The work of artist-photographer Kali celebrated in the book collection

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Was Kali?

“She was a West LA mother on the surface who had an incredibly vibrant secret life as a prolific artist and photographer,” says the reporter and documentary maker. Matt Tyrnauer, who wrote the introduction to “Kali,” a new four-volume collection of the artist’s work from powerHouse Books. “In fact, she was an innovator in the art of photography.”

Born in 1932, Joan Archibald – Kali was the name she used for her work – was a young mother on Long Island when she left her husband and her two children in 1964 for Malibu then Palm Springs, where her parents bought her a house that belonged to Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. She processed some of her photos in her swimming pool as she swam in the water filled with ink and finishing agents. However, the work was not discovered by his daughter, Suzanne, and Susan’s ex-husband, photographer Len prince, until Kali’s death in 2019. “With the exception of a tiny and obscure gallery exhibit very early in her career, she never spoke publicly about her art,” says Tyrnauer. “There is so much mystery out there. And the mystery is exacerbated by the fact that she never seemed to talk about her job with anyone, even her daughter.

Among the gems is a 1968 photo of Frank sinatra (above) on a closed circuit television screen in a Palm Springs restaurant and a photo of Richard chamberlain posing with Kali on a Malibu beach. “There’s something very romantic Californian about it,” Tyrnauer says. “It reminds me a lot Jeanne Didion. It’s a bit like a contemporary visual recording from this period that Didion captured so well.

The release of “Kali” coincides with an exhibition of her work at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York.

Kali seemed to have lived most of her life as a recluse. Her family didn’t hear from her for decades, until Susan received a call from a hospital telling her her mother had been diagnosed with dementia. “When she was practicing, photography – certainly early in her career – was hardly considered an art form,” Tyrnauer explains. “Yet she put down a term ‘artography’, which shows you that she considered it art before a lot of people did. That way she was ahead of her time.


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