King Clone Creosote, desert sunset
Video Sustainability

San Diego State Professor Displays Vibrant Side of Desert Life

Ryan ZumMallen


King Clone Creosote, desert sunset

The "King Clone" creosote in the south Mojave Desert is one of the oldest living organisms on earth. ​Photo courtesy of Kim Stringfellow


Kim Stringfellow sees things in layers.

In the desert of the American southwest that has served as the backdrop for much of her life's work, she sees more than barren land and endless horizons. "A lot of people will only experience it driving through it, in their air conditioning," she says.

Instead, her countless forays into the desert have left Stringfellow with vivid impressions. She sees struggle and triumph, environment and technology, solitude and encroaching development. The methods she used to express her research include journalism, visual arts, archaeology. The idea is to deliver greater depth and dimension to an area that isn't as flat as it seems.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Stringfellow even suggests a new layer to the STEM disciplines, science, technology, engineering and mathematics: "STEAM is when you add 'art' to that," she says.

Art, after all, is the center of the Venn diagram of her life, linking all Stringfellow's work together.

Classically trained with an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she now teaches in the School of Art and Design at San Diego State University, bringing her expertise and critically-acclaimed work to the next generation of CSU students.

In 2015, Stringfellow was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for Photography. She took a year-long sabbatical from San Diego State to work on The Mojave Project, a "transmedia documentary" of the rich history of the Mojave Desert.

The project is being published in a series of short reports—Stringfellow calls them "field dispatches" and is about halfway through her planned total of 48—in partnership with TV station KCET.

"A Place for Life"

Her time in the desert has introduced Stringfellow to fascinating discoveries and people.

"It's a very contemporary subject, it's endless in terms of things that I can talk about," she says. "It's one of these places that, because it's so extreme, it takes a certain type of person that wants to participate in that."


Stringfellow will continue to research and report The Mojave Project, but luckily for students, she's back on campus this fall. San Diego State provides a welcome diversity of experiences and perspectives for this California native, who has made social justice and equality important parts of her work.

A past audio project called Invisible-5 brought her attention to disenfranchised populations that live in remote areas along Interstate 5, which runs between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Stringfellow says their version of the area's history often goes untold. "There's a stigma attached to places where everything is called devils," she says, pointing out well-known landmarks like Death Valley and Devil's Playground. Not far away lie Badwater Basin, Furnace Creek and the Funeral Mountains.

"It's not a place of death for them, it's a place for life."

Photos and video courtesy of Kim Stringfellow and The Mojave Project

Faculty; Leadership; Underrepresented Communities