When Polaroid icon Stefanie Schneider first asked me whether I'd be interested in showing my work at the Bombay Beach Biennale, I was convinced she was talking about a place near Bombay in India. A quick look at google led me to the Southern California desert, and a small town near the Salton Sea. And so it was that early 2018 some of my large polaroid prints ended up in the house of Tao Ruspoli, one of the Biennale's organisers and himself a keen photographer and filmmaker.
Fast forward to November 2018. I am road tripping in California and Bombay Beach is on my to-see list. Coming down from Palm Desert where I have been shooting with a model, I set up my tent on Mecca Beach, about 23km from Bombay Beach, and watch a glorious sunset. In the morning I pack up my stuff and set off full of anticipation at seeing the mysterious place that Bombay Beach has become in my head. It's much smaller than I thought, and definitely a lot dustier. A bit of research has taught me that it was once a flourishing seaside town, but the pollution of the Salton Sea scared both inhabitants and tourists away, and all that remains now is a bleached, rusted abandoned wasteland, in an apocalyptic landscape. As I take a stroll through the town, I am reminded of Mad Max. Desolation, destitution, I have never seen anything like this and I am fascinated. I head to the Ski Inn, the only bar in town, for some coffee. And that's when it happens. I walk in and I get this overwhelming feeling I have come home. Several hours go by, I drink more coffee, talk to a few locals, and I am so thrown by the effect this place has on me, that I drive to the nearest town and book myself into a motel, too tired and emotional to set up my tent. Feeling refreshed the following morning, I am determined to make it to Joshua Tree, the next destination on my road trip. But the inevitable happens, and instead of driving past Bombay Beach, I find myself pulling up at the Ski Inn again. It's 5pm before I leave the place and this time I do have the energy to set up my tent by the beach. I realise that I still haven't found a trace of my polaroid prints, which is what I came for in the first place, and before I go to sleep, I send a message to the organiser of the Biennale, letting him know I'm in the area and can he please tell me where to look for my polaroids. When I wake up in the morning, there's a reply from Tao, telling me he will be at Bombay Beach later in the day and let's meet up. Joshua Tree seems further away than ever. I drive around, shoot polaroids, drive around a little more, killing time before heading to the bar once again. Tao meets me a little later, his girlfriend and a friend in tow, and then following him through the door, Stefanie Schneider herself, such a nice surprise. We have lunch and then he guides us through Bombay Beach, I see the Opera House, the Petit Ermitage, graffiti, and marvel at the art installations and countless hidden treasures. When I utter my delight at all this creativity and express my desire to spend more time here, Tao explains there is an artist residency programme and offers me the opportunity to live and work there for a while, while creating a project for the Biennale. I say yes straight away, and then finally, as if this was what I was waiting for, I am ready to head to Joshua Tree.