In these award-winning images, we are introduced to the different characters who make up the squatter community of Slab City, a group of people living off grid in the Sonoran Desert in the US. Braving the elements to reimagine existence outside the confines of mainstream society, these intimate portraits speak to the harsh realities of lives lived under the heat of the desert sun.
Driven out of Babylon (otherwise known as city life on the grid) and chased by the authorities and their own personal demons, these pioneering Americans make their homes in the harshest corners of the Sonoran Desert, on the edge of the dying Salton Sea.
Desert Dweller is an analog long-form personal documentary project that explores the squatter community of Slab City - an off grid bunch of felons, artists, veterans, and impoverished Americans living on the remains of a WWII marine base in the Sonoran Desert, California.
Slabbers are a motley crew. The year-round population is modest. Roughy fifty stay through July and August when temperatures are mercurial and even rattlesnakes seek the shade of campers.
Their ability to endure inhuman conditions year after year is matched only by a shared distaste for the gridded boiler-plate of life. Many are on SSI, SSDI, or just plain broke. Modern American pioneers, claiming their slab and declaring themselves master. A free range society of feral folks occupying a chunk of desert in Southern California.
— Daniel Skwarna
Why the Critics selected this work
Daniel Skwarna’s riveting portraits of desert dwellers living off the grid without modern-day conveniences bring to light the beliefs and conventions of a subculture outside the mainstream. The trust between the artist and those he photographs is palpable, resulting in images of strong authenticity and respectful humanity. Set against the harsh Sonoran Desert, we can almost feel the dry heat and dust in his stunningly intimate portraits.
—Ada Takahashi, Principal, Robert Koch Gallery
The aesthetic of Mad Max isn’t far from reality. Daniel Skwarna’s works, both color (as in this series) and black-and-white, reflect the energy of anarchism and tender pleasure of its moments. His images stir up jealousy in the viewer to be there, to feel and experience what the photographer has. His art is full of empathy; he makes the smells and noises continue to exist (still hot) in the images.
—Irina Chmyreva, Art Director, PhotoVisa International Festival of Photography