Berlin-based photographer Nina Raasch has documented the state of California with brilliant finesse. Her new series ‘Listen Through the Lens’ focuses primarily on arresting landscapes and buildings devoid of humanity, with a clear dichotomy in tone: aging, forgotten buildings are set against the wild beauty of the state’s breathtaking scenery, as a reminder of the world that exists beyond our own experience.
‘Listen Through the Lens’ is a visual ode to beauty in the unexpected, with images that maintain a sense of serenity, mystery, and splendour. The photographs were captured all the way from San Francisco down to Joshua Tree, and from the west coast up to the border of Nevada. Embarking on this trip in solitude, Raasch was immediately captivated by California’s varied, beautiful, and melancholic nature. We spoke to her about photographing a different side to California, being confronted by the natural world, and her advice to creatives who are concerned about the future.
“I went on this trip for myself; not wanting to connect with anyone besides my own feelings, thoughts, desires, and fears,” Raasch explains. “Without any real destination, I drove day by day—and to the disappointment of my navigation system, usually off-road and in the other direction,” she laughs. Raasch was positively overwhelmed by the visuals she witnessed, and experienced a constant game of balance in documenting the melancholic, lonely buildings she encountered alongside the state’s stunning natural landforms.
"Maybe it’s a time in life where more people can relate to the stillness of these images"
From snow-capped mountains and beautiful frozen lakes to sunny beaches and the arid desert, there’s something particularly poignant about California’s landscapes. They are truly dazzling and picturesque, and yet, according to climate scientists as cited in the National Geographic, droughts, wildfires, and diseases are threatening to change them forever; echoing the position that much of the world finds itself in during these turbulent times. “Being on the road for weeks, there was no way around not being confronted by that,” Raasch admits. “Frequent fires are part of California’s natural state, but as the temperature continues to rise, the fires burn longer and larger,” she says. “Many of the roads I wanted to travel through were closed due to fires or flooding, and traveling in winter, I experienced crazy and disruptive winds. California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, was created by accident in 1905 and now is completely deserted—a ticking time bomb should it inevitably dry out,” she warns. The lake has begun to emit dust laced with industrial runoff, thereby releasing a torrent of toxic particles into the atmosphere. Once considered an oasis, the sea’s latest incarnation presents as one of the most challenging public health and environmental issues for the region.
Looking at a disparate part of the series, Raasch’s imagery of man-made structures shows a slightly rougher side to California. Deteriorating walls, billboards, and shop facades contradict the picture-perfectCalifornian lifestyle we are fed through mainstream popular culture. Devoid of human presence, her serene images depict the state in an alternative light. Having shot these frames some months ago when life operated differently to the present moment, the focus on place and atmosphere seems more pertinent than ever. “The calm mood I’ve captured, it’s something that sits within me,” Raasch shares. “With regard to the current health and economic crisis, maybe it’s a time in life where more people can relate to the stillness of these images. I hope they are a reminder of the beautiful world waiting for us once all this is over,” she adds.
“In light of current events, I’d ask if time has been spent wisely, and if health and freedom of movement had been used and appreciated to the fullest”
In this context, it makes sense when Raasch tells us what it is she’d say to the earlier, traveling version of herself. “In light of current events, I’d ask if time has been spent wisely, and if health and freedom of movement had been used and appreciated to the fullest,” she states. “I know I always give what that version of myself is able to give that day, and that it’s okay to have slower days, to take time and reflect. The way out of any emotion is through—we are always more clever afterwards but we wouldn’t have got there without first making mistakes and learning from them on the way.” To all of the creatives who are worried about what the future holds, Raasch offers some simple yet valuable advice: “Fear is not going to lead anyone into a good direction. Let’s use these precious moments of time that are given to us right now—because when in life did we ever have this much time just for ourselves?” she asks. “In the end, we’ll come out stronger, with new ideas and clarity on what we want, and knowledge of the kind of person we want to be.”