Landscapes of Transformation

In this book of photographs and essays, noted visual artist Lewis deSoto explores his birthplace and ancestral Cahuilla homeland, the “marvelous and abject” landscape of Southern California’s Inland Empire. Sixty intimate photos capture the paradoxes of the region’s deserts, lushly manicured lawns, freeways, and inland sea. Punctuating these single-frame images are panoramas of landscapes that capture infinitudes of detail. DeSoto’s captions unpack these panoramic shots, revealing their geologic, social, and cultural significance.

But beyond captions, Empire marks deSoto’s emergence as a nonfiction writer. Eight essays meditate on a youth spent in regions including San Bernardino, mountainous Highway 18, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, and Palm Springs. DeSoto’s elegant prose marks these places as locales of rich history, industrialization, sharp social strata, as well as sites of deep personal transformation. Taken as a whole, this is the work of an established artist and the dawn of a new literary voice: one that both assembles, piece by piece, a picture of a specific place, and deconstructs the complexities of home.

Advance Praise

“Remarkable photos of the area of Southern California that I spend much time in.”—Ed Ruscha


EMPIRE's approach combines a literary and artistic perspective, creating a photo essay recommended both for arts and photography collections.”—Donovan's Literary Services

About the Author

Lewis deSoto, an artist of Cahuilla ancestry, grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire. His photography, sculpture, and visual and sound installations have been exhibited across the United States and throughout the world. His work is included in major museum, corporate, and private collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Seattle Art Museum; and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. DeSoto holds an MFA from Claremont Graduate University and is a professor of art at San Francisco State University.

Paul Chaat Smith is the author of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (with coauthor Robert Allen Warrior) and Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong. Smith is a member of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma. He joined the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2001, where he serves as associate curator.

Sant Khalsa is an artist and curator whose projects develop from her inquiry into the nature of place and critical environmental and societal issues in the American West. Her artworks are widely exhibited, collected, and published internationally. She is a professor of art emerita at California State University, San Bernardino.