Bakersfield: Life as it Should Be

During college, I spent a significant amount of time away from my hometown of Bakersfield, California. It is a suburban city, population 400,000, with no downtown high rises. With three major oil refineries, Bakersfield has a unique desert/industrial feel which conflicts with expansive suburban track home developments.

I began photographing my hometown in order to preserve it in my memory; quite simply, this project was born out of homesickness. I wanted my wall to be overwhelmed with Bakersfield. My nostalgia for this undesirable place comes through in the photographs, as does my critical eye on Bakersfield city planning.  In one image, the viewer sees my reflection in my bedroom window, while another has the oil fields of Chevron in the distance. The juxtaposition of nostalgia and criticism overlaps with a sense that ‘yes, people actually do live here’.

These photos are meant to document the extreme suburban growth, visible every time I return home, that creates an uncanny mix of industrial and residential zones. Developments are started, then never finished, leaving Bakersfield with whole streets of ghost homes. Fields are plowed, roads were paved, light posts were installed, but sometimes the homes were never built. Houses and shopping centers alike display an eerie monotony of tan stucco. Even churches are not more than corrugated steel boxes with the same tan stucco. It was not until I left Bakersfield, whose motto is “Life As It Should Be,” that I realized just how bizarre it actually is.

For this project I have printed 1000 postcards, overwhelming the gallery and the viewer with Bakersfield as I see it – monochromatic, industrial, suburban, vacant. The prints are imperfect, mimicking the dirty landscape of Bakersfield. Black and white enhances the grittiness, and the monochrome, cookie cutter feel of the city. Postcards are nostalgic mementos a tourist sends to loved ones, often displaying images of city pride. My postcards show dirty areas of conflict; they are postcards you would never want to receive.