Sam Contis’ Deep Springs College photographs in Berkeley, California
Will Ross, June 29, 2017
The state of California is renowned for its density of public and private colleges, including a number of world-class institutions speckling the San Andreas Fault. Further inland, east of Sequoia National Park and north of Death Valley, Deep Springs College remains a unique place and also America’s last outpost for all-male higher education.
Combining Socratic ideals with manual labor on the border with Nevada isn’t easy to scale. Despite being founded 100 years ago, Deep Springs has only 25 students. Seven-week academic terms are taken by all, with the intention that students remain within the Deep Springs Valley for the duration.
The isolation within a harsh climate emphasises the supposed masculinity of ranch life, something photographer Sam Contis is trying to question. Images of the variety of roles played by the students speak to the mutability of gender, even in settings that are defined by their frontiersman history.
Featured in a brilliant article by Eric Benson in The California Sunday Magazine, the emerging Bay Area photographer visited Deep Springs between 2013 and 2014, shooting a collection of photographs that make up an exhibition at the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
Contis’ photographs capture a breadth of situations, from broad landscapes and demanding terrain, to the numerous scenarios that make being a student at Deep Springs such an outstanding experience. The sheer isolation of the place means that students exist beyond the confines of busy campus life, allowed to largely define the institution’s rules, intake and even the future faculty members.
If you can’t get the Berkeley show before August 27th, certainly glance over Benson’s article.
Header photo: View from Gilbert Pass (2014)