Sean McFarland

2017 SECA Art Award Recipient

  • A Cyanotype of a photograph of three waterfalls hung on a wall

    Sean McFarland, Three Falls (stand-in), 2014 (detail); courtesy the artist and Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

  • Artwork image, Sean McFarland, Untitled, 2016

    Sean McFarland, Untitled, 2016; photo: courtesy the artist and Casemore Kirkeby

  • A series of gelatin silver prints with a black background and a white orb in the center

    Sean McFarland, Moon (collection), 2011–17; courtesy the artist and Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

Central to the work of Sean McFarland (b. 1976) is the complex and often fraught relationship between photography and the American West, which has resulted in both the exploitation of the land and its preservation. With this history in mind, he explores the tensions between the natural and the artificial and between a subject and its representation. McFarland is interested in our tendency to overlook the ways our experiences of the landscape are mediated, just as we are prone to trust the truth value of photographs even though we know they are not transparent windows on the world. He deftly plays with these slippages, creating pictures that call attention to the fact that they are constructions: he makes moons from bottle caps and mountains from chips of glass, and he uses double exposures and prismatic effects to suggest physical forces that do not typically register in photographs.


Sean McFarland’s work synthesizes two conflicting legacies of California landscape photography: early and mid-twentieth century photographers who created an idyllic image of the region with their ubiquitous pictures of seemingly pristine, untouched wilderness, and those who took as their subject not the mountains and waterfalls of Yosemite but tract home developments and suburban sprawl.

In Conversation

SFMOMA Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Jenny Gheith interviews McFarland in his studio.


Artist Sean McFarland considers why we continuously attempt to capture nature through photography. Unpacking his own photographic works, the 2017 SECA Art Award winner discusses the medium's inherent inadequacy as a means of representing the landscape, as well as the genre's problematic cultural legacies.

Exhibition Catalogue

Download a PDF of the exhibition catalogue essay and conversation with the artist.

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