The Beaten Path
Where do we as artists find inspiration? Exploring new territory is always a good way, at least for me. As a landscape photographer, I am charged with boundless energy–despite my sixty-plus years–when confronted with a place where I have never before set foot. Everything is brand spanking new and this always seems to boost the “WOW” factor to higher levels.
But, sometimes, in order to replenish the well, it’s wise to return to some of the places, or techniques that have inspired us in the past. A great and wise photographer who was instrumental in my early meanderings into the world of nature/landscape photography advised returning to places we had been before at a different time of day or year.
I made this image in the Brown Hoodoos area of the Bisti Wilderness. I have visited the Bisti many times and have hundreds of photographs to prove it, but this time I not only found my way to this particular location which had eluded me in the past, but the atmospheric conditions and the light were especially dramatic. It was like being there for the first time. Not long after this trip, I led a tour and we came to this very spot; the lighting was harsh with not a cloud to be found in the clear, blue sky; nonetheless, my clients were ecstatic. It was their first time and the landscape captivated them. It made me see the place with new eyes.
The Bisti Arch was another well known feature that had, somehow eluded me. I knew the approximate location and even had GPS co-ordinates. Yet, I had wandered around Hunter Wash searching in vain. Finding what could have been an arch that had recently collapsed, I concluded that it was the object of my frustration. Then, on a recent trip, while hiking back to the parking area, I glanced at a small formation that I had passed many times, but had never really noticed. I was in just the right spot and there it was, The Bisti Arch. I quickly realized why I had been missing it: I had the scale all wrong. I was imagining it to be much larger than it really was. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed and spent more than an hour making photographs.
Like the Bisti, I have been to the area around Cabezon Peak many times. I have tried time and again-unsuccessfully-to capture an image of Cerro Cuate which is just south of Cabezon. I’ve made several photographs of it in beautiful light, but the compositions all seemed to fall short of what I was looking for. The images just never seemed to do the mountain justice. On a recent trip, however, everything finally fell into place. We were driving home after spending some time photographing the nearby ghost town of Guadalupe. It was early evening and the sun was low. I had noticed this small drainage earlier in the day, but the light was no good at the time. Now the light was right; we stopped and I made five different exposures, this one, after a black and white conversion is my favorite.
So, don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you’ve been to a certain location you’ve seen all there is to see. The light and the conditions are always changing, and with them, the entire mood of the scene. You may even find an unexpected treasure waiting for you.