Palm Springs Modernism Week according to photographers Tom Blachford and Kate Ballis

Kate Ballis Palm Springs Tennis club swimming pool
Infra-realism image of Palm Springs Tennis Club
(Image credit: Kate Ballis)

Photographers Tom Blachford and Kate Ballis are both enthralled by Palm Springs and midcentury modern architecture. Their popular photographic series focussing on the desert town include Midnight Modern (opens in new tab) (Blachford), and Infra Realism (opens in new tab) (Ballis).

The pair first travelled to Palm Springs together in 2013. Inspired by the photography of Slim Aarons and William Eggleston, they took a diversion following a trip to Cuba, before flying out of LA. ‘We were both in awe of the midcentury architecture, and how the majestic mountains looked like a movie set! Such a time warp!’ recalls Ballis.

Here’s their Palm Springs hit-list of places to visit while in town, plus some tips on how to capture its palm-fringed beauty...

W*: Which iconic house would you urge Modernism Week visitors to see and why?
TB: The Frey II house (opens in new tab) on the hill, it is rarely open for tours any time other than Modernism Week and it is one of the coolest houses in town.

W*: Do you have any Palm Springs Modernism week 2019 highlights?
KB: My work is being shown at Art Palm Springs [15-18 February, Palm Springs Convention Center, Garis and Hahn Gallery, booth 205] alongside many great artists from around the world.
TB: Download the PS-MODCOM app for an overview of all the areas. You should aim to hit them all, but my favourite streets are N. Rose and N. High in Vista Las Palmas and Apache in Twin Palms.

House with wooden furniture and yellow curtains

(Image credit: TBC)

W*: Where do you stay when you’re in Palm Springs?
TB: Friend’s houses, but if we had to choose the Ace or the Parker (opens in new tab).

W*: Which restaurants do you recommend?
KB: Birba for pizza and pasta. But we also recommend Sandfish for sushi, and My Lyons steak house or Palm Greens for health food if you’ve eaten too many burgers.

W*: Where’s your favourite cocktail spot?
TB: Melvyn’s. It’s a timewarp that takes you back to the Rat Pack heyday of Palm Springs.

House with stone wall and glass door

(Image credit: TBC)

W*: What are your tips for photographing a midcentury modern house?
TB: If you’re photographing the whole house, keep your lines straight and either pick a perspective that shows the two sides of the house or shoot it straight on. If you want to focus on details get tight and try to capture the light and shadow, which is so dynamic and amazing in Palm Springs.

W*: How do you best capture the climate and atmosphere of Palm Springs through a photograph?
KB: The light is the most magical thing about Palm Springs! It changes all day, and all year. Try to capture that.

W*: Do you have any tips for others to find their unique perspective of Palm Springs?
TB: For us it was a simple twist to take a recognisable and predictable scene and capture it in an unpredictable way. Keep it simple but try to find an approach that creates surprises out of the expected.

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.