Gregory Halpern’s recent work in California is strangely refreshing in its celebratory optimism. In this work there are moments of powerful and simple wonder concerning California now.
He has written that he wants “his photographs to reflect the incomprehensible complexity of the state” and in this statement I think he (unwittingly?) puts his finger on his work’s greatest strengths.
What you can recognize from this work is his straightforward empathy and compassion for Californians in their dealing with everyday life — and how tellingly he does this for those who are just overwhelmed.
I have written elsewhere how traditional American landscape photography has become a rather moribund photographic trope, how a sanctified, cliched reverence has become the norm. In Halpern’s California work, I see him removing himself from the comforts of the past and endeavoring to strike out afresh, rethinking his conditioning and antecedents to break free of this particular mold.
He is not a naïve photographer. He is both worldly and sophisticated and, for whatever complex reasons, seems able to connect with this massive subject in ways that others cannot.
Chris Killip has published six books of photographs and is a professor of photography at Harvard University. www.chriskillip.com
Gregory Halpern lives in Rochester, NY, and completed his residency at Light Work in August 2014.