CNN Photos

A Slice of America: the 99% on Highway 99

They come as they are: tattoos fading on leathered bodies, 80s style haircuts, eyes staring sideways, perhaps pondering a lost dream or maybe just squinting in the relentless sun that parches California’s central valley.

They are the forgotten ones - the outsiders - residing along Highway 99, which cleaves through 450 miles of mostly lower class, battered farm towns.

It’s not the scenic or glitzy California we imagine the Golden State to be, but these photographs are also not the happy, Facebook profile pictures we think portraits should be.

Photographer Katy Grannan’s gallery “The 99” depicts real, raw, vulnerable people as they are - no facades - just humanity at its core. She’s interested in what’s underneath the surface. Acting akin to a reporter, she gets her subjects to open up and reflect on their lives.

The result is striking photos of pure contemporary melancholy against blown out, bright backgrounds, giving these street portraits a stark, genuine feeling.

“She seems attracted to the demimonde and seeming outcasts, or at least the overlooked. It is that anonymity which makes them compelling,” former dealer W.M. Hunt said of Katy’s work.

Although all the photos are labeled “Anonymous,” Katy knew her subjects well. Over a three-year period Grannan traversed the highway, spending time in the communities, particularly Modesto, getting to know the residents before shooting their portraits.

“She has a tendency to get involved in the lives of her subject on some level. She’s a highly empathetic person and for her there is this aspect of social concern. Any one of us could have been born into a completely different situation,” said Darius Himes, director at the Fraenkel Gallery.

Grannan first got the idea to shoot this particular series deep into the recession when she was travelling between Los Angeles and San Francisco via Highway 99. She was attracted to the bleak, exposed landscape – the paralyzing heat and dried up earth. She thought it was a fitting time to revisit the same locale where Great Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange shot similar portraits during those hard economic times.

The subjects in Grannan’s gallery “The 99” represent California’s gut on Highway 99, but also in a way they represent “the 99%." Himes said. “This is the working class. This is America.”

- Michelle Cohan, CNN