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Two new ‘Wind’ images

Monday, June 25th, 2012

In January, I introduced my wind portfolio, a black and white set focusing on shape and form, and celebrating landscapes that have been created (in part) by wind.  I am happy to add two new images to that portfolio.

View from Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, May 2012

The Grand Canyon is a place that has been shaped by the powerful erosional forces of wind and water for millions of years.  Attracting millions of visitors a year, it is truly one of the seven wonders of the world, and has always captivated me.  At sunrise and sunset, the receding hill layers create depth not only in the landscape, but in the imagination, and it is difficult for me not to imagine John Wesley Powell exploring this canyon for the first time, being completely awed.


“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.”

–John Wesley Powell


The second image is an intimate landscape from Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  If you have been in southern Utah in spring, you know the wind can blow, and you have have even felt sandblasted a time or two.  How do you think the sandstone walls feel?  The walls of this alcove have been shaped by grains of sand being blown against it for hundreds, probably even thousands or tens of thousands of years.  Beautiful cross-bedding patterns have been exposed, creating some very powerful lines.

A sandstone alcove

Sandstone Alcove, June 2012

My Wind Portfolio is special in that 25% of the sales of these prints is donated directly to the Wilderness Society and I offer special pricing when you purchase more than one image from the portfolio.  Please click here to view the entire collection.

Ethics, Photography, and Archaeology

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Almost two years ago, Kah Kit Yoong published two blog posts on, “Art Appreciation in the Digital Age,” and, “Photographing Art and Museums,” that have been poignant enough to stick in my mind all this time for a couple of reasons.  First of all, he raises big picture questions in my mind like, “Why are we so drawn to art?” or “Why do photographers feel driven to make art from art?”  However, I find it curious that even though a dusty canyon in the Southwest might feel like it’s a world away from the Louvre or the Met, in some ways it is closer than we think.

Photography of Native American rock art and architecture seems to be a niche that landscape photographers fill somewhat naturally.  Perhaps it is because we are already in the field, and taking a photograph of a pictograph panel or ancient dwelling adds a nice element to the image.  Or, maybe the reason is deeper.  Maybe we can relate to the original artist’s feeling of connectedness to the landscape, allowing our imaginations to wander, trying to imagine what this canyon might have looked like 800 or 1,000 years ago.

Ancestral Puebloan granary

House On Fire

I have written before about my early years in the outdoors, backpacking in the Cedar Mesa area, which is one of the most archaeologically-rich areas in the world.  A Bureau of Land Management archaeologist once told me that there is an estimated 2,000 sites per square mile on Cedar Mesa and in the Grand Gulch drainage in southeastern Utah.  Granted, my idea of a “site” is quite different from an archaeologist’s but there is no arguing that is an impressive number.  When I was young I enjoyed pretending that I was the first person to discover these sites since the original tenants left.  Today, I enjoy visiting because there is a peacefulness in these places; I feel humbled and placed when I visit them.  My youthfulness still lives on, however, as I enjoy the “treasure hunt” involved with looking for a particular rock art panel or ruin.

Regardless of why they are photographed, there are some archaeological sites in the Southwest that are becoming part of the landscape photographer’s repertoire, such as the “House on Fire” ruin in southeastern Utah.  If you don’t know it by name, you have surely seen an image of it (you have now, anyway).  And for good reason–it’s very photogenic.  Others are less well known, but with some research, can be found online or in guidebooks fairly easily.   Still other sites are–quite honestly–damned hard to find.

Pictograph on the San Rafael Swell in southern Utah

Ghostly Figures

As the interest in these places continues to grow, it brings up some ethical questions, especially regarding those locations that are difficult to find.  For instance, how much information should a photographer share about the location of a site (see here and here for great discussions on this subject)?  Much unlike the Mona Lisa, these works of art do not have the protections that would keep vandals, or even an ignorant visitor capable of unintentional damage, out.

Would we want those protections in place?

Being able to photograph and experience these sites untethered is one of the joys of visiting them.  Even if a simple cord or chain were to form an artificial boundary, there is no one preventing a breach of that line.   In some ways, it seems that keeping quiet about specific locations of these sites is the best way to protect them.

In the former of the two blog posts mentioned at the beginning of this post, Kah Kit Yoong says, “Now I’m aware that tourists are just enjoying themselves and it’s not hurting anyone. Nevertheless it is annoying to see masterpieces relegated to props for snapshots.”  I agree.  While part of me feels it’s important to appreciate our cultural history, the rest of me hates to see a ruin go unappreciated, or be part of a photographer’s Southwestern image harvest, with no real knowledge of the site.

I hope this doesn’t read like an elitist rant about visiting archaeological sites; I am by no means pulling the ladder up behind me saying that no one else can “come play” in these places.  What I am suggesting is that photographers think about the value of an archaeological site to themselves, to science, as well as to the descendants of the people who once lived there.  On my website, I purposely don’t give much information on the sites I have images of, but am always happy to talk one-on-one with other interested people about these places.

Whether you’re in the Louvre, the Musee Rodin, or the Colorado Plateau, works of art surround you.  Do you think they all deserve the same respect and protection?  Why do you think we enjoy visiting these places so much?

Ancestral Puebloan Dwelling

Overland Flight

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

As we board the homeward bound flight, the sun is setting over the Rocky Mountains, reminding me of my early childhood years living in Denver.  The sunset becomes more intense as the plane is pushed onto the runway, and takes off, leaving Denver International Airport behind.  The beauty of flying westward into the sunset is that it lasts longer–the earth’s shadow and Belt of Venus seem to be eternal, keeping me company as I daydream looking out the window over my sleeping son’s head.

Below us, lights from the small towns of the West are starting to come on.  I wonder what’s happening in those towns on this Friday night; people are relaxing at the bar after a long week of work, teenagers are cruising Main Street looking for something to do.  Despite that, its the empty spots, the growing blackness, that capture my imagination.  I’ve been a passenger on this route enough times to know what’s below me: the foothills of the western slope of the Rockies, the Green and Colorado Rivers, the white rim of Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, the Mojave Desert.

Its quite possible there’s not a whole lot of unexplored areas left in the West, but part of me wants to hang on to the notion that there is still some “out there” left out there.  David Roberts recently had a thought-provoking op-ed piece in the New York Times arguing that with 21st Century technology, there’s not a whole lot of wilderness left.  That hopeful naïveté I cling to wants to disagree with him–that possibly there is still an unexplored canyon, or at least a hill which offers a great view of this everlasting sunset–that has yet to be enjoyed.

Aldo Leopold wrote,

To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

Tonight, sitting on this jet with a bird’s eye view of the West, I have to wonder where my imagination would wander if there were no blank spots on the map.   As a photographer, I have been thinking a lot lately about documenting these wild lands–what is my responsibility as an artist, my obligation to protect these lands?  If those peaks and mesas are leveled, if lights begin to dot the landscape, these places will change forever.

Where does your imagination wander?  None of us would argue over the value of those blank spots on the map, but what do you think–is there a fine line between artist and activist, or are they one and the same?

Sunset and moonrise at Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

End of the Day, July 2010

In Memoriam

Monday, May 16th, 2011

This weekend, a friend and I made a last minute trip out to Joshua Tree National Park to search for photography opportunities.  After doing a short hike, we drove into the main park entrance about 5:30pm.  Although the temperature was starting to drop, the asphalt was still warm; it didn’t take long before we discovered this freshly road killed Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchllii pyrrhus).  Its a species I’ve always wanted to photograph–just not like this.

Speckled Rattlesnake in Joshua Tree National Park, California

In Memoriam, May 2011

Its always somber to see road killed reptiles, but this was just the beginning.  Not five minutes later, we pulled a very badly injured (fatally, I’m sure) coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum) off the road, and over the course of the evening, we found a gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer), and a red diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber) that had been killed earlier in the day.  It was carnage–easy to see why–with cars whizzing by us at 50-60 mph (25-35 mph over the posted speed limit).

Accidents happen, especially with fast-moving snakes like gopher snakes or coachwhips–they can jump out in front of a driver, with no hope of being avoided.  But, as my friend pointed out, there is no excuse for killing a rattlesnake in a park where the speed limit is 25 or 35 miles per hour.  They’re visible animals, and when following the speed limit, they can be avoided, largely because they are slow-moving.

April and May is peak camping season in Joshua Tree–the campgrounds are full, and people are everywhere.  Right now, that time of day is suicide for a basking snake.

To make it worse, the red diamond rattlesnake we found later in the evening was missing its rattle.  I hate to think about someone hitting the animal purposely to take the rattle (although I know of people who have done just that)–its a despicable act.  Even if a later driver stopped to take it, I wouldn’t want to be that person if a park ranger came down the road!

I know I sound like a real square with this post, urging people to stick to the posted speed limit, but after what we witnessed this weekend in Joshua Tree, its obvious that slowing down could really help to save some beautiful wildlife from needless deaths.

Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Although I don’t normally consider myself a bird photographer, or much of a bird photographer, I do enjoy getting out to our local wildlife areas now and then.  Last week, I met Mac at Bolsa Chica Wetlands near Huntington Beach for an early morning, pre-work photo session.  I work about 10 minutes from Bolsa Chica so its the perfect place to hit before work during the week.  On weekends, you can expect to find several photographers on the bridge across the bay, all with more expensive glass than I can afford.  But, during the week, you have the occasional walker or runner, but otherwise it is just you and the birds.

image of pied-billed grebe at bolsa chica wetlands

Pied-billed Grebe, April 2010

Ecologically, Bolsa Chica is very important.  It provides a rich feeding ground for several migratory species of passerines and water birds.  It also has several unvegetated islands that provide a safe breeding ground for the endangered California Least Tern.  In a nearby eucalyptus grove you can find nesting Great Blue Herons, and multiple species of raptors are also common, including Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, and Peregrine Falcons.  You can also find the uncommon Belding’s Savannah Sparrow here.

Common tern landing at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Common Tern, April 2010

As the seasons pass, you have the opportunity to shoot many species here.  Right now, several species of tern (Least, Common, Elegant, Forster’s, etc…) are beginning to get active near the bridge and with some luck you can get some good flight shots of these species (I quickly learned this is much easier said than done…see some results here and here).  In winter, you can photograph Brown Pelicans in breeding plumage.  Shorebirds like sandpipers and larger birds like egrets are present all year.

Common egret at bolsa chica wetlands

Common Egret, April 2010

In addition to birds, there is the opportunity to photograph wildflowers, sunrises/sunsets and various other fauna (rabbits, southern Pacific rattlesnakes) at the wetlands.  With this in mind, if you’re in the area, its worth your while to stop and spend a few hours at Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

sunrise in California

Sunrise over Bolsa Chica Wetlands, December 2009

Photo of the Month–March

Monday, March 1st, 2010

March’s Photo of the Month comes from Lost Dutchman State Park near Phoenix, Arizona.  I visited the park in January while my wife was helping her sister plan for the upcoming arrival of our niece.  In addition to the proximity to the greater Phoenix area and huge selection of hiking trails, the main draw of Lost Dutchman has got to be the rugged and beautiful Superstition Mountains rising out of the desert floor abruptly and confidently.

This month’s photograph shows the western flank of the Superstitions bathed in warm late afternoon light.  I chose to use this cholla skeleton as a FG element because it seemed to be pointing me to a fantastic composition!

Superstition Mountains in Lost Dutchman State Park

Western Flank of the Superstitions, January 2010

If you clicked on the link to Lost Dutchman State Park above, you couldn’t miss the red box informing us that the park will be closing indefinitely on June 3, 2010.  Apparently, that part of Arizona’s budget has lost a significant amount of money during restructuring, causing the closure.  I think the restriction of access to any open space is a great loss to us as a community.  It prevents us from enjoying our parks, but more importantly it robs us of a chance to connect with the land, and wild places.  I hope the Arizona government finds a way to keep their state parks open, or at the very least, to reopen them as soon as possible.

You can see all of my photos from the Superstition Mountains here.

Getting intimate at the zoo

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

We have an 18 month-old son.  Just like any other kid, he loves going to the zoo and seeing all the animals.  Some of his favorites are the “ffes” (giraffes), and anything that makes a “woo” sound (dogs, owls and others all fit into this category…at least according to him).  The zoo can be a great place to spend some quality family time, but it can also be a great place to take photographs.

I enjoy the zoo because I can use the time to make intimate images of the charismatic megafauna we readily identify with.   Take this elephant–Timba–for example.  She’s an African elephant at the San Diego Zoo:

African elephant, 2009

As much as I like this image, there’s so much there to explore.  For instance, look at her very emotive eye.  With a long lens, and a little luck of her walking towards you, you can really bring out the emotion there:

African elephant, 2007

All of a sudden, the emotion and personability in the eye is front and center in your frame!  You can even achieve a humorous result.  If the animal starts walking away from you, you can send a message with this image:

African elephant, 2009

Many of the animals at the zoo have great patterns you can capitalize on.  For instance, think about abstract shots with giraffe spots (or leopard spots), or zebra stripes.  All of these things are eye-catching and people readily identify with these animals.  

giraffe_behindNo ‘butts’ about it, the zoo is a great place to photograph animals.  Play around with your composition and exposure.  You never know what you’re going to find.  

This is also useful, because zoos are usually crowded (go during the week if you can–darned day jobs!), and let’s face it: they aren’t open during the best hours.  The light usually isn’t the best (overcast days are best), and many animals like to sleep during the middle of the day.  I’ve found that by getting intimate with the animals it got me past the disappointment of not getting those safari-style shots!

 

Santa Rosa Plateau, part 3

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

A vernal pool is a seasonal pool that fills up during the winter rains, and dries out slowly over spring and summer, not refilling until the following winter.  In California, Riverside County has 14 vernal pools; 13 are protected within the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.  When I think of this place, I think of its crown jewel–the vernal pools.

The third, and final, image I have in the Plateau’s annual art show this year is of the vernal pools:

Vernal Pools, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, 2009

Fairy shrimp, frogs, toads, snakes, and migrating waterfowl are just a small group of animals that call the pools home, but also rely on them to breed.

The show begins tonight, and runs through September 20.

Santa Rosa Plateau, part 2

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Yesterday I blogged about the Santa Rosa Plateau, and shared some poppies.  Today’s photo is of another flower, only a much rarer one: the chocolate lily:

Chocolate lilies, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, 2009

This is an uncommon lily, and the Santa Rosa Plateau is just about the southern tip of its range.  Each spring, people start hiking the plateau in hopes of finding blooming lilies.  Because of its dark appearance, it has earned the nickname “Cleopatra of the Fritillaries”.

I really like this shot, not only because of the composition and lighting (I love the soft backlighting and highlighting on the edges of the blooms), but also because we found these lilies after a hot day of hiking, and it felt good to sit in the shade of an oak tree, enjoying the day. 

Marginalia

Friday, August 7th, 2009

So little time to write.  So many things to write about.

  • Last night the Riverside Arts Walk was a huge success.  It was great to see so many members of the community out enjoying a beautiful summer evening of art, music and culture.  Thank you all who stopped by to look at my photographs!

arts_walk1Studio 39 before the masses descended.

  • I’m published!  Well, sort of.  Patagonia’s blog, The Cleanest Line, invited guest submissions on their theme “Backyard Adventures.”  You can read my submission here.  Very exciting, and a pretty cute kid to boot (he gets all those genes from his Mom).
  • At his blog, Guy Tal has a fantastic commentary on other photographer’s work.  He argues that instead of feeling threatened when other photographers produce beautiful work, perhaps we should be thankful for the inspiration.  I know, for my part, I feel very grateful for the beautiful photographs I see every day, and their work inspires me to produce better art work.  Visit my links page to see some of my inspiration.
  • Jay Goodrich was a guest columnist at Darwin Wiggett’s blog, with a great commentary on the use of Photoshop in photography.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…