Review by Wayne Swanson •
Big Sur is one of the iconic places of the California Dream. This rugged stretch of coastline between Carmel and San Simeon along equally iconic Highway 1 is known for many things. It’s an idyllic showcase of natural beauty . . . Muse to the likes of Henry Miller and Edward Weston . . . Magnet to bohemians, hippies, free thinkers, and outdoor enthusiasts seeking a quiet retreat . . .
Today, however, the dream is often hard to find among the hordes of tourists. But in the winter of 2017, there was a return to a more relaxed time, thanks to another hallmark of the California mystique — Mother Nature’s fury. Drought followed by torrential rain caused mudslides that closed Highway 1, the only route through the area. Big Sur was once again a locals-only enclave, and it would be well over a year before the highway could be re-opened.
Going South — Big Sur by San Francisco-based photographer Kirk Crippens is a chronicle of that time. Guided by a Big Sur native who saw the closure as “a precious pause” that revealed some of the magic she remembered from her childhood, Crippens documents the pause. It wasn’t an easy process. Entry required many hour-long hikes through the forest to the now deserted Highway 1, carrying a large-format camera, tripod, and dozens of film holders in and out.
Crippens’ photos capture the inherent strangeness of this time. They show the devastation and reconstruction resulting from the mudslides, and they explore the special appeal of this place and the people who call it home. Throughout, there’s a sense of calm, yet an eerie feeling that something is out of place.
There’s a family strolling along a deserted stretch of Highway 1, where traffic can be bumper-to-bumper in peak season. Quiet, fog-shrouded vistas speak to the area’s timeless appeal, yet other postcard views are fenced off with construction barriers and Do Not Enter signs. Patio chairs and a table overlook a breathtaking coastline view, but no one is there to enjoy it.
Because this was a locals-only time, Crippens honors the residents as well, with atmospheric portraits that showcase the rustic-chic character of the area. He also highlights local landmarks, such as the Nepenthe restaurant, which somehow remained opened and fostered a heighted sense of community among the residents.
All of the color images are captured on film using large- and medium-format cameras, and the large format of the book does them justice. Each of the 44 images is displayed at a size of nearly 8 x 10 inches.
Going South shows us the beauty and contradictions of a storied place during its “precious pause” from present-day realities.
Going South —Big Sur, Kirk Crippens
Photographer: Kirk Crippens, resides Emeryville CA
Publisher: Schilt Publishing & Gallery (Amsterdam NL) 2019
Essay: Kirk Crippens
Hardcover book, sewn binding, 44 color photographs, 72 pages, 11 ¾ x 12 ½ inches, list of plates, printed in Stuttgart, Germany
Photobook designer: Victor Levie