Stephen Ross Goldstein’s Stark Photos of Rural California

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Stephen Ross Goldstein
The Oak EchoesPhotography by Stephen Ross Goldstein

The Arizona-born photographer tours the American West capturing evocative landscapes and portraits in black and white. “I am showing my audience my world,” he says

“Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse,” writes Joan Didion in her essay Los Angeles Notebook, “and the wind shows us how close to the edge we are.” Photographer Stephen Ross Goldstein has been capturing the rolling hills, fertile valleys and local workpeople of California’s rural landscape for little over a year, since he moved west to start a new life and discover the community. Born and raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, the photographer’s ongoing series, The Oak Echoes, documents these travels through Los Angeles from the serene coast to mountains – its rustic and tranquil sights are captured alongside friends and strangers in unadorned black and white. “Some people may find my photographs depressing,” says Goldstein. “This is not intentional.” 

“I was into the outdoors growing up and when I began to have a camera in hand, I was drawn to remote places,” Goldstein explains over email. “Growing up, my parents had a summer place in Prescott, Arizona. We would drive from Phoenix and I would stare out the window at the vast southwest landscape. I believe this is my origin story – or however you want to call it.” His love for the outdoors and the people that inhabit it only grew greater with age, and treading these unknown territories has led to memorable encounters. “I once captured a portrait of an older man leaning on a white fence in front of a white house while on an almost 3,000-mile northern California road trip in 2021. I was in this ‘ghost town’, a town very very few people live in, then I thought I saw someone’s shadow in a house. A man came out talking to me and he told me his name was Chick. We talked about the Redwoods for an hour.”

Goldstein approaches his portraiture with a similarly sensitive purity as his landscapes, capturing the stoic faces of rural folk aged by the abundant sunlight. “For years I’ve been trying to think of words to describe the type of person I like to photograph – I don’t have them yet,” says Goldstein. “I would say I am drawn to people who work on the land, artists, and people in rural places.” The dedicated workers, often guardians of the rural landscapes, embody the spirit of resilience and deep connection to the land, and Goldstein’s images celebrate the intricate relationship between the land and the dedicated individuals who toil upon it. “I want my photographs to move people. I want my work to be evocative.”