AN AMERICAN EDGE CASEby Nicholas Alan Cope
“I have mixed feelings about Southern California,” says photographer Nicholas Alan Cope. “Both nostalgia for the time I spent there and a sense of detachment from the scale of it all.” In the late aughts, he shot his then home city of Los Angeles for the book Whitewash (2013), but when, in 2020, he found himself in San Diego, he trained his lens on L.A.’s little neighbor to the south. San Diego is an American edge case. Barely 20 miles from Tijuana, on the Mexican border, and skirting the Pacific coast, the city is a quintessential expression of both the American Dream and its dark and empty flipside — a site of suburban sprawl and military installations, an over-sprinklered bastion against the encroaching desert. With a penchant for the still life, Cope often centers lone objects in sculptural compositions that isolate structures and surfaces. In his detachment of subjects from a legible locale or function — the back of a building, an undistinguished stairwell — Cope reveals his fascination with one building material in particular: stucco. “It reduces a building to its most basic form and I love seeing all the odd decisions architects make in seemingly common buildings.” Through his lens, San Diego and the rest of Southern California comes across as much as its peculiar self as an anonymous nowhere in the generic palm-fronded American West.