Adam Ianniello’s series captures the “strange and unknown beauty” of Bombay Beach, California
The photographer has been documenting the unique Californian town since 2016, captivated by its both “ever-evolving and stagnant” nature.
- Ruby Boddington
- 16 March 2020
“Photography has this ability to change the way you see the world,” says Adam Ianniello. “It’s corny to say, but if you look at enough photographs of trees by Eugène Atget, you will start to see trees differently. It’s almost as if they didn’t exist before.” Based in Los Angeles but originally from New York, Adam’s photographic projects tend to focus on place and atmosphere, relying on chance encounters and serendipity.
In the past, he’s documented Mongolia for Vogue, for example, as well as a park in LA as a part of a personal project. “I usually stumble across a place with a certain mysterious energy that rings true to me,” he says. “It usually takes one photograph early on that surprises me or changes the way I see to serve as a guide to returning and making work around that place.”
In 2016, Adam’s search for chance encounters took him to Bombay Beach, a small town on the edge of the Salton Sea in the heart of the Californian desert. In the 1950s, the area was a popular resort town where people from LA would come to jet ski, fish and enjoy their weekends. Today, echoing the position much of the world finds itself in during these strange times, Bombay Beach “looks more like a post-apocalyptic landscape,” Adam says. “The town is rundown, battered by the desert, the saline air, and the toxic water. Skeletons of dead fish line the sides of the beach.”
When Adam first visited, Donald Trump has just been elected and the EPA’s (the US’ Environmental Protection Agency) funding had just been slashed. “Like many people at the time, I felt uncertainty about the state of our environment and its future. That’s what initially drew me to Bombay Beach, although it’s not exactly what I found when I got there,” Adam says. What met Adam was a “strange and unknown beauty in the way the light reflected off the sickly-green sea. It felt like a very weird dream.”
This sense of beauty in oddness, or in unexpected places, forms much of Adam’s portfolio, as he gravitates towards images which maintain a sense of serenity, wholeness and mystery. “People say there’s a pervading sense of loneliness or melancholy throughout my work as I am very interested in the individual or a singular subject,” he explains. Yet it is beauty, “in its roughest form” which pervades throughout his work.
GalleryAdam Ianniello: Bombay Beach
During a shoot on the shores of Bombay Beach, where Adam was cataloguing objects, animals and birds, a local resident approached him and asked what he was doing. “After speaking to him for a while, I learned that he had moved there in the 80s after a run-in with the law. He had concerns about the way Los Angeles was moving. It became sort of an escape for him,” Adam recalls. Further investigation revealed that this was the case for many of Bombay Beach’s inhabitants and, over time, the photographer would come to learn how some places “start to resemble the faces that live in them,” in a revelation of the “connection between place and psyche.”
Over the next two years, Adam returned to Bombay Beach every few weeks. “Each time I returned I would bring some of the photographs I had developed so I could use them to approach new people,” but also to show to those pictured. Many of them hadn’t seen a photograph of themselves for a long, long time and “watching them see themselves was really inspiring,” Adam says. “Sharing my work with the town’s residents was really a staple of the project, and informed me going forward.”
Ultimately, Adam describes his fascination with Bombay Beach as being due to its juxtaposing “ever-evolving and stagnant” nature. “Each time I would go, I would photograph something – an object or a series of objects that were placed in a certain way by somebody. Then I would go back and that object would be halfway across town, like a TV someone had pulled apart and played with,” he describes. “You can see this all over the place. From the outside, it looks like a frozen ghost town, but it is always changing and moving in small ways. You just have to be there to notice them.”
In this context, it makes sense when Adam tells us what it is that keeps him so excited about his chosen medium: “At its heart, photography is a way for me to step outside my internal world and to approach people and places I would never feel comfortable exploring without a camera.”
GalleryAdam Ianniello: Bombay Beach
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.