Artist's Statement

William Scharf

The images I am presenting here were all made beginning in 2015 when I began photographing abandoned houses in the Southern California desert. For me, each of these houses had a story to tell. It was evident that many people came to the area with the idea of attaining a better life. No one came knowing they were going to fail as failures raise more questions than they answer. Everything points to the hardships faced and to the resilience of people wanting their own piece of land. Often people came to the area to be on the fringes of society; to be alone in the desert. It is special place: there is the climate, harsh living conditions and the abrupt contradictions one is faced with everywhere. The military is ever present with Edwards Air Force Base and a Marine base near Twentynine Palms. There is the Salton Sea, an environmental accident that is a dead sea. Recently, I was reviewing my work from the 1990's and this inspired me to make a road trip back to the area just to see if had changed. I had also read about the abandoned “Jack Rabbit shacks” that are acre scattered around Twentynine Palms and thought that might be a good starting point to begin photographing. I had seen the shacks before but always assumed they were miner dwellings when in fact they were an attempt after World War II at homesteading. The government would give settlers three acres in exchange for improving and living on the land. As is the case with many government ideas, the idea failed. The lack of arable land, water and the extreme heat made it all but impossible for anyone to survive. Many of the houses have survived over fifty years because of these very conditions that make it nearly impossible to live there. I have continued to make trips to further explore the area and expand the project into a book.