CNN Photos

'The Good Life Goes On' in Palm Springs

Allison Love, CNNUpdated 2nd January 2017
(CNN) — Nestled on the western edge of the Coachella Valley and surrounded by mountains, Palm Springs, California, remains as picturesque as ever. The mountains block clouds and pollution, and the sky always seems to be a bright, clear blue. The city's unique architecture with vibrant colors make it an internationally recognized resort town, but it's a place many call home.
That includes photographer Nancy Baron. She began living in Palm Springs part-time in 2005 and has come to view the city as a fountain of endless inspiration.
"It's a place that exists both as a fantasy and an actual place," Baron said. "I was really struck by how different it was from the city I experienced as a tourist. That really fascinated me -- the rich life beyond the resorts and the main street. For a small town, there are endless opportunities for discovery."
The city of Palm Springs was first developed in the 1930s, and became a popular destination for Hollywood stars, but it wasn't until the 1950s that it gained wider appeal, evolving in the process into the image of the American Dream. The Alexander Construction Co. built more than 2,000 modern, stylish and affordable tract homes that opened this "desert paradise" to the middle class. Today, these Alexander homes are revered.
Photographer Nancy Baron
Nancy Baron
Baron has been photographing life in Palm Springs with a "hopeful bias" for the last eight years. Recently, she turned her camera to the tight-knit community of mid-century modern style enthusiasts. In her series "Palm Springs > The Good Life Goes On," Baron focuses on city residents who live in Alexander or other mid-century modern homes, drive vintage cars and wear vintage clothes.
"I'm focusing more on this community and the way they are sort of reenacting a time that they feel is a gentler time, particularly in American history," Baron said. "Passion for the lifestyle and design of the time really is a bonding factor."
Baron's photographs capture that passion -- you can see how committed her subjects are to this lifestyle. The women wear colorful, printed dresses and their homes are immaculately styled with mid-century furniture, as if springing from a design catalog from the 1950s. Homes were made to accommodate an indoor-outdoor lifestyle and there's a seamlessness in the way one moves from inside the house to a large backyard and pool.
"Typically the people who live here are coming from other places and it's interesting to find out what brought them here and how they experience it," she said. "They're very much in love with their home."
Baron notes that many of the scenes she photographs look set up, but in fact that's how she finds them.
"People are so dedicated to design and to this lifestyle," she said. "They live it and it's there to be seen. A couple who lives there tells me 'It's always ready to show.' I was a stylist at one time and I couldn't style it any more perfectly."
Although the scenes in Baron's images evoke a certain retro perfection, they aren't stiff and stuffy. Her photos are personal; the homes in them are lived in. Things like the dog standing in the doorway of a vintage trailer, a party hat sitting on a bedside table, a woman dipping her toes into a pool add layers of personality and make the lifestyle seem more accessible.
"I like for there to be a little something human, personal, unusual about the image," Baron said.
Baron says her documentation of life in Palm Springs is ongoing.
"I keep finding things!" she said.
There's a "magical" feeling to the city that she says keeps her coming back.
"(My work) is a love poem to my second home of Palm Springs. It's a freeing place," Baron said. "People often ask me, 'Is everyone quirky there? How do you find these people?' The atmosphere and the beautiful climate and the ease of lifestyle just enables people to be what they want to be."
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