When I first came out here to the low desert five years ago I had no intention of staying here permanently. I had just spent about three years in L.A. to be with my daughter. I planned to go back to Montana, but winter was coming on so I thought I’d spend a winter in the desert and head north in the spring. Little did I know…
That winter stretched into two, and by the second year I knew that I was hooked, that I needed to find a way to make this my permanent home base. Once I made that decision, once I committed to finding a way to live here full-time, and not just camped out in tents for a few months of the year, things fell into place. And here I am.
I also knew that if I wanted to get to know the desert — really know it, really feel it’s power, really connect with it’s powerful spirit, begin to understand it, and get real and honest pictures of it — I needed to accept it and embrace it on it’s terms. Not mine.
I needed to throw off the shackles of a life insulated by artificial comforts and live with the elements as they are — the blistering summer heat, the gale force winter winds that sandblast everything their path. I had to live it to know it, not just view it through a window and only go out when it’s comfortable or convenient. That’s what I’ve been doing. No air conditioning. No artificial heat in the winter. A small solar setup for my minimal electrical needs. Hauling ice and water in every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s the autumn equinox today. It’s still going to be around 100 degrees out here for at least another week, but the cool down is coming. Which is good — I’m getting pretty well heat battered after another summer. Most importantly though I’m getting to know this bare-bones, harsh, stark, uncompromising yet fragile desert. Little by little I’m making a connection. I may even be beginning to understand it. And I’m gradually getting to the point where I can maybe take some real and honest pictures of it. I’m looking forward to that.
Photographing the desert well can be a real challenge. The beauty of it, the starkness, the openness is there for all to see, and countless photos have been made of it. Many are quite good.
The obvious photos aren’t that difficult to do — the brilliant sunsets, the more subtle but equally beautiful sunrises, the 30-mile vistas, the Joshua trees and rock formations here in the area I’m in — these are all pretty easy to get pleasing photos of. But to capture the real soul of the desert, the harshness, the feeling of sparseness, the pace of life in an extreme environment — these aren’t so easy to express visually. You need to take some time to connect with the pulse of the desert, to adopt it’s pace and rhythm. Only then will it begin to reveal it’s power and spirit.
The challenge for me will be to go beyond the obvious, to get beneath the surface, and begin to portray the vital and powerful spirit of the desert through my photographs. Time will tell if it’s a challenge I can meet.
I love the desert. I love it for it’s starkness. I love it for it’s bare-bones, elemental spirit. It can be a harsh, hard-edged, unforgiving environment. I like to roam in it, and to get to know it. I’m learning how to take pictures of it.
When I first came to the desert, and up until recently, I was shooting strictly in color. There is a world of color here, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. But I reached a point where color didn’t satisfy. I’ve been doing black and white almost exclusively for a few months. That’s what’s been speaking to me.
I want to get past the surface color and dig in to that stark, raw, knife-edged harshness and spirit. To me, for now, black and white comes closer to it.
I want that to come through in my snapshots. I want most of all to grow out of the tendency to “prettify” the desert. It deserves better than that.