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Photography and our Public Lands

Friday, November 18th, 2016

Over the last several weeks, we have been reminded of very real threats–or at least dangerous precedents set–to the Western landscape, and to American public lands in general. First, all defendants in the 41-day standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon were found not guilty of charges of federal conspiracy and gun charges. Less than two weeks later, the United States presidential election resulted in a Republican-controlled presidency and congress, leaving federal public lands at greater risk for fossil fuel development, or even return to state control.

For anyone concerned with the preservation of wilderness, our cultural landscape, or simply the health of future generations, neither of these occurrences should set well.  Together, they’ve been keeping me up at night. Reconciling all of this news is no small task.

black and white image of the funeral mountains in death valley national park

“I want people to remember how photography works, the medium that depends on perfect darkness within the camera to capture the image, for an image of boundless light would be purely black, an exposure in perfect darkness would show just the white of unexposed paper. The visible world depends on both.” -Rebecca Solnit | Hugging the Shadows

Finding purple in a sea of blue and red

Last week, shortly after the election, I had a conversation on social media regarding the proposed Bears Ears National Monument (which I have written about before). Although I have some hesitation about the Bears Ears region being designated a National Monument, it really is the perfect candidate for protection under the Antiquities Act, although a longtime friend disagreed. While we had opposite opinions, our underlying concern for the region is the same: both of us would like to see it remain as pristine as possible. While our sedimentary layers may be different, we are standing on the same bedrock.

Looking at election maps from last week, there appears to be a deep divide in ideology between rural and urban areas, however I’d like to think we’re more purple than red vs. blue, and that the bedrock most of us are standing on is the same. Indeed, if you look at the role public lands played in western elections this season, it is clear we value our public lands.

Looking forward, I have questions.  Is it possible to search for common ground, while at the same time not compromising core values? Can we find a common currency for the value we attribute to public lands? Perhaps, more importantly, what can photographers do now?

winter storm and dark clouds over the salt playa in columbus valley nevada

Working locally, reconnecting to place

There are a few resources out there for having the conversations that are sure to happen more frequently in coming months (this is a great one). One thing they all seem to mention is to talk about feelings, rather than facts, at least to start with. As a scientist, I think, “but the facts are all that matter!” but as an artist, I get it. Art, including landscape photography, has the power to change the way people look at their world. There’s been some debate about whether artists can or should be activists or whether art should exist independently, but my gut is telling me now is the time for us all to be activists. Share your work with as many people as possible. Create content, be heard.

I’ve lamented before that as a people we are woefully detached from place, so perhaps it is the job of artists to bring us back to that. Share your work locally. Every local in every town has stories to share about their “backyard”–tap into those stories and work to reconnect people with what may have been lost.

If anything, recent news is a reminder that our public lands–and the places we love to photograph–are in danger of becoming not-so-public, and should be a good reminder to us all to educate ourselves on local politics, and think of ways to use our photography to shift the tide towards a secure future.

Sunset in western Nevada

2015 year in review

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

It’s that time of year again when you start to see ‘best of’ lists popping up all over the internet.  I can’t lie–I enjoy them just as much as the next person.  It’s always fun to look back on the year, to think about where you’ve been, where you’re going, and to think about what lies ahead in the coming year.  In choosing my most memorable images of the year, it became all about reflection.

Photographically, the most notable thing about 2015 was travel to new and exciting places.  Iceland, Canada, and Basin & Range country in Nevada were some of the new places I got to see in 2015, and I also “rediscovered” some of the mountain ranges here in southern California, seeing them with new eyes.  Solo exploration allowed time for quiet contemplation, and of course the best adventures often are shared with people close to you–these are the ones I’ll never forget.  In the span of week in August, I was in central Nevada soaking in hot springs and watching wild horses at 11,000′, then hiking through the pouring rain in Alberta.  It was a very special year indeed.

Below are some of my favorite and most memorable images from this past year.  As always, I want to thank Jim Goldstein for putting together a very comprehensive index of best-of lists from photographers around the world.  Make sure to check it out on his blog; the list should be available in early 2016.

You can also see some of my favorite images from years past as well: 20142013 | 2012 | 2011

Stormy mountain scene near Vik

Icelandic mountain scene – January

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland – January

joshua-tree-pinto-basin-sunset1

Pinto Basin, Joshua Tree National Park, California – February

san juan river from goosenecks state park, utah

San Juan River, Utah – July

south twin river toiyabe mountains

Toiyabe Mountains, Nevada – August

playa in monitor valley nevada

Edge of the Playa, Nevada – August

avalanche creek, glacier national park

Glacier National Park, Montana – August

Saskatchewan River Banff National Park

Banff National Park, Canada – August

stormy sunset inyo mountains california

Inyo Mountains, California – November

san gabriel mountains moonset near wrightwood

San Gabriel Mountains, California – November

desert view sunrise, grand canyon national park

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – December

lipan point sunrise, grand canyon national park, arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – December

New Portfolio Images

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog this year.  I guess, perhaps, I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block, but I have been enjoying sharing a daily image on Facebook.  I’ll be writing more here on the blog soon.

At the end of 2011, I spent a couple of really enjoyable days at sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, including the Eureka Dunes.  So far this year, I’ve spent a couple of days in southern Nevada at Valley of Fire State Park, as well as the surrounding Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and have been on a few rainy-day hikes at one of my favorite places in southern California.

I’ve uploaded new portfolio images to several of my galleries here on the site; all of these images have resonated with me, for various reasons, and I hope you check them out!  A few (that haven’t already been featured here on the blog) are below.

I hope your 2012 is off to a great start!

Gnarled oaks at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

A Foggy Day, January 2012

 

Sunrise at Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Elephant & The Moon, January 2012

 

Late Afternoon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Persistence, November 2011

Photo of the Month–August

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Sometimes, its the small scenes that really grab you, draw you in, and move you.  Indeed, the intimate landscape is often the grandest.  I made August’s photo in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, where a tiny mineral deposit in the sandstone stopped me in my tracks.  It took a few different exposure settings to get the effect I wanted: to really accentuate the fine lines in the deposit, making them prominent in the frame.

Abstract sandstone image in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Dendritic Connections, April 2011

At the time I made the image, as well as now, this little pattern reminds a neuron–our brains are made up largely of billions of these cells, each one connected to the other by thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of other connections.  In this way, information travels in the form of electrical impulses from cell to cell.  While biologists understand the basics of how information is transmitted, they do not understand completely how information is perceived and interpreted.  It is clear, however, that perception is an incredibly complex trait.

Although the basics of perception are probably quite similar between individuals, we only have to look around to see that everyone is different–we’re all uniquely us.  As such, it is logical to conclude that our brains all interpret scenes, beauty, differently.  If you’re reading this, you probably agree that art is subjective, but rather than simply accepting it, I find great joy in knowing we all see the world differently.  There are so many ways of seeing; that’s a fact worth celebrating.

 

Photo of the Month–April

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Sometimes choosing an image of the month is really easy, but this month its rather difficult.  I just returned from a fantastic trip to southern Utah and Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.  Of course I wanted to capture some new images, but it was a time to clear my head, shake some of winter’s cobwebs out of my skull, stretch, and welcome spring on the Colorado Plateau.

The added bonus of revisiting some favorite locations in Utah was discovering someplace new and wonderful.  Among landscape photographers, Valley of Fire State Park, near Las Vegas, has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason.  To say this place is amazing is an understatement.  If you love colorful vistas, sandstone, and interesting geology, you need to pack your bags and go now.  It really is that spectacular.  And, there are a lot of unexplored areas waiting to be discovered.

I don’t have a Valley of Fire page set up yet, but I’ll be sharing some new images over the next few days, and will tell you when you can view the gallery.  Until then, I hope you enjoy this lovely sunset.

Dramatic sunset at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Candy Land Sunset, March 2011