The White Sky
California, (1972-78), Mimi Plumb
The starkness of the landscape hurt my eyes. The low brown hills coated with dry grass, scratching my ankles, fox tails caught in my socks. I was always looking for a place to hide from the bright, white sky. The raw dirt yards and treeless streets, model homes expanding exponentially, with imperceptible variation. Suburbia, the landscape of my childhood.
At 13 we wore faded 501 jeans, torn at the knees, tight white t-shirts, long straight hair parted down the middle. We wandered around the Walnut Festival, hiding in corners, smoking cigarettes, looking for stuff to do.Throughout my childhood years, growing up beneath the shadow of Mt. Diablo in the California suburb of Walnut Creek, I watched the rolling hills and valleys mushroom with tract homes and strip malls, and to me and my teenage friends, they were the blandest, saddest homes in the world. The Haight Ashbury counter culture, existing no less than 20 miles from my suburban enclave, along with the anti-war and civil rights movements, called out to us, standing in sharp contrast to the bland uniformity of life in the suburbs.
I left for the city at 17, in 1971, when the two lane road to San Francisco became four lanes. I looked back in my late teens and early twenties to make these photographs about my suburban roots. My photographs are from various suburban communities around the San Francisco Bay Area, predominately the East Bay, including Walnut Creek, and the North Bay counties of Marin and Sonoma.
For me, the resonance is both eerie and meaningful in how the pictures I made earlier in my life are pertinent to the moment we’re living through now. The land of fire and drought that I photographed in the 1970s today is ablaze, with 28 major fires burning throughout the state. As I look outside my window in Berkeley, California, the sky is orange, and we are in day 25 of unhealthy air quality due to the smoke. The American dream as embodied in the California suburbs is imperilled by a climate in crisis.