Love Letter to Rachelle Mendez

Photograph of a row of seven tall, rectangular hedges lining the edge of what seems to be a parking lot, each with slightly different amounts of stray, untrimmed branches. Behind the shrubbery, industrial walls of various heights and colors compose the background. A single, blurred tire track is streaked across the concrete.
Rachelle Mendez, A Newer Topographic #4; Indio California, 2017. Lightjet Kodak Endura C-Print, 22 x 18 inches. Courtesy of Rachelle Mendez.

Right now, I live in the suburbs. I linger in the cookie-cutter landscape of Orange County strip malls and office parks, surrounded by the blocky, sprawling institutional architecture of suburban America. In 2011, the LA Times wrote an article about my city finally approving homes in colors other than beige. As I make my way through the identical edifices of a planned community, I’ve been trying to see in my surroundings the accidental loveliness that photographer Rachelle Mendez captured in her series “Minimal Hardscapes of Southern California.”

There’s a playful, subversive geometry that Mendez uses to frame her photographs, transforming buildings and street corners into Mondrianesque blocks of color. The various grays and beiges of the commuter belt become visually interesting hues in their own right, anonymous rectangles of suburban structures arranged with geometric precision. Her eye turns faded paint and scuffed concrete into something sublime.

In A Newer Topographic #4; Indio California (2017), Mendez matches the pale gray of an easily-overlooked building to the off-white of an overcast sky. She turns a stray tire track into a daub of stark black contrast and the faded line of a sidewalk curb into a desaturated ribbon of red. Looking at it, I’m struck by the same shrubs that can be found in corporate parks all over California. The scant bits of greenery are a mere concession to visual comfort, but Mendez captures the way stray leaves escape their recessed alcoves—a sign that, even in suburban Southern California, nature can never be entirely contained.