Interview with Nancy Baron: Beautiful Trailer Town
I like to discover the uncharted center of the universe next door, and capture the majesty of the often plain and unexpected settings in which like-minded people find a place to belong.
Nancy Baron opens a new exhibition, Beautiful Trailer Town, at SPOT Photo Works on Saturday, January 16, 2016, from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, which runs through March 11, 2016. A continuation of her exploration of desert life, Beautiful Trailer Town captures the places and populations that prefer to live with less. In the Fall of 2016, Nancy will be releasing a second monograph with Kehrer Verlag, Palm Springs > The Good Life Goes On, shining a warm spotlight on this mecca of sand and sunlight.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Nancy Baron is a documentary photographer based in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California. Her background in documentary filmmaking informs her astute exploration and documentation of the vernacular landscape, with a bias toward hopefulness. Her work is held in public and private collections and has been exhibited in galleries across the U.S. Baron’s images of the exotic world next door and its inhabitants have been featured online and in print internationally in The New York Times, BBC World, Conde Nast Traveler, Mother Jones, Architectural Digest Italy, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Interview Magazine Germany, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Switzerland, amongst others. Her well-received first monograph, The Good Life > Palm Springs was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2014.
Beautiful Trailer Town
Some years ago I was involved in a group project to document the economic downturn in Southern California. I was assigned the Palm Springs area, where I have a second home. I was relatively new to Palm Springs at the time, so my forced meanderings were a great way to discover my town. I was surprised to find a wide range of lifestyle choices in such a small town. Whether in exclusive enclaves or mobile home parks, residents were taking advantage of the desert magic. The charm of the mobile home parks, in particular, pulled me in – encouraging me to look closer. Residents were surprisingly friendly to a stranger walking around with a camera. I felt at home.
Although the parks have themes, residents are given a wide berth for personal expression in their own homes, encouraging a diverse community that defies stereotype. These are the pioneers of the Tiny Home movement, embracing the less is best concept, while skimming the grid. Pride of ownership can be had at a cost far less than a condo, with no neighbors above or below. If yearning for a change of scenery, mobile home dwellers are always free to hitch up and move – yet their homes often appear to be firmly planted, with landscaping, hardscaping, and even additions. With no historic overlay preservation codes to hamper them, creativity abounds. Extra fancy or plain and simple, there are no two homes alike.
Your book, The Good Life > Palm Springs, celebrates the Palm Springs lifestyle, and your new project, Beautiful Trailer Town, continues that exploration. What makes Palm Springs so special and why do you think its popularity has soared over the last few years?
There is a certain je ne sais quoi about Palm Springs…and I mean that literally. It’s hard to say exactly what it is that makes it such a magical place – which is why I’m compelled to give a visual explanation of its charms. There’s the climate, the majestic San Jacinto mountains that mostly block the clouds, there’s the mystical desert vibe, the mid century modern design aesthetic and life style, and the hot springs that combine to create a unique little town.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, plus the recovering economy are mostly responsible for the recent resurgence of popularity of this quintessential American resort town.
In many parts of the country, living in a trailer is not something to celebrate, but it appears there is some cachet to that lifestyle in Palm Springs. What surprising things did you discover about that population?
The Tiny Home concept has boosted the image of the trailer, plus there is a vast community of vintage trailer enthusiasts nationally. The Palm Springs climate, vintage design community, and overall friendly atmosphere make for the perfect location for mobile home living.
Residents are given a wide berth for personal expression in their own homes, encouraging a diverse community that defies stereotype.
I can’t say that I’ve discovered anything particularly surprising about Beautiful Trailer Town inhabitants that’s any different from the general Palm Springs population of friendly people who love where they live. There’s a notion that Palm Springs is an exclusive town, but it’s actually quite democratized – with something for everyone. For such a small town, there’s a wide choice of lifestyles and The Good Life is available to all.
It’s unusual that a stranger with a camera is not looked upon with suspicion–what do you think accounts for the welcoming attitude of trailer owners?
Palm Springs is always on “friendliest city” lists. I’d have to say it’s just the general vibe of the town.
What was the most unusual trailer that you have encountered?
I suppose the most memorable (and visually stunning) trailer I found is one that’s decorated with a color saturated astronomy theme, including portraits of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan on the patio. Words do not do this home justice, nor does just one photo, as there’s so much detail in its design. It’s a work of art.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently prepping my next book, Palm Springs > The Good Life Goes On, that will be published by Kehrer in Fall 2016. Although the subject is Palm Springs, it takes a somewhat different tack from my first Palm Springs book. There’s such endless opportunity for discovery in this small town. I could document its charms ad infinitum but I’m looking forward to exploring other subjects as well.
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