The metals in the Mojave photo exhibit draw deep truths from what pioneers left behind

Rusty cans, thrown bolts, spiral culverts, and other rusty metals strewn across a desert can seem like things uncertain enough to be the kind of art exhibit they would love to come and see.

Landscapes fine art photographer Ted Rigoni would like his photos of rusting pioneer debris in the Mojave Desert to change your mind about it.

“Oxidized”, a collection of his contemporary art photographs on display until January 6 in the gallery of the community center at 910 Ninth St. SE, offers an intimate encounter with all kinds of metal objects left by future farmers, ranchers , miners, entrepreneurs and other dreamers as they made their way to California over the Punishing Mojave in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Some of them did it, some didn’t.

“What is left after we leave?” Rigoni asks. “In this particular case, it’s the rusty metal. What we have in a sense, then, are abandoned dreams, or lost dreams, or the remains of those dreams. So my exposure isn’t so much about people. It’s more about what they left behind, what is left after they’re gone.

And, a natural follow-up question: What will people think 50 or 100 years from now of what this generation is leaving behind? How will they see what we are doing now, or what we are seeing now?

“Are they going to think we’re doing pretty well, or is it going to be ‘Oh my God I can’t believe people had these problems back then”, and now we have took care of those problems, ”Rigoni mentioned.

The exhibition offers few clues as to its deep significance.

It’s deliberate, says Rigoni. “Oxidized” is not a passive display of typical photographs. He asks people who come to see him to engage with him.

Indeed, one of the first things a visitor perceives is the absence of any frame of reference for the images. Not only will they not know where they were taken, but apart from a small selection of photographs, they will not know what the size of what they are looking at, and in some cases, they will not even know what. that they watch. To.

“I hope this will be something that makes you wonder, ‘Is that a square foot in real life, or is it 10 feet or 20 square feet,’ or ask, ‘What is that? it was ? Was it a metal drum? A cylinder? Was it a wire or a cable? ‘… I did this intentionally because I want people to watch the work and really form their own narratives, ”said Rigoni.

In the past three years, Rigoni estimates, he has made 25 or more trips to the Mojave just to look for metal and found free-standing items like vats and parts of abandoned mining refineries.

“When I find something that was spinning and had mercury injected – if you know anything about it, gold and mercury have an affinity for each other – that’s how they separated them. And I look at that and I say, ‘It was spinning, and the noise it must have made, and the dust and smoke coming out of here and the people working in the desert where it’s 120 degrees, how did they did this, how did they survive? “

In a place called the Golden Dome, Rigoni said, he found abandoned materials that he just had to climb into.

“I’m very careful what I do, but if I don’t push the boundaries then I’m not being true to myself, and all I do is take snapshots at 5 feet, which anyone can do, which we all do. As a photographer you have to go beyond that. Otherwise, why would anyone care about what I see? ”

“Oxidized” is not just an exhibition, it is an extension of Rigoni himself. Since his childhood, he says, he has been in love with geometric shapes and their relationship to other geometric shapes.

Growing up a stone’s throw from the Mojave and its soil blazing with metallic artifacts, Rigoni said, provided him with plenty of water to fuel that fascination, as did his 39-year career as a civil engineer in County of Orange.

His father, he said, owned a real estate business in the 1970s and 1980s, and on weekends he would take his family to the wilderness, which is so close to where Ted grew up that he could and still can get there easily. by dirt roads or paths.

“My dad was pretty much one of those people who didn’t want someone telling him what to do, even though of course he followed the laws. He was trying to be an entrepreneur, and real estate was his way of escaping, of getting out, of coming into contact with the land. I had to inherit some of these characteristics as a civil engineer for almost 40 years and then move on, ”said Rigoni.

Now in his sixties and retired, Rigoni feels blessed to have the opportunity to indulge in his long-standing loves and make a second career out of it, in this case as a landscape art photographer.

Each person, he said, must pursue what they are obligated to follow and do.

“For me everything, whether it’s man-made or natural, there are so many shapes and forms in nature, and just looking at them and capturing them is really cool,” said Rigoni.

This exhibition is coordinated by the Parks, Arts and Recreation Department of the City of Auburn with support from the Auburn Arts Commission.

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