I just got tapped to take part in the “Black and White challenge” on Facebook, posting 1 b/w photo on Facebook for 5 consecutive days while naming another to the same challenge on each of those days. I have no idea what is behind this challenge or who started it, but I thought it could be fun.
As I started thinking about the images I would post, I thought it might be interesting to do a chronology, starting with my earliest successful black and white image. But then I thought how I rarely post any recent work and having just finished my second 3 week trip in 4 months—both to the same, and my favorite, location—I figured why not just show that work….at least the work from the first trip (still working on the second trip).
That decided, I don’t think there could be a more appropriate image to start with than one from a magical place I always visit when I am in the area—and where I often camp—but don’t always photograph. I just enjoy being in its alien environment and seeing how it has, or hasn’t, changed over the years.
It was 1984 when I almost didn’t discover this wash! Although I did stop there, I don’t really know why I chose this particular one. There were several others, right along the road there, that provided much easier access. From the road, they all look just like every other desert wash and, except for this one, are just like any other.
As I climbed down, carrying my first large format camera—I really hated this camera—I set up to photograph a particular swirl of grasses. Clouds covered the sun, but when I had finally framed and focused and was ready to make my exposure, the clouds disappeared! It wasn’t the same in full, mid day sun. I looked up to the west and saw one small cloud moving my way. I waited, hoping it wouldn’t dissolve but find its way over the sun just long enough for me to make my exposure. It took about ½ an hour, but it moved into perfect place for the brief moment I needed (I only shot one piece of film per scene in those days).
It was hot and I didn’t see anything else that interested me, so, I was done there. I packed up the camera, walked back up to my VW van, slid the back door open and put the camera and tripod inside—but I hadn’t yet discovered the true nature of this wash. I really can’t stress how much I hated that camera and when I put it away, it generally stayed there until my next stop—it was not conducive to free-flowing, creative work! But then, just as I started to close the door, I experienced what felt like a tap on the shoulder and a plea, “what about me?”. As I turned and looked down the wash, I saw something strange at the very end of my sight line. I felt compelled to pick up the camera and tripod and go back down there. As I moved past the familiarity of “wash”, I started to see, and descend into, this very special place.
Although I have visited this wash nearly every year, it took me almost 10 years before conditions inside it allowed me to explore it completely from down inside. At least one, and it only took one, of the Waterpockets would be too full to get past—and a bit too stagnant and buggy to want to wade through. As it turned out, this otherworldly part of the wash is only a few hundred yards long.
Other than the changing water and mud levels in the Waterpockets, the place has seemed unchanged and timeless over these past 30 years. In May, I did my own “rephotographic” project of places I had photographed back in the 80’s just to compare and other than the two things I mentioned, things have remained pretty much the same. With some of the extreme weather I experienced while there this past May, I had thought I might see more water in the Waterpockets than you see above. But then, this past September, I saw it in full flash flood mode for the first time and no, I didn’t go down in there then!
Oddly, in these past 30 years, I have only once run into any other photographers there, and that was a college photography class on a field trip. Searching online, I haven’t found any other images from this part of the wash, although I did find one of the ordinary end of it! But I am completely happy to have it all to myself, as there are so few places left that aren’t overrun with people and cameras.
(Please note, I am not telling anyone where it is!!)