For most people, Palm Springs evokes images of a resort town of exquisite homes, glittering swimming pools, lush palm trees, and stunning golf courses situated in the Southern California desert where the rich and famous go to relax and retire. For others, Palm Springs signifies a town that has faded with time along with the passing of a long procession of A-list celebrities that flocked there during the mid 20th century from Hollywood elite like Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball and Bob Hope, to Presidents from Eisenhower to Ford to Reagan.
In The Good Life: Palm Springs (Kehrer, September 2014) American photographer Nancy Baron, who has been a part-time resident of the town for over eight years, cuts through the mystique surrounding this iconic destination to explore a small town with big city sophistication. Her lush images give us an insider’s look at what Palm Springs is all about today. The result is a multi-layered, nuanced and thoughtful portrait of a place that offers something for everyone. These days, the population of
Palm Springs ranges from people living on million dollar estates, to residents on a budget residing in apartments and trailers, to young, upwardly mobile hipsters, who discovered Palm Springs over the past five years and decided to stay.
Further context for Baron’s work and the history of Palm Springs is provided by an opening comment from Nancy Sinatra, a foreword by noted photographer, writer, and curator Aline Smithson, and an essay by architect and visionary modernist, Donald Wexler, who designed many of the most important mid-century buildings in Palm Springs and environs; most notably the Palm Springs International Airport.
Baron’s photographs in this beautifully designed monograph reveal a keen eye, wry sense of humor, and an attention to detail that come together to show us a very real town that is continually reinventing itself. She writes: “I like to discover and document, without judgment, the exotic subculture next door – aiming to capture and celebrate the majesty in worlds that could easily be overlooked, seen as mundane, or otherwise misunderstood.”
Through her portraiture, landscape, and architectural images, Baron takes us on a guided tour of Palm Springs to view open-air homes that celebrate the town’s acclaimed mid-century architecture, the ubiquitous poolsides, an array of vintage cars, golf courses, mobile homes, and more. Her take on the town is sometimes quirky, but always respectful; a woman’s feet in pink shoes hover at the edge of a pool, rubber duckies bob around in a Jacuzzi, a bedroom is lined with leopard wallpaper, a large rock formation seems to force its way through a bedroom window, the arm of a man wearing a timeless red checkered sports jacket protrudes from the window of his matching cherry red sports car, and an outsized silver statue of Atlas poses on a small plot of green in front of a sign that reads “Cocktails.”
In the book’s foreword, Aline Smithson writes “[Baron] recognizes and appreciates the legacy of the city, once a primary destination for Hollywood glitterati and those ready to retire, but is also aware of a current-day Palm Springs, with a renewed appreciation for its lifestyle and architecture. While capturing that nod to the past, she finds a city that is moving into the now.”
A few steps from the resorts and off the main drag, there is a jewel of a small town where people from diverse backgrounds make their homes. Baron’s brilliantly colored images, saturated by the bright desert sun, show us what she sees in this welcoming town that symbolizes the American Dream – hope, determination, and the belief that we are all entitled to The Good Life.
Good Life: Palm Springs
Photographs by Nancy Baron