Exploring Photo Gold at Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum

Museum Entrance

The entrance to the vast collection of sculptures is unassuming but the rewards of exploration are many

I drove out to Joshua Tree to visit a friends art studio,  part of the Hwy 62 Art Tours, where I stumbled upon a goldmine of photo opportunities—Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum is an incredible 7.5 acres of sculptures assembled from found objects, all out in the open and freely accessible. I arrived at 6303 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree, CA not really knowing what to expect. What I found was an amazing treasure of bizarre assemblages, twisted wire wrapped junk, crafted aluminum, car parts, household appliances, indescribable creations in every direction!

Carousel by Noah Purifoy

One of the many structures assembled by Purifoy

Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) was born in Alabama. He moved to Los Angeles in 1953 to study at Chouinard Art Institute, where he was the first African American student to be enrolled full-time. The Watts rebellion in 1965 had a substantial impact on Purifoy’s work, inspiring him to organize Junk Art: 66 Signs of Neon, an exhibition that consisted of artworks made from the debris and junk that littered the urban landscape in the wake of the riots. Purifoy’s long career was marked with exhibitions at museums and galleries throughout California and the United States. In 1989, Noah moved from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree. There he worked on filling his 10 acre property with a tremendous collection of assemblage sculptures that remain a testament to his life’s work.

Theatre Tableaux

Noah Purifoy created an amazing variety of art assemblages that remain undisturbed in the dry desert environment

This strange “Field of Dreams” is completely exposed and freely accessible though rarely visited. I saw only one other person the whole time I was there! Photographers have an incredible range of subject matter that provides great material for HDR renderings—extreme contrast range lighting from direct sunlight mixed with highly textured, weathered materials is a real challenge to capture with normal photo exposures.

Rusted Metal Assemblage

One of the many rusted metal assemblages


Built from material salvaged from a neighbor's house that burned down

I arrived at the location in the late afternoon when the lighting was ideal. The low angle of the light emphasized the textures and gave everything a sort of ominous “ghost town” vibe that had overtones of “Mad Max” post apocalypse! Had I known what riches were to be had here, I would have arranged for more time to explore. As it was, I only managed to see a fraction of the sculptures before we had to drive back to LA.

Decorated Door

There were many decorative door treatments on display.

The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum is a fantastic location for photo exploration. I could see doing a fine art/fashion/environmental portrait workshop out here! The possibilities are endless and I know I will be returning. I found several scenes that became subjects for my project on photo mandalas (more about this in another post).

metal sculpture

An alien torso against the sky? A fitting farewell to the museum site.

I’ve uploaded a Photoset on Flickr, where you can see more details, textures and shadow plays from Noah’s art. For more information about Noah Purifoy and his outdoor art museum contact:

Noah Purifoy Foundation

email: tarashall@att.net

voicemail: 213-382-7516

web: www.noahpurifoy.com