American, born December 1953
Born in Berkeley, and raised in the suburb of Walnut Creek, Mimi Plumb received her Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1986. She has taught photography nationally and regionally, including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Art Institute, Stanford University, and San Jose State University. Over the years, Mimi Plumb has explored a wide range of subjects, from her suburban roots in The White Sky to the United Farmworkers as they organized for union elections in the fields. Other series, Landfall and The Golden City, photographs from the 1980s, picture an American dystopia.
In 2019 the Robert Koch Gallery exhibited Landfall, an uneasy view into a world seemingly under threat and on the brink of nuclear war. Mimi Plumb’s dystopian images provide the viewer with a narrative that is as much ominous as it is seductively mesmerizing and compassionately human. Landfall exquisitely interweaves through strangely alluringly peculiar landscapes, video arcades, dioramas, and mysterious charred house fire remnants, to beautifully composed flash-lit portraits of friends and strangers — offering a view into a time of extreme disquietude and intrinsic humanism. Of the work Plumb says, “Years later the burnt lamp reminded me of when I was 9 years old, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, my mother told me there might be a nuclear war. For a period of time I would wake up in the middle of the night to repeatedly look at the hallway clock, and worried about not sleeping. At school, my classmates and I practiced getting under our desks.” Plumb’s masterful images, though set in the 1980’s, are poignantly timely in present times.
Exhibited at the gallery in 2021, The White Sky series includes works taken by the artist in the 1970s in her hometown of Walnut Creek and surrounding Bay Area. The series expounds evocatively on the peculiar banality of Californian suburban sprawl, touching on candid narratives of youthful summertime wanderlust. The resulting eerily compelling images lead the viewer through tangential story lines that are at once mysterious yet familiar.
In 2018 TBW Books published Landfall, a seminal monograph of Plumb’s work from the 1980’s that was selected by a number of critical sources as one of the best photography books of 2018, including publisher Michael Mack. Her second monograph, The White Sky, was published in 2021 by Stanley/Barker, and was also a critical success, once again being named one of the best photography books of the year by a number of critics and photography world heavyweights. The Golden City, was published in 2021 by Stanley/Barker.
Each summer from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the acclaimed photographer travelled to Kings Canyon, a wilderness where she communed with a band of horses. Plumb would come to produce Megalith-Still, a series of portraits of the herd, imbued with a deep tenderness, and powerful physic weight. Mimi Plumb comments on the work, ““I am in a meadow high in the Sierra Nevada. Channels of the San Joaquin River braid through the thick, lush grass. I take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pants and wade through the shallow water to where the horses are now eating. They trace a pattern, mysterious to me, around and around the meadow, eating, drinking, and sleeping.” In 2023 Stanley/Barker published Megalith-Still. Three-quarter bound in a uniquely tactile fibrous wool paper (produced using surplus from the fashion industry) and expertly printed in tritone
Mimi Plumb’s photographs are held in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Pier 24 Photography; the Deutsche Börse Foundation; the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Yale University Art Gallery, among others. Her various projects have received grants and fellowships from the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship (2017), the California Humanities (2015), the California Arts Council (1989-90), the James D. Phelan Art Award in Photography (1985-86), and the Marin Arts Council (1999-2000). In 2022 Mimi Plumb was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.