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Talia Herman

West County

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This photo essay is of western Sonoma County in rural Northern California. Central to this story is Guerneville, a former logging and current resort town of about 2,400. Located just 60 miles north of the San Francisco Bay Area, Guerneville has been a popular place for people from the city to vacation for over a hundred years. With the descendants of the original logging families still there, the area has evolved into a surprisingly tolerant community that includes a large LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) population and ‘hippie’ counter culture. It is an unlikely place that depends on tourism, viniculture and marijuana for it’s economic health.


Talia Herman is from Guerneville. She earned a BA from Eugene Lang College in New York in 2006 and is currently attending the International Center of Photography’s documentary and photojournalism program in New York.


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Talia Herman


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

31 thoughts on “talia herman – west county”

  1. Well done! The pictures are stunning and shine a little light upon a little known community that thrives with such a diverse population. While one can argue about how interesting these individuals may be or seem, Talia’s ability to capture these subjects in such pure and pristine ways exudes both beauty and photographic excellence and is what the real focal point is, at least for me.

    I really enjoyed your photos Talia!

  2. You obviously know how a good photograph should look like. Maybe you know it so well that some of the connections between the captured moments slipped away from your focus when putting it all together. It doesn’t seem finished. I don’t SEE how these people are connected, besides that they live in the same place. When comparing it to earlier published essays here, like Ara Oshagan – Father:Land, I instantly got the feeling all the people there was very much connected, but not just because they lived in the same place. The visual language worked for the story, not against it.

    Combining some very grainy b/w’s with others that aren’t very grainy doesn’t work for me. Stick with one. The same with b/w and colour. Stick with one. Less is more. When viewing #9 after viewing #7, which are probably my favourites from your work, it just looks awkward that they are in the same essay.

    You could probably make two edits out of this one, and maybe one of those edits would be a stronger leading point towards your final piece.

    Personally I think your coloured work speaks clearer…

  3. Talia

    First I need to say that the captions on most of the images are useless. And if you are going to have your work published and especially in an international online magazine such as BURN, you need to check spelling. Picnic not Picnick.

    I do not really get much from these images that tells me who they are other than they like to get naked and do drugs. Most don’t even tell me what they look like. (With the exception of what I see as some gratuitous nudity. And don’t get me wrong, I generally approve of nudity) But the image of the woman in the bathtub… what is the point? what is this saying about her? That she takes baths?

    The guy showing the tattoo.. Why don’t we see a photo of the guy actually giving himself the tattoo with the GUITAR STRING? Are you kidding? THAT is the photo.

    “Christina moved to NY?” Why do we care? Who is Christina? Why is her moving to NY important to this story?

    I agree with Bjarte in that I can see you have the technical ability to MAKE the photos but I think you are MISSING the photo in many cases. As I said, we know what these people look like but not so much who they are. There is not enough of their environment in these photos. Not enough of a sense of place. And it seems to me from your statement that this is supposed to be just as much about Guerneville as the people there. Step back a bit from the subject and give them some context.

    I think number 15 is the best example of the environment and the mixture of the people in the town. But I want to see more of the “tolerant” community interacting with the LGBT community. Supposedly that is what makes this place what it is, correct?

    There is a story to be had here and I think it can be a damn good one. Don’t give up. Keep shooting and getting into these people’s lives. It will come together.

  4. I like a lot of the shots in this essay. (#1,4,5,6 8, 12, 15,17) I am also happy to see a mixture of colour and black and white and other stylistic variations. But I find your cover shot and most of the black and whites very flat. It’s the problem of sequencing that I find struggles to hold this essay together, especially the first three shots which seem radically unrelated, though perhaps you were trying to set up the outposts so to speak. I wouldn’t do it that way. I’d rather lead the viewer along gradually than jerk them around. ;-)

    “With the descendants of the original logging families still there, the area has evolved into a surprisingly tolerant community that includes a large LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) population and ‘hippie’ counter culture. It is an unlikely place that depends on tourism, viniculture and marijuana for it’s economic health.”

    Agreeing with Pete, I’d suggest to make it a more interesting essay, include more examples of all the elements of this sentence which are currently missing from your essay. This will demonstrate the tolerance you speak of.

  5. I think there’s an excellent photo essay in there somewhere about small town America struggling to get out and tell its story, but it’s got quite a ways to go before it gets there.

    And what’s up with the detour to the beach in Israel? Did I read that right? Is that some kind of joke? If so, it’s a good one. If not, what the fuck’s it doing there?

  6. I have passed thru Guerneville. Never knew much about it. I learned more from your statement that I did from the photos. Liked a bunch of the images but as an essay? Ehhh…

    As I watched I found myself more interested in wondering what the comments would say than in what your photos were saying. Think about distance…for me it felt like you were either too close or too far away in several of the shots.

    You’ve got a good project ahead if you stick with it. I hope you do.

  7. The LGBT community is very interesting subject for essay photography, But in this essay I don’t see nothing too much interesting. especially if author have a permmision for shooting what is not as obvious.

    And I just visited your website Talia, this essay looks much much better on your website. Do not undrestand why some pictures are in colour and some not. But a few strong pictures you have.

    For me this pictures are first step. first pictures told us there is something interestion, now you have a photo essay with it.

  8. There is one criticism here that I will disagree with. I think it is fine to switch from color to black white, fine grain to heavy grain. The texture of life is always switching around us, anyway and in the same day at the same event, our minds can be absorbed in stark black and white and then in color. So I am fine with that.

    And I see some good pics and plenty of signs of talent. But as an essay and a statement of Guerneville, I agree with others here. It does not take me to Guerneville, but rather through a random selection of photos some of which stand on their own but do not seem to me to stand together. I was very puzzled by the girl in the tub. She is quite attractive and the thought of the water running from the spigot and through her legs somewhat maddening, but what is she doing in this essay? Why is she there? How does it advance your essay?

    It was one case when I really wanted to see a caption, to see if perhaps the words could fill in the information for me and cause me to see the logic of it, but there was no caption.

    Of course, the thought also strikes me that, seeing as how your essay was chosen for such an excellent online magazine as Burn, that perhaps you have taken a step beyond my vision and I just fail to see what a more savvy mind would grasp.

    I don’t think so, but the thought strikes me.

    But I hope you do not let my words or those of anyone else here discourage you. You have talent and a good eye. Keep at it. You will find your vision. And if you find it, or have already found it, and some of us fail to see it, that is okay, too.


  9. I’d like to see this essay deepened and continued in color when you return home to Guerneville – I can see it’s possibilities..I’d suggest you allow yourself to be “clean/stylized” in the way you are (to my eyes) in certain of the color images. It creates an additional, nearing conceptual, dimension to the work..

  10. it just seems too much of a mish mash of too many styles and looks. Some shots were good but there was no real continuity here. An essay should LOOK like an essay first. This looks like a collection of photos from 10 different people. Developing your own visual language is important. Or at least keeping the same language for one essay.

  11. Did not touch me at all, did not provide enough to even care, or wanting to know more. However appreciate your access to photograph people in those situations but unfortunately not strong enough for me.

  12. Talia

    Congratulations for being published here.

    These images spoke to me when I first viewed them.

    These are personal images. I’m not sure if that was your intent, but that is how I read them. I’m reminded in some ways of Robert Franks “Lines of my hand”, which is very personal. I suspect that much of the context is available only to you and your subjects. I see you not as an observer and reporter, but as a piece of the scene. My reading is that you are intimately connected with these people, and with the life depicted. This is a little photo album.

    Wether deliberate or not, this set of photographs is also a snapshot into a segment of early 21st century generation “Y” culture. A friend of mine’s 20-something grandaughter told her that her’s is the “why bother” generation. There is a live for the moment attitude perhaps bordering hedonism. An extremely casual attitude towards drugs, alcohol and sex.

    This stuff looks all very familiar, and conjures snapshots of my youth, and from more recently watching the lives of my children and their friends unfold.

    I think you are very much on to something worth exploring.

    Regarding some of the criticisms here, I think there are some valid points. There certainly are a variety of “looks”. I suspect this is the result of the desire to explore the medium a bit. You are still developing your voice.

    I’d love to see more.

  13. Uffff!!!
    I am struggling.
    A heavy easy piece of cake.
    My visual literacy is certainly put to a test.

    I think my main problem is the scope of the story. Okay I understand that all the images were taken in one village or town, but I feel it is difficult to bring this all together in my poor brain. And then a “Russian river”??? Boy, you had my head burning.
    At the same time I see some great images in this essay. I like the sequence of images 4 5 6 7 8 9. This is what I feel works best for me. Picture number 10 is great for this unique perspective and light. I like that one a lot! Image 17 is a wonderful, mysterious shot and certainly stands as a contrast to the surrounding pretty rough b&w images.

    Glad you showed these images here on burn. Certainly a challenge for most viewers here. But hey, why not?
    Talia, no doubt you are a fine photographer, who provides us with new perspectives!
    Thank you!!! Keep going and please just think of my poor brain once in a while ;-)

  14. Talia,

    I like your style, the subject you’ve chosen and your approach to it.
    Only thing lacking is a coherent story line, to connect all the pictures in one meaningful body of work. Right now, it feels more like these are fragments of a project to be.
    Keep working on it. It has potential.

  15. I’m sorry, but this essay didn’t do much for me at all actually… I thought the images felt unattached to one-another… some of the shots were maybe meant to be shocking, but just ended up being out of place. It’s too common, or rather, I’ve seen this work often before, none of them spoke to me… besides the last one. Probably because of the overlay, and the grain as well…

    Congrats on being published on burn, and glad to see that some people appreciated this essay, unfortunately, it’s really not something I can appreciate.

  16. Talia,

    I enjoyed many of these images and I think that the subject has good potential for development. What I am lacking is a coherent narrative through the essay – at the moment it feels scattered, the captions seem random and confuse more than illuminate. As your viewer I am left disorientated and cannot make any sense of the pictures… but keep going at it. I agree with Thodoris and would like to offer encouragement; this has potential.


  17. kathleen fonseca


    5, 13, 20..in my mind, poor black and white technique. I agree with Pete when he asks who Christina is and why it matters if she moved to NYC. Is she the same Christina who was being visited by Kevin in photo 7? If so, why is her name spelled Chrystyna in that photo? Like Michael, i also wondered where the Israeli beach came from. I also agree wholeheartedly with those who recommend you proceed with the project in color. Not because i dislike mixing b&w and color but because you seem to feel much more comfortable working in color. And generally, i really like the color photos!

    This essay could be very interesting but it needs a lot of work. Are nudity, drugs, bars and the occasional day at the river pretty much it for this place? Nothing else is happening here? Generally, vacation areas always have a sleazy, hedonistic subculture going on. Nothing new there. What strikes me as interesting and different about this place is the old logging influence COMBINED with the influx of alternative lifestyle types. I personally would be interested to see more photos showing the contrast between the two cultures, if there is one, or more photos like #15 that shows the tolerance you speak of. But not just in bars. How about supermarkets or on the job harvesting pot, whatever. Or else, show enough about the life of certain individuals to make me care about them. Show different moods, concerns, joys, hardships..whatever. I want to care about something or someone here but since you choose mainly to titillate by focusing on the provocative lifestyle choices of these people rather than their personalities i just don’t.

  18. talia

    1. none of the figures in the works has a “full round character” so to speak… the situations mostly are nothing much to write/talk/photograph about etc…
    also, the photographic coherence of the essay is none existent there. mix of too many styles at once etc.

    2. like on the previous essay (with ring fighter guy), i have a very general remark… people here (and there) are not “representatives/exemplary” on their own – seems they have nothing to carry the essay on their shoulders alone . the situations are not exactly exotic, neither very insightful. and in that situation, to make a good photo-essay, it is the photographer that should carry all the weight of a “good” essay with engaging style and manners for emotion and/or for thought.
    bringing personal lives of people without any of those elements (preferably with many of them combined), is questionable especially with today’s media… why? cause we have flickr, facebook, twitter etc today for personal local stuff… it is no more “sexy” to bring remote things cause we are overloaded with everything, and it is not sexy any more to build on “personal” and “local” stuff documentation alone… it could have been many years ago, but not now when every one can photograph and upload to flickr/facebook etc… u have to add something beyond it… u have to add the Artist in u in order to make it interesting (at least to give it a chance).

    now about one supreme photo … #8.
    i think it is one of the best photographs on the theme i have seen. amazing work.
    my interpretation:
    a biblical narrative of adam&eve… and it really puts me in some diversity, cause from one hand, biblical narrative with all its depth belongs to Man and Women story (and this is my belief as well). but from the other hand, my deep liberal beliefs and knowledge of liberalism does overweight here, cause people can honestly be what they are, and all have “natural rights” for narratives that belongs to our culture, even if it sounds strange and controversial to the essence of the narrative itself (fertility part etc). your work here has integrity not provocativeness. the elegancy of apple, the mute erotism, the mini-paradise atmosphere with green plants and water …. super work, elegant, sublime, honest, rich and without typical vulgarity that goes sometimes on these themes etc.

  19. PETE…

    we should have caught the spelling errors….almost everyone has spelling errors in our submissions which is hard for me to imagine given the auto spell check functions on every computer…proof readers earn their keep….wish we had one….as you well know, even the large publications with pro proof readers will catch an error even on third and fourth draft and sometimes into final print…still, no excuse…anyway, to be fixed soonest…a bit harder once in the slide show program captions (i cannot do it), but consider them corrected….thanks for looking…

    cheers, david

  20. I wanna see redwoods….
    the local economy…
    bong hits and bars
    exist everywhere…..
    the logging doesn’t…
    I would focus there,
    in color…..

  21. Sorry to break the one comment rule, which I heartily endorse, but I’m afraid the “wtf” part of my comment above could be misconstrued. I meant it to be light-hearted but see how it could be read as just plain mean. Poor writers such as myself shouldn’t take those kind of chances. I apologize to anyone, particularly Talia, who may have been offended.

    But since I’m here, I’ll comment on the color vs. B&W conversation. My guess is that the color noise in some of the photos was just so aesthetically annoying that the photographer tried to rescue them by dropping the color. I’m basing that speculation on how much color noise there is in the color photos and am a bit surprised no one mentioned it. If the composition is interesting and that’s the only way the photo could have been gotten, I’m ok with the idea of presenting noisy photos taken with high ASA or commercial point-and-shoot cameras that don’t function well in low light. Still, it would be much preferable to light the scene better in the first place. I doubt those would print well at a size much larger than 4 x 6.

  22. Hi Talia,

    Congratulations for being published here. With all the submissions DAH and his crew must be receiving, that is already a big success.

    I have to agree with almost everybody in the fact that this essay lacks coherence and continuity, but like other bunch of people have commented, your eye and technique are really good and you must surely be fine tuning that even more at ICP.

    If you really are as young as I think you are (you graduated in 06), you have a loooong life ahead of you. Just keep working hard and you’ll surely make it.


    By the way…..Civi, where are you???

  23. I love this essay. What people are calling incoherence I take to be a successful attempt at an impressionistic style to tell the story of a youthful halcyon summer. The different styles of shot imply fractured, miscellaneous memories with different emotional associations. It starts, stops, goes in different directions, with names and images in only the barest of contexts but we know plenty enough to get a narrative if we want one. The overall effect is of something being gone before you had time to grasp it or realise what it was – something turning to nostalgia before the hangover is gone. It was actually
    the “Chrystyna moved to New York” image/caption that led me to this reading – the less we know the more the mixture of yearning, endings, optimism, and bitterness comes through. The face in the river is the
    best shot and even the trip to Israel works, though it’s a high-risk strategy, to show what you are attempting. This might be a lightweight reading, but in terms of what you set out to do you’ve achieved a hell of a lot.

    This essay is a story like a Rickie Lee Jones song, and just as cool.

  24. Not sure what Kathleen measn with “poor black and white technique”?

    Save the one(s) too noisy for my taste, at the end, I think many of the monochrome shots are fine, compositionally and “technically” (imagined as print, or considering handling contrast and exposition), the lady in the Bathtub is also a superb shot, as color goes.

    yet, I kinda agree with the nay-sayers, when it comes to being an essay. I do not see much personal in it (maybe another 4th or 5th viewing later will do the trick), just an idea you had, that can stand well but needs more work. Think Goldin, but all within a few days, spent with people she barely knows and walking around town.

    Gee, Gurneville!…. reminds me I haven’t been up the Russian River in over 25 years.

  25. kathleen fonseca


    ¨October 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm
    Not sure what Kathleen measn with “poor black and white technique”? ¨

    To respond: I was referring to photos 5, 13 and 20. Two were too flat and one too oeverexposed, imo. The others were fine. In general, i thought Talia´s color photos were terrific and these particular b&w suffered by comparison.



  26. kathleen fonseca

    oh crap, i also thought i was posting this in Time Out..sorry! Got messed up using my browser´s back button!


  27. Because nobody is saying anything I’ll do it.

    for Jim Powers:

    Before saying something similar you should learn to shot something interesting instead of shooting same thing with different contrast, and if the word boring have a meaning for sure your pictures are this meaning.

    for Pete Marovich:

    Is the spelling really really really important for a deep work such this one? Did you get sooooo much disturbed by some letters in a photographic work? Is that really important to say?
    Have you ever though about what is description and what is story telling?
    Do I need to show you the color of red to give you the feeling of the red color? It’s descriptive what you are saying, and for our luck, this work is not descriptive.

    for Rafal Pruszynski:

    Continuity? So also the work of Antoine D’agata is without contuinity…
    You don’t need always a classic story to tell feeling of place, to tell how a place is, how a place tastes. I think you should see much more photography before doing a comment like that. Look the work of Antoine D’agata about Georgian spring, he has completely different styles for the essay, and they work great.

    for jasmine.lux.:

    I will quote what Jack Kerouac wrote about the book “The Americans” of Robert Frank:
    “If you don’t like those pictures, if you don’t like this poetry, go to watch TV in your home”
    I think is appropriate.

    Anyway, I think this is a great body of work, it works, you just have to go on and don’t stop.
    Is an exploration about you, is inside you and that can be show in the Essay, I think you tough about it a lot, and I know how much is difficult to photograph a place where you have been born, so everything to you seams obvious, but you show it to us, in a extraordinary way.

    Thanks to share it.


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