photography from the ground up

Archive for August, 2012

Trees In The Desert, Specks In Time

I have been to the Bisti Wilderness more times than I can count; I lead Photo Tours out there, but there are so many nooks and crannies I doubt that I will ever be able to say I’ve seen all of it. Last week we made a quick one day trip just because we hadn’t been there in a while. We visited some of our favorite spots, including the Egg Garden and the Bisti Arch.

Here is a view of the Egg Garden that I haven’t done before and below is a look at the Arch from a wider perspective–it’s in the multicolored formation in the middle ground. Breaking habits (in both subject matter and perspective) is an important step in growing as an artist; you have to keep it fresh.

Next we wandered into an area I hadn’t been to before and in the space of about thirty minutes, we found at least five intact petrified logs; some partially unearthed like the one in the image above and some completely exposed like the one shown below. After who knows how many millennia buried in a sandstone tomb, the fossilized remains of these old trees are once again exposed under the same sun that set on their demise.

Apart from the intact petrified remains, there are also many fractured and broken remnants scattered about. The next image shows several smaller logs lying close together as if placed there in preparation for a petrified campfire.

Not only is this area rich in fossils, it is also home to a large number of hoodoos and eroded rock forms similar to the ones in the Egg Garden. I’m sure that others have been to this part of the Bisti, but I don’t recall ever having seen images of these logs or of the landscapes I have recorded here.

This last image is of Robin and me resting against the large tree with a view to the east. In two weeks I will be back out there leading a tour for a couple from Germany. The best parts of what I do are exploring new places and making new friends from around the world. These things help me realize that we, as people, are not so different from one another, and that we, as a species, are not so powerful or important as we might like to think we are.


The (Other) Lybrook Badlands

I recently posted an entry about my efforts to find an out of the way section of the Lybrook Badlands. Wikipedia defines badlands as: a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. It can resemble malpais, a terrain of volcanic rock. Canyons, ravines, gullies, hoodoos, and other such geological forms are common in badlands. They are often difficult to navigate by foot. Badlands often have a spectacular color display that alternates from dark blue/black coal strata to bright clays to red scoria.

That’s a mouth full and if that definition is correct, then I think this image is about as close as I can get to capturing the essence of a badlands environment. What I’m trying to get at here is that this image was made outside of the area that is generally referred to as the Lybrook Badlands. It is, in fact right next to a major highway in northwestern New Mexico which sort of destroys any romantic idea of a wilderness miles from civilization. None of that really matters though; this area is as much a badlands as any remote, hard-to-reach, hard-to-find wilderness.

I made this image less than a mile from where I made the first one. You can make out the coal, scoria, and clay strata in the hills right next to the highway. I have driven past this place dozens of times on my way to somewhere else, and as is my way, I find myself wondering why I didn’t take the time to explore the area sooner. I had been drawn to it the first time saw it; a few years ago, I stopped by the side of the road and made this image, but went no further.

If it looks familiar it’s because I used it in a previous entry, but the point is: I knew this place had potential, yet it took me years to turn on to that dirt road.

Less than five hundred feet from the place where I stood when I made the roadside image, I came across this landscape. The small yucca nestled practically inside the shattered rock suggests that the cactus may have just emerged from the rock like a newborn bird from an egg.

The roads in this area don’t go very far; like most around Lybrook, they lead to gas wells such as the one shown in the above image, or well heads like the one shown below.

Natural gas development is what brings most of the people who live and work here, except for the Navajo people who have been around these parts for thousands of years, long before anyone knew what gas was, and, of course, crazy photographers who wander around hostile, but beautiful landscapes with a heavy pack full of cameras and lenses just because they’re there.

I’ll leave you with this photograph to ponder what kinds of natural forces sculpt a landscape such as this: these small round, flat stones seem to have been shed from the larger one, but why are they all shaped like that? I often find myself wondering about these kinds of mysteries when I am wandering around the badlands which are fast becoming a second home to me.


The Evolution Of Vision

Artistic vision is not something that is easy to define, at least not in terms of individual style. It is something that is (or should) always be changing, evolving. When I look at the work that I was doing five years ago, I am struck by the difference from that which I am doing today. That’s as it should be. If I could see no discernible change, I would be worried that my creativity is stagnating.

Vision has to do not only with the subject matter you shoot, or the way you choose to capture it. It is also about how you take the image from the one in the camera to the one that hangs on the wall. So, post processing is just as important to expressing your vision as the initial capture, perhaps more important. This first image was made one January day on the edge of what was soon to become the Valles Caldera National Preserve and after many years of learning and evolving, both in my shooting style and in my processing technique, this is still one of my favorite photographs.

I tell my Beginning Digital Photography students that they should always be looking for new ways to present their subjects and of course this extends to the work they do in the digital darkroom. I made the above image in 2002. It is a close-up of burned tree bark that I took in the burn scar of the Lake Fire. This is pretty representative of the work I was doing at that time: close-up/macro/intimate landscapes.

The third image was made several years later and it is one of the very few I made during that time that included a hint of anything man-made. All of these photographs were made using film cameras. The first two were shot with a Nikon F3, the second, a Nikon F100. All three were made using Fuji Velvia transparency film.

Sometime around 2005, I began to feel that my strict adherence to shooting almost exclusively macro/close-ups was stifling my creativity and I began to broaden my horizons (both literally and figuratively). I had also purchased my first digital camera, a Nikon D200. Looking back, I think the new-found freedom of no longer being constrained by the cost of film played a major role in my ability to experiment with a new shooting style.

This black and white landscape was an early attempt to further break from my habit of excluding man-made elements from my images. I still hadn’t perfected my B&W conversion technique, but it was a step in the right direction.

When I was shooting mostly macro, I preferred diffuse lighting; no shadows means clearer details, but as I began to see the broad landscape, I began to take advantage of the multi-faceted nature of light. In the five images above, I make use of different kinds of lighting: overcast, early morning, evening, and mid-day with partial overcast. They each paint the landscape with a different brush and each portrays a different mood.

Lately, my work has come full circle, back to the subjects I was pursuing when I first started out all those years ago, which is to say–anything and everything. The difference is, I now have the expertise I lacked back then, so I am able to show my viewers what I saw in my mind’s eye before I released the shutter. That’s a good feeling, but it doesn’t mean that I feel I’ve reached some kind of photographer’s Nirvana; I am excited to see what kind of curve my vision will throw me next.