Sayonara

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Day 5 (and last) B/W challenge

On Sunday, I finished the B/W challenge on Facebook and had intended to write a post here, as I had done each day of that challenge.  The problem was that I found myself choosing an unexpected image and wasn’t sure what sort of post I could make about it.

Although I created this image, like the others, on my May trip, it was a more isolated image.  Just one of those you create because you see something cool you want to document.  In fact, I made it back in my campground, right after a nap.  The wind was all whipped up and as I climbed out of the back of my truck, I saw this “S” form right in front of me, I grabbed the camera and made the exposure.  So, while I might relay this information in a post, it was hardly all that post worthy–not that all of my entries here are!  But the point is that all of my original choices would have been more robust fodder for a blog post.

As I contemplated those other options, I just couldn’t get this one out of my head.  In fact, I had chosen my next image and written (or at least started) my blog post a day in advance.  On Saturday, I just couldn’t commit to this image, it didn’t fit.  Sunday, I had to post for the challenge and gave in but had no idea what to post on my blog, other than the image.  I joked on Facebook that the “S” was for “Sayonara” to the challenge.

Even that might have been a bit prophetic, as was the ephemeral nature of the image.  On Monday, I learned that one of my closest friends had passed away unexpectedly.  We met shortly after I moved to Portland in 1986 and shared a lot of common interests. not the least of which was our passion for photography.  He was one of the truly wonderful people who has ever walked this earth.  His passing has hit me harder than I could have expected, I have been a bit numb.

John loved to travel and was just finishing up a trip to South Africa when he collapsed.  The image below immediately came to mind as I thought about him and I post it here in tribute.

So, I say “Sayonara” my friend and may your travels be in peace!

 

 

Glass Mountain

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NE00_1478

Day 4 B/W Challenge

What I have come to enjoy most about my time in the landscape, other than just being in it, is the discovery of the unexpected. As I mentioned in my entry on the Petroglyph Turnout, I tend to be more a wanderer than a “chaser of light”, as photographers often call themselves. That doesn’t mean light isn’t important to me, that would be ridiculous, but you would be less likely to find me photographing where, and when, I “thought” the light would be good than just photographing “where” the light is good—good for what I am trying to present in the photograph.

NE00_1499 copyAnd one of the things I’ve learned making these extended trips is that once you realize how much time you do have, the more likely you will discover things. On earlier personal photographic trips, I would have a week (8-9 days) but maybe, with traveling 1000+ miles each way, only 4 to 6 days to actually photograph. This trip I had 19-20 days of working time and no more ground to cover. So, while it took awhile to fully realize this—and probably not until I was well into my fall trip—I did find myself going to places I had skipped over in the past.

NE00_1512v2 copyOn this day, there was a pretty good example of this as well as both finding the unexpected and the light being right at the time of discovery. It was mid day, and in May, the light is pretty much like one would find mid summer, very high and cold—but at least the temperatures are 20-30 degrees cooler—but today it was overcast again!

Although I had been very close to “Glass Mountain” in the past, I had never really found that area where it’s located conducive to the type of imagery I was making at those times—and, honestly, still don’t. With the “extra” time to slow down even more, I decided to search this place out as I was passing by it anyway. Thinking I would likely find an obsidian site, I was really surprised at what I did find. A “Mountain”–well, not quite–but how about the oddest “mound” I had ever seen.   There are gypsum sinkholes all around this area but this was more a reversal of that process and a formation of unusually large crystals. Probably 12-15 feet high, the photographs of the mound itself don’t really do it justice. I just sat there for a few moments staring at it. What a truly odd, and amazing in its own way, thing this was!NE00_1461

A funny thing happened on my way to the Ferry Crossing

Day 3 B/W challenge

Day 3 B/W challenge

I was heading home and decided to end my time in Southern Utah with a trip along the Burr Trail and a Ferry ride across Lake Powell at Bullfrog.  It had been the most unusual May I had ever spent in the area, with snow, lots of rain and very cold weather.  Even the locals were saying they had never seen a May like this one.  I shouldn’t complain though, as I was now headed back to several months of hot and humid in Austin!

NE00_1920 copyI finished the Burr Trail late in the day and found an area off the road to Bullfrog where I could camp again in total isolation–one of the things I really love about this area is that you can camp pretty much anywhere you want!  Generally, it will get quite a bit warmer as one gets closer to Lake Powell from those areas north, so the evening was very pleasant even though the sky remained gray from the earlier storms.

Grandfather?

Grandfather?

The next morning, as I continued down to the ferry, I noticed this area where the earth was deep red with a white frosting.  Even though it was mid morning, the sky was still overcast giving me that soft light I really like.  After I found a reasonable path to wade through the mud along the side of the road, I found the earth there to be pretty firm, but covered with little black caterpillars!  This reminded me that I was getting out just before the “bug” season here –those biting gnats and flies were just a week or so away.

As I moved further into the frosted area, it looked a bit like flying over snow-capped mountains in mid winter.  That gave me an idea to play with but I was soon finding those biomorphic forms and even found a face that reminded me of my grandfather.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I was on the only road to Bullfrog where they hadn’t posted the sign letting you know that the ferry–and the only way across Lake Powell–was not running.  That is a lot of miles to travel, both down and back up and around, to be able to continue south–but at $5 a gallon for gas there, I don’t think they cared!

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The Petroglyph Turnout

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Day 2 B/W Challenge Image

Day 2 B/W Challenge Image

Generally, I try to avoid those blatant, tourist turnouts but I did take this one in May and then again this fall—and I really didn’t know why either time. I really didn’t know why because that is pretty much how I operate when I am out making photographs and not on an assignment or working a site specific project. I stop, turn this way or that, or take a strange road that presents itself based on a feeling I get when I make the decision. It’s sort of like that “tap on the shoulder” that I described in my last post here. So, I rarely end up where I started going or camp where I planned. In fact, I don’t plan what I will photograph or where, other than I know what personal projects or ideas that I might be working and have a basic idea of what areas I might head towards.  Over the years, this is the primary reason that I have not traveled with others when I’ve wanted to create personal work.

So while I probably did stop here on my first trip to the area back in 1984, because I do like seeing these ancient sites, I have probably passed it without a second look over 100 times since. When I got the urge to stop here, I sort of laughed to myself as I maneuvered around the line of tour buses to find a parking spot. I had no idea what I would find but I was pretty sure I wasn’t there to shoot the petroglyphs.

Petroglyph Panel

Petroglyph Panel

The access to the area is via a boardwalk and it is only about 100-150 yards long. People walking by make everything shake so it is impossible to shoot when people are anywhere near you—and the place was crawling with people. I was still a bit perplexed as to why I had stopped as well as how and what I was going to shoot, so I figured I might as well shoot one of the petroglyph panels. Just the act of setting up to shoot will generally get me “seeing” and often I don’t end up shooting what I first intended. Here, I actually did but then I started seeing why I was there—and the tour buses were starting to leave.

Back in the late 80’s, I was very interested in the natural biomorphic shapes I found in the landscape and often these were on the same walls where one generally finds these ancient artworks. In 1990, I released my “Under Perfumed Skies” series, which was entirely made up of such biomorphic forms. At that time, I was more interested in the elimination of place and the actual nature of the subject. On this trip, I had already started to return to looking for such forms but with a bit of a twist.

NE00_1713 copyFinding these things, my camera is often pointed in places where others might not actually recognize what it is that I am photographing but people do stop and look—like when someone is standing on the street pointing up in the sky—then shake their heads when they don’t see anything—or at least what they expected to see. I suspect that some might want to ask that question I’ve heard many times, “What are you taking a picture of, Mister?”. In fact, when I was creating the first image here, a man did stop and gave me a very odd look as he surveyed the angle of the camera and then where it was pointed. I explained what I was photographing, and he did see it, while his wife just crinkled up her nose and said “where…what?” as he tried to explain it to her.

 

NE00_1733 copyI ended up finding quite a few things that interested me, not all biomorphic forms, but interesting forms just the same.   I was even more perplexed when I stopped there again this fall. As I said, this isn’t a big place and I thought I had worked it pretty thoroughly in May but there was that feeling again—or maybe I just wanted a break. I did make some new photographs but I think the reason I stopped was that I “saw” one that I did in May in a totally new and different way—a way that I think will surpass the first version. I decided to include the one done in May, here, as it probably will never be shown anywhere again.

Will be superceded!

Will be superseded!

 

One of the most interesting things for me, when I do return to an area where I made one of these images, is how surprised I am to see what it was I actually photographed, and then created at home, back in its original context. Often it is larger or smaller than I remember and/or not even where I remembered it being. Sometimes I even have to work really hard to see it again. And not surprising, it isn’t uncommon that when I get home and look at what I shot, I scratch my head as I try to figure out: what did you shoot, Mister?!NE00_1719 copy

The Wash

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Day 1 Facebook B/W Challenge. created 2014

 

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.

The Source

created 1984

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.

Walking down into the eroded part of the wash.  created 2014

Walking down into the eroded part of the wash.         created 2014

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.

Waterpocket comparison

the 1980’s photographs done with large format while the 2014’s were done with a 35mm DSLR

 

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!!)