Southern California-based photographer Rhombie Sandoval documents the people of Slab City, California in her series, “East of Jesus.” Often described as “the last free place to live in the United States,” the off-grid community is home—both temporary and long-term—to a variety of people. Shooting with a medium format camera for the first time, Sandoval’s slowed process of collaboration helped her arrive at her approach, describing the series as “a collection of moments in which the image itself is secondary to the experience.” Alongside her photographs, she records anecdotes about her experiences along the way.
“When you seek this lifestyle there is often an association of running away, but I feel it is often misunderstood as those I met were running towards their own happiness,” Sandoval explains. “If you only drive through the Slabs you’ll believe whatever you’ve heard about it, the magic exists when you stop to listen.”
See more from “East of Jesus” below!
“Diana and I used to take the long way to anywhere we were going. As we’d walk she would share stories of her experiences in a way a mother might indirectly give you advice. It often centered around her relationships as she had a couple of brief ones for the duration that I knew her. When a relationship ended, her physical home would become displaced yet her stories became more self-aware. She never seemed sad to lose someone, more so happy to have chosen herself.”
“Jack and I would take turns buying each other our favorite drink for the performances at the Range. Jack lived in San Francisco selling flowers but eventually decided to move to the Slabs to try living off grid. I spent a lot of time drinking tea with him and as he called her, his cat, ‘Lil’ miss Luna.’ On my drives out to the Slabs I would always stop and pick up cat treats for her. Our conversations over tea eventually became a weekly meeting called Tea Time at Jack’s. Luna and I were usually the only ladies. When Luna passed away I think a piece of Jack went with her as well.”
“The hot springs in Slab City quickly became one of my favorite locations. It is a space that provides opportunities to gather with people you have yet to meet. Upon arrival, you’ll often join the crowd and eventually the conversation.
I wanted to make this portrait but as someone who is quite shy I was nervous to attempt this in a crowded space. I expressed this to Miriam, who didn’t hesitate. I followed her lead as she floated to the edge carving out a space for herself. With 15 people around she closed her eyes and granted herself a moment of solitude.”
“Every year at the end of the season, Slab City hosts its own prom. I came across Carol, who at that moment was last year’s prom queen, still wearing her crown. I pulled over to ask if she wanted a ride and photographed her before we took off. Carol’s shadow pointed in the direction we were headed but as the wind picked up she turned around to bask in her last moments of being the Queen.”
“Raven arrived in the Slabs on a bus called The Stray Cafe, she was traveling with 7 others at the time. Together they made communal meals and shared them with anyone who was hungry.”
“Half of the conversation I had with David took place while he bathed in the hot spring and the other half was us just sitting in this little stream. While steering mud across himself he talked to me about his beliefs.”