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Ken Gonzales-Day with his Erased Lynchings (2000-2020) at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Credit Andrew Harnik, AP Photo.

Ken Gonzales-Day’s interdisciplinary and conceptually grounded photographic projects consider the history of photography, the construction of race, and the limits of representational systems. Gonzales-Day is a Getty scholar and a Terra Foundation and Smithsonian Museum fellow.  In 2018, he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. A former Chair and current professor of art at Scripps College, Gonzales-Day’s exhaustive research and book Lynching in the West, 1850-1935 (2006) led to a re-evaluation of the history of lynching in this country. The book shed light on the little-known history of frontier justice and vigilantism and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Erased Lynchings series of photographs was a product of this research, which revealed that race was a contributing factor in California's own history of lynching and vigilantism, and through which he discovered that the majority of victims were Mexican or, like him, Mexican-American. Gonzales-Day takes the same scholarly approach to his ongoing Profiled series, which looks to the depiction of race and the construction of whiteness in the representation of the human form as points of departure from which to consider the evolution and transformation of Enlightenment ideas about beauty, class, freedom, and progress. The series was awarded the first Photo Arts Council Prize (PAC) by LACMA and documented in a handsome monograph. It is Gonzales-Day’s continual engagement with history and his interest in peeling back the layers that makes his work so powerful and continuously relevant.

Gonzales-Day's work can be found in prominent collections, including: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FL; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Williamson Gallery, Scripps College; Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Pomona College Museum of Art; Eileen Norton Harris Foundation; 21C Museum Hotel, Louisville, KY; City of Los Angeles; and Metropolitan Transit Authority, Los Angeles, among others.

Searching for California Hang Trees

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Nightfall II, a photograph by Ken-Gonzales-Day of hand like tree limbs that arise from twisted roots with a dark background.  It is from his Searching for California Hang Trees series.

Ken Gonzales-Day
Nightfall II, 2006
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
22.5 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
40 x 84 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

 

Ken Gonzales-Day Run Up, 2002

Ken Gonzales-Day
Run Up, 2002
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 75 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day At daylight the miserable man was carried to an oak, 2002

Ken Gonzales-Day
At daylight the miserable man was carried to an oak, 2002
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 75 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Two men were found on a tree, 2005

Ken Gonzales-Day
Two men were found on a tree, 2005
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 75 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Into Eternity, 2007

Ken Gonzales-Day
Into Eternity, 2007
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 43 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 66 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Golden Chain, 2005

Ken Gonzales-Day
Golden Chain, 2005
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 75 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Next morning when Jimmy woke the cowboys were gone, Livermore, CA, 2003

Ken Gonzales-Day
Next morning when Jimmy woke the cowboys were gone, Livermore, CA, 2003
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 75 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Fort Humbolt, Eureka, 2005

Ken Gonzales-Day
Fort Humbolt, Eureka, 2005
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
46 x 36 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
75 x 55 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Old Oregon Trail, 2005

Ken Gonzales-Day
Old Oregon Trail, 2005
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 75 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day About a hundred yards from the road, 2002

Ken Gonzales-Day
About a hundred yards from the road, 2002
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
50 x 62 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day, With none but the omni-present stars to witness, 2002

Ken Gonzales-Day

With none but the omni-present stars to witness, 2002
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
55 x 75 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Near Horintos, 2005

Ken Gonzales-Day
Near Horintos, 2005
Archival ink on fiber rag paper
36 x 46 in. edition of 5, 2 AP
50 x 62 in., edition of 3, 2 AP

Searching for California's Hang Trees (2000 – ongoing) grew out of Gonzales-Day's research into the history of lynching in California and continues to build the most comprehensive record of lynching in California. Searching for California's Hang Trees serves as a physical testimony to Gonzales-Day’s research visits to over 300 alleged lynching sites in California. The images also show the intrusion of time and development, or 'progress', around the trees and upon the landscape: roads, buildings, construction sites – all signifying to a certain extent the idea of the past being buried or covered up – another form of "erasure". 

 

Exclusively employing an antique Deardorff large format camera, the artist engages with the history of landscape photography in California and recalls the legacies of violence associated with US colonialism and Manifest Destiny. Gonzales-Day spent several years researching in local archives and scanning microfilm while making multiple expeditions across the state looking for clues to the little-known history. Though ambitious in scope, the artist places great importance in searching for and finding as many of these sites as possible in order to bear belated historical witness to these locations and contemplate what they represent. The research and records for over 353 cases documented by Gonzales-Day is in no way complete, but has become the most complete list of cases published to date.

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