Virginia Wilcox is an artist based out of Los Angeles, California. She is currently attending University of Hartford’s Limited-Residency MFA in photography. Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Virginia received her BFA in photography from Bard College. Virginia recently showed Bombay Beach in a solo exhibition at Seattle’s Glass Box Gallery. This body of work also made the cover of Brazilian Magazine OLD this past October. She has previously shown work at the Hedreen Gallery (Seattle), Slideluck LA VII (Los Angeles), Violet Strays (Online), and Photographic Center Northwest (Seattle). Today we share her series, Bombay Beach.
Bombay Beach documents communities surrounding Southern California’s Salton Sea through photographs that explore human attempts to inhabit an environmentally unsustainable landscape. I photograph people who still live on the sea and the land they inhabit, exploring themes of religion, drug-abuse, escapism, and human perseverance. I am interested in my subject’s resilience. Somehow, amidst this isolated and impoverished region, those living on the sea find beauty, freedom, and happiness in their otherworldly environment. This work incorporates subject interviews, artifacts and YouTube videos to tell the story of the region from multiple viewpoints and mediums.
The Salton Sea, first formed in 1905 when the Colorado river fled into the Salton sink, was developed into a resort community in the 1950s, attracting beach goers and celebrities. However, soon after tourists arrived, salinity levels increased as the sea level became unpredictable, rising and falling erratically. In the hot summer months the sea’s temperature reached a boiling point, creating the perfect breeding ground for botulism. Fish died en masse and newly designed towns were flooded. By the mid-1970s, communities were mostly abandoned, and the dream of building a prosperous tourist industry faded, leaving motels, cafes, and vacation homes to sink back into the land.
Today, the region resembles a post-apocalyptic Hollywood depiction. Towns are populated by families living in mobile homes surrounded by plots of land violently torn apart by looters and covered in graffiti. The sea’s beaches are lined with fish carcasses and covered in finely ground fishbone, easily mistaken for sand. Television sets, lawn chairs, and beer cans rust on the shore, visually revealing the region’s history.
I have traveled to the Salton Sea for the past four years, exploring the landscape, gathering stories, making friends with locals, and producing new work: a collection of portraits of people and place. The project is a collaborative process between myself and the subjects I encounter. I like to think of each image as the result of connections and fleeting shared moments. For example – I met fifteen year old Lucy at dusk as she emerged from her Dad’s mechanic shop. As she posed in the fading light, her dog Marley ran wild. She told me of her dream of becoming a photographer and how she had traveled to the White House as a reward for her 4.0 GPA. We remain in touch and our communications continue to inform the project as it evolves.
To view more of Virginia’s work, please visit her website.