the sum­mer time though, which we call a snow bird. But I am usu­al­ly always here. I used to trav­el all over the coun­try. But then I found this place and it‘s kind a been like home. Its free, you don‘t have to fuck­ing pay any­thing, you just set up your camp and keep your shit togeth­er. I am cur­rent­ly tak­ing care of pup­pies right now. We have 7 of them, from pri­ma­ry 9. I would have been gone by now because it is start­ing to come in the sum­mer time but like with pup­pies you can‘t real­ly trav­el. I guess I like the Slabs because it‘s free and you don‘t have to pay any­thing, just stay here. The only ones who real­ly fuck with you are the cops. The cops are real­ly fuck­ing suck around here. It doesn‘t mat­ter. Its fuck­ing cool, I mean we have the hot springs, the canal, the skate park the Range on Sat­ur­day nights with life music, dance par­ty on Fri­day nights at Radio Mikes or what­ev­er, there is just stuff hap­pen­ing all the time. Rebel! Right now I have some legal issues so I don‘t real­ly wan­na stay in , but maybe I will take my girl­friend to the East Coast or New York, go min­ing up some­where but I don‘t know. Noth­ing is for sure when you trav­el and plans change so quick­ly. I am from a town called River­side but I‘ve been trav­el­ing for like 15 years or some­thing like that, I was like 16 and I am 31 now.  So I don‘t real­ly have a home.

It is a safe space for full self expression and creativity,
and at the same time dangerous and unexplored.

I am Mynx and I love to come out to East Jesus. It’s hum­bling, to say the least. It is a safe space for full self expres­sion and cre­ativ­i­ty, and at the same time dan­ger­ous and unex­plored. It is a wrin­kle in time, a blip in the fab­ric of this unex­plain­able exis­tence. In a world of com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion, where the val­ue of life is in the dol­lar to its name, east Jesus remains unhar­nessed by west­ern soci­ety. It is an expe­ri­ence both hum­bling and em-pow­er­ing, the last free place on earth.

I came out here with a backpack and now I have this massive camp. I love it.

My name is Michael and I’ve been doing a lot of research about Slab City. It is great just being able to come out here and build and doing what­ev­er you want. You know I am inspired by art so I come out here and do like all sorts of art. I came out here with a back­pack and now I have this mas­sive camp. I love it. And I own a dog. It‘s been fun, so peace­ful. Wak­ing up in the morn­ing, going to bed at night and see­ing all these stars and see­ing the mil­i­tary how the heli­copters fly over and hear­ing the bombs go off kind of remind you of what war is about. I just wan­na cre­ate a camp out here that peo­ple can come and just enjoy and do art and have fun and be peace­ful. We do have water and we do have elec­tric­i­ty. We just get it in a dif­fer­ent way. I met a real­ly good friend named Austin and he has been real­ly help­ful. He helped me with the camp. I cre­ate my idea of what I want. It‘s about it. I love to trav­el, I love to prospect, I love to live for gems, I love to do art and I love my dog Maisie and she loves me. In the future I real­ly wan­na work on the Sal­va­tion Moun­tain. Being able to do that and being able to par­tic­i­pate. That has been very cool, I love Sal­va­tion Moun­tain. That’s about it. And the weath­er every­one is bitch­ing out about it but I think its per­fect. I don‘t know. Being able to go to the Range on Sat­ur­days and lis­ten­ing to live music and meet­ing a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent peo­ple, that‘s pret­ty cool.

It’s a free place to be creative men, that’s about it.

I am NRG, 3 let­ters! I’ve been here in the Slabs since August last year. It’s a free place to be cre­ative men, that’s about it. Yeah, it gives me an oppor­tu­ni­ty and I am gonna take it. I will stay here through the sum­mer in a 130 degree weath­er if I sur­vive this then… fuck. Who knows man. I am 30 years old next month. I real­ly like to live out here. In a sense, it is like fam­i­ly to me. This place is giv­ing me the chance to sit still and fig­ure out how to go to South Amer­i­ca to trav­el on the free trains and hitch­hik­ing.

Didn’t ever think that I end up here in the desert because I believed
people are crazy who live out here. But here I am. I came here and gave it a try.
And the main thing I guess why I stay here is the people.

I am Pirate Mike in Bom­bay Beach, I came out here about 15 years ago. I was play­ing music pro­fes­sion­al­ly and burnt down on it. So I want­ed to go some­where were it is a lit­tle bit more qui­et, leave the city at all. But I didn’t real­ly wan­na be alone just some­where a lot more qui­et. Didn’t ever think that I end up here in the desert because I believed peo­ple are crazy who live out here. But here I am. I came here and gave it a try. And the main thing I guess why I stay here is the peo­ple. A few years ago around 2008, one of the things I was play­ing music for years is that there were drugs and alco­hol and all that and I went through this whole thing. So I couldn’t stop until it was almost to late. So I prayed and I said: Lord, you know what? This time, because I’ve been to rehab three times already, this time, if you help me, I will nev­er drink again. I just wan­na live my life and help peo­ple in any way I can and just live a rich life on out. So things changed about a week or to two while I was there for about a month. After I made that prayer more or less my liv­er start­ed heal­ing up and I got bet­ter. When I came back home my friends kind a helped me out a lot. I have no desire and I hope that there are peo­ple out there who are as lucky as I am. You are not get­ting any help unless you help your­self. And I did and life has just been great you know. No more drink­ing! I eat a lot of can­dy, cake and ice cream. The doc­tor also said I have to be care­ful with that but I am fine. I love it, I love life.

I came to the middle of the desert in an RV with six dogs, two cats a bird and two people.
We stayed at the Slabs for two month and we couldn’t handle it. So we drove to Bombay,
actually to come to the beach. And I found this little purple house. I like it.

My name is Tere­sa, they call me Shorty. I work at the mar­ket. I am 53 years old and I’ve been in Bom­bay 6 1/2 years now. I love it here. Its peace­ful, its qui­et. It is a small town, you got­ta have crazi­ness in a small town. I closed a busi­ness in San Diego, I owned a pet store and a Wal­mart opened across the street so about a year lat­er I haven’t any cus­tomers. So I had to close and I lost pret­ty much every­thing. That is the way things go. I came to the mid­dle of the desert in an RV with six dogs, two cats a bird and two peo­ple. We stayed at the Slabs for two month and we couldn’t han­dle it. So we drove to Bom­bay, actu­al­ly to come to the beach. And I found this lit­tle pur­ple house. I like it. You can stay in if you don’t wan­na see any­body and you can go out if you wan­na see peo­ple. That is about it. I am not going any­where. I will stay here. I like it. I own my house. Some of the peo­ple are a lit­tle bit hard to take, but hey, you get along. I don’t real­ly know if I want to have this as a thriv­ing place again any­ways.

Its a small community, everybody knows everybody,
its just a great little place to be.

My name is Buck­shot, I am 48 and I live here in Bom­bay Beach. I live with my par­ents but I am think­ing of buy­ing a place down here maybe for a per­ma­nent res­i­dence. I like the place, its a mag­net for peo­ple they come down here and they are hooked on it. You know, you‘ve been down there and you like the place. It is what it is, you know, its a small com­mu­ni­ty, every­body knows every­body, its just a great lit­tle place to be. Its a lot of fun, just … It is what it is and that is it. I hope they are putting more water now in the Salton sea to bring a lot more down peo­ple down here and that it starts com­ing back to what it was a long time ago, what it used to be. I hope it does any­way. It’s kind a stu­pid that they start clos­ing every­thing down. If they can bring the water lev­el up, more peo­ple are gonna start com­ing down here and they stop putting all these restric­tions on every­body any­way, it is what it is.

Basically everybody knows what needs to be done what they can do and
what they wanna do and that is it and its for the benefit of all.

Dur­ing my wan­der­ing around I hiked the pacif­ic coast trail about half. I got to dif­fer­ent towns and thought: Wow that is cool, I can imag­ine liv­ing here! But after a while I got tired. I‘ve been liv­ing in San­ta Rosa for a good num­bers of years, home­less, just kind a camp­ing out and then I start­ed work­ing out on a labor con­nect­ing place and did that for a cou­ple of years putting up steel. Then I spent 2 years fight­ing can­cer. I was 50 years old and I can‘t do any of these things that I used to do. Fuck you! Then I went up and start­ed doing vol­un­teer work at the solar liv­ing insti­tute and I came up to Ore­gon and bought a trail­er. And I looked up in the inter­net free places to camp in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Slab city was first on the list. So I came to Slab city when I was 54 I guess, I met Mar­ty, Frank and Jake, they were like the orig­i­nal hitch­hik­er camp and I kin­da hooked up with them, and then I came down here for a cou­ple of years. Then in 2011 Char­lie passed away and in 2012 hitch­hik­er camp moved into East Jesus and start­ed super­vis­ing the place. We did that for a cou­ple of years with Frank in charge and then Jen and Cad­dy gave Frank a break. When Frank want­ed to be back in charge again and he tried to pow­er play and the board­er direc­tors vot­ed him down and he got pissed and left and now we are run­ning more like a democ­ra­cy. Basi­cal­ly every­body knows what needs to be done what they can do and what they wan­na do and that is it and its for the ben­e­fit of all. So we don’t real­ly need a leader, we need care­tak­ers, so every­body has dif­fer­ent depart­ments.