California City, California

My project examines California City, a master-planned community in the Mojave Desert conceived by sociologist turned real estate developer Nathan Mendelsohn in the 1950s. The city was envisioned as the next major metropolis in California in response to the population and economic growths the state experienced after World War II. Mendelsohn and his associates carefully designed the layout of 187 square miles that is to this day listed as the third largest “city” in terms of land size. The early promotional materials for California City employed water as a recurring motif to emphasize the city’s appeal to potential homeowners. The land was touted as having the largest concentration of water wells in the entire Mojave Desert, capable of eventually producing “more than 20,000,000 gallons per day” to create a “water-rich” wonderland. Today, California City exists as a place that has yet to meet the original ambition of its developer and the idyllic image that was promoted to the public. Moreover, the claim that the land was rich with underground sources of water was found to be largely unsubstantiated. My photographs focus on a vast section of California City that is mostly uninhabited, despite having a complex network of streets that stretch across the landscape. The aerial photographs document the scale of the vision Mendelsohn proposed in the desert. These photographs show the site seemingly suspended in time: clearly there to host a city in the future but also without any signs if that future will ever arrive. The aim of my project is to explore the gap between the image that was projected onto the desert landscape by Mendelsohn in the 1950s and the image of California City that exists today in reality.


About Noritaka Minami
Noritaka Minami is a photographer based in Chicago. He received his BA in Art Practice from the University of California, Berkeley and his MFA in Studio Art from the University of California, Irvine. Minami is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Loyola University Chicago. He has also taught courses at Harvard University, Wellesley College, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, UC Berkeley, and UC Irvine. He is a recipient of grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Graham Foundation, the Santo Foundation, and Center for Cultural Innovation. In 2015, he published a monograph titled “1972 — Nakagin Capsule Tower” (Kehrer Verlag), which received the 2015 Architectural Book Award from the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt, Germany. Solo exhibitions of his works have been held at Kana Kawanishi Gallery, SFO Museum, USC Roski School of Art and Design, UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design, Griffin Museum of Photography, and UC Merced Art Gallery. His works have also been exhibited at Aperture (New York), Somerset House (London), Photo Basel (Basel), and Kearney Street Workshop (San Francisco). Minami’s works are held in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, UCLA Architecture and Urban Design, and Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago.
Tract No. 3282 (California City, California)



Tract No. 3279 #2 (California City, California)



Tract No. 3195 (California City, California)

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