Editor’s Note: IMG MGMT is a series of image-based essays by artists. This week’s invited artist, Jesse Sugarmann is an interdisciplinary artist engaged with the automotive industry. He received a 2012 Creative Capital film/video grant; with it, he started a lease on the last remaining Pontiac car dealership in Pontiac, Michigan. He lives in Bakersfield, California.
Bakersfield sits isolated in California’s picturesque San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by mountains on three sides, and farmland on the fourth. It’s a decent sized city. Half a million people live here in the sprawl, three being me, my wife and my child. We relocated from Oregon three years ago and soon became acquainted with Bakersfield’s biggest commodity: smog.
Bakersfield has the worst air in the United States. Thanks to California’s agricultural and oil industries, we live on a vast, smog-filled horizon. It’s the most unique, dense brown I’ve ever seen.
There’s no clear way for smog to exit the lower half of the San Joaquin Valley. Smog simply collects, trapped by mountains until extinguished by rain. The density of smog in Bakersfield offers a visible calculation of how long it’s been since it last rained.
2013 was the driest year in California history, and thus this winter’s smog is special, the densest in memory. Bakersfield’s smog has now transitioned from an air quality issue to a material presence, having attained mass and form. Initially obscuring the mountains, the smog has now become the mountains, offering a proxy skyline.
I have lived with this smog long enough that I have begun to see it objectively. I’ve come to appreciate smog’s form, and beauty; that’s why I’ve learned to mute the idea that smog is slowly killing me. I see it now as a sort of tsunami that I know is coming, but I plan to skip out from under it just in time.
IMG MGMT is made possible through support from the Joan Mitchell Foundation.