Depicting rolling green hills under a bright California sky, About a hundred yards from the roadseems to portray California at its finest. A contorted leafless tree in the foreground,
however, hints that this image is more than an innocent pastoral. In Run Up, a moodier image in darker tones, a similar strategy is at work. A picturesque, gnarled tree fills the composition, with the lacy patterns of its branches silhouetted against a pale, overcast sky. Covered in a variety of textures—soft dark green moss, craggy sea-foam lichens, and wispy Spanish mosses—the tree’s aged surface seems to captivatingly recall an idea of time beyond the human scale. This tree, however, has a hateful tie to human history.
Indeed Run Up and About a hundred yards from the road are both photographs from Ken Gonzales-Day’s Searching for California’s Hang Trees series, part of the artist’s extensive work on the history of lynching in California, which also includes his photographic series, Erased Lynchings, and his book, Lynching in the West: 1850–1935. These projects share a common goal: complicating the viewer’s understanding of the history of racial violence in America. While the history of lynching in the Deep South is a widely acknowledged atrocity, Gonzales-Day’s work seeks to bring attention to mob violence against Latinos, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants in the West; a side of history which, when recognized at all, has often been swept up into a romanticized vision of frontier law in the Wild West. For this series, Gonzales-Day traveled throughout California, attempting to find and photograph former lynching sites—research that also resulted in the self-guided lynching tour of Los Angeles Gonzales-Day offers on his website. The images in the Hang Trees series, depicting beautiful landscapes made horrific by their history, subvert the conventions of Californian landscape photography that depicted the state as a natural paradise. In the words of the artist, “”.” Ultimately, the Searching for California’s Hang Trees series juxtaposes the viewer’s initial positive perceptions of a scene against deeper horror, highlighting the way that mainstream history has erased the full story of racial tension in America.
Tara Contractor ’13
Quoted from: Berger, Maurice “Ken Gonzales-Day’s “Erased Lynching.”
NY Times.com. http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/lynchings-in-the-west-erased-from-history-and-photos/