CRYSTAL CLEAR || WESTERN WATERS Photographs by Sant Khalsa
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Reviewed in Artillery magazine, March 2023; featured in the British Journal of Photography
7.25 x 8.125 inches horizontal; 60 black and white images; 72 pages; hardcover with jacket; foreword by Ed Ruscha; $50 plus shipping
Before Flint, before ever-expansive wildfires annually ravaged her home state of California and much of the west coast, yet after the popular introduction of bottled water to the American consciousness in the 1990s, Sant Khalsa discovered a store called Water Shed, and photographed it.
That was the first of what would become her series “Western Waters.” The sixty gelatin-silver photographs, made between 2000 and 2002, depict water stores in Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and southern Nevada. At that time, Khalsa said: “the photographs will serve in the future as a historical document of either a fleeting fad, or the foundation of what will become commonplace in our society.”
Twenty years have passed since Khalsa completed this photographic project. Bottled water is an over $11 billion dollar industry, yet millions of Americans are daily affected by the lack of access to clean drinking water. The existence of these stores in the early part of the millennium played on human fears and desires—never-ending thirsts—that have become need in a very short period of time.
Khalsa’s framing of these small businesses is an homage to Walker Evans, the seminal influences of Bernd and Hilla Becher, and the typologies of fellow Californian Ed Ruscha—whose words preface the series in the book—while demonstrating a sensitivity to a prescient subject matter that is unique.
SANT KHALSA (b. Sheila Roth, January 3, 1953, New York, New York; currently resides in Joshua Tree, California) is an artist and activist who has lived in Southern California since 1975. Her mindful inquiry into the nature of place is at the root of her life and visual work.
Her photographs, sculptures and installations have been exhibited internationally; her work is in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Nevada Museum of Art, National Galleries of Scotland, and UCR/California Museum of Photography, and others, in addition to private collections throughout the United States and Europe.
Over her esteemed career Khalsa has received fellowships, awards and grants from many significant institutions including the National Endowment for the Arts, California Humanities, California Arts Council and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In March 2012, she was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Society for Photographic Education’s Insight Award for her significant contributions to the field, and in 2015 received the Society for Photographic Education (west region) Honored Educator award.
Khalsa is Professor of Art, Emerita at California State University, where she served on the art faculty from 1988 to 2018; she is one of the founding faculty of the CSUSB Water Resources Institute research center and archive. She hosts the ecoartspace.org monthly program Tree Talk: Artists Speak for Trees and is the founding director of the Joshua Tree Center for Photographic Arts. Her first book, Prana—Life With Trees (Griffith Moon), was published in 2019.
ED RUSCHA (b. 1937, Omaha, Nebraska; lives in Los Angeles) graduated from the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts), Los Angeles, in 1960. Although his images are undeniably rooted in the vernacular of a closely observed American reality, his elegantly laconic art speaks to more complex and widespread issues regarding the appearance, feel, and function of the world and our tenuous and transient place within it. In 2012, Ruscha curated “The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas,” at Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Ruscha represented the United States in the 51st Biennale di Venezia in 2005, and was featured in the 2015 Biennale de Lyon's exhibition, “La Vie Moderne.” Select recent exhibitions include “Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,” De Young Museum, San Francisco (2016); “Music From the Balconies: Ed Ruscha and Los Angeles,” Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2017); “Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire,” The National Gallery of Art, London (2017); and “Word/Play: Prints, Photographs, and Paintings by Ed Ruscha,” Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha (2018). He is represented by Gagosian.