Discovering Kali, Southern California’s Hidden Photographic Visionary

A few years before Archibald’s death, at 87, her daughter, Susan Archibald, made the big discovery: a series of white American Tourister suitcases crammed full of prints and negatives, almost all of them never seen before. Prince, who had been married to Susan Archibald, says he was “astonished, absolutely floored, by the power and coherence of [this] unseen body of work.” There is a powerful artistic eye, “a kind of point of view on the Southern California of the era that I’d never seen before,” he adds. He and Shahid began to collaborate on a book to introduce Kali’s lost work to the world. The result is a four-volume box set, Kali, out this month from PowerHouse books, for which I have written an introductory monograph. The epic collection is further divided into volumes of Portraits and Landscapes, Polaroids, and, finally, Outer Space. The later work of Kali focuses on UFO sightings, mostly in her backyard, photographed through a series of closed-circuit security camera monitors. In its way, Outer Space is the most powerful of these three volumes. The photos of the alien orbs (not dissimilar from the flying Tic Tacs the U.S. Navy pilots reported seeing over the open seas) are accompanied by Archibald’s hypergraphic illustrated journals, luxuriously printed on vellum, and overlaid on the photos. It’s like a hybrid of Joan Didion and Vivian Maier, with a nod to Leonardo Da Vinci.