‘California Elegance’ profiles the people and places who make the state golden

10 February 2021

In the five years writer Christine Suppes and photographer Frederic Aranda spent compiling their new book, “California Elegance: Portraits From the Final Frontier,” they traveled thousands of miles throughout the state, meeting subjects and scouting locations from San Ysidro along the border of Mexico to Yreka near Oregon. While the project began in the collaborators’ minds as a “love letter to the Golden State,” featuring fascinating people and memorable locations, it was always one they knew would be complicated. A particular trip in November 2017 crystallized for them how some of the challenges of the present were dramatically changing life for residents in Northern California.

That year, the region was besieged by destructive wildfires. As Suppes and Aranda drove from her home in Palo Alto to Humboldt for a photo shoot in the Rockefeller Forest, they stopped at a restaurant in Santa Rosa, an area that had been particularly hard hit.

“I wanted to go to businesses that had been closed during the fire; I knew they must be hurting,” says Suppes, who is also the author with Aranda of the 2015 photographic memoir “Electric Fashion.”

What Suppes and Aranda found in Santa Rosa was resilience.

“This was only a couple weeks after the fires, but there were a lot of people there who obviously felt the way I did about it being important to patronize places that had lost business,” Suppes says. “You had this sense they were coming together for each other. They talked about it. It said something to me about who lives here. They were grateful.”

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