Minimal Hardscapes | Rachelle Mendez
Rachelle Mendez grew up in Northern California on acres of open land in a small rural community outside of Sacramento. After moving to Southern California to obtain a bachelor degree in Advertising/ Graphic Design she started exploring the idea of photographing the expansive rural landscape in a more graphic and concise way. This aesthetic lead to her first ongoing photo series; The Rural.
Slowly evolving from the expansive landscapes to the highly congested landscapes of Los Angeles and Orange County’s suburbs, Rachelle created her most passionate and inclusive series; Minimal Hardscapes.
About the Series
Minimal Hardscapes is a graphic look at the urbanization of the California landscape. There is a multitude of visual layers and textures of man-altered landscapes also know in as new topographic photography. This series is my attempt to push something into nothing and still be whole.
As you can imagine, these vertical obstructions take up all of our surrounding information; the sky, fields and mountain ranges. In the highly congested areas of Southern California our consolation prize is a 90-degree graphic, so far removed from the natural world, yet offering an opportunity to forget what we are missing and still be satisfied.
Running April 21- June 15th I will have a Solo Show for Minimal Hardscapes of Southern California at The Brea Gallery’s annual Made In California show.
When and how did your journey as a photographer begin?
Photography has meant different things to me at different times in my life. As far back as I can remember I have always had a camera in hand. I still create using a camera I received as a gift when I was 9 years old. In 2012 I started my Minimal Rural series of photographs that captured the landscape that I grew up with in Northern California. It was a goal to shoot the images with a graphic and reductive style. I was well into my series when in 2015 I completely tore my ACL. During my long recovery, I couldn’t drive and could barely walk. I was forced to pay attention to my current surroundings of Los Angeles and Orange County, thus Minimal Hardscapes evolved to have a life of its own. In my mind, the rural and the urban series intermingle seamlessly as they do in real life. California’s landscapes are a story of constant transitioning, from suburban to commercial to industrial to rural to urban and back again. Photography is an excellent way to capture those visual layers.
What camera(s) do you prefer to use?
Great question, I come from the camp that photography is about storytelling and the completed image. When gear is brought into the narrative it can move the conversation away from the artist story. I don’t have any romance attached to my gear whether it be film or digital... it is there solely to create the story within the photograph.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
The California Landscapes themselves and artist interpretations of the landscapes. Painters like Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn series of graphic and abstracted urban scenes.
Artist Frank Stella an important minimalism painter, he said his Protractor paintings came about because he didn't like how the edges of abstract expressionism painters were neglected, all the paint was built up in the middle. I couldn't agree more. When I'm composing an image in camera, I don't want a focal point dangling in the rule of thirds. I want strong shapes running off the edges. All the components must play off each other with equal importance.
I’m looking for genuine complex moments that can be simplified. If art is the exclusion of the unnecessary, then I try to take that another step further…my definition of minimalism is; it’s a sacrifice of what is expected without the support of any metaphors. I try to remove any storied symbolism that is traditionally associated with California, yet the California landscape is still undeniably identifiable.
What photographers have influenced your work?
Last fall I attended Review Santa Fe in New Mexico, it is the premiere juried photography review in the world... I sat one on one with Virginia Heckert the Curator of Photography at Getty Museum Los Angeles with my portfolio and she asked that very same question... I told her I really am mostly influenced by California Painters, I’m not entirely sure how well received that statement was, but it’s accurate.
Though, I will say that I really enjoy looking at the work of Lee Friedlander, Yamamoto Masao, and Leland Rice. Collectively their work and approach are all very different, however, they all have a very strong graphic sensibility. Masao and Rice have a softer graphic sensibility I admire and I’m working on moving my ascetic in this direction.