photography from the ground up

Sanding The Stone


Telling a story about a place using images isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it may seem. There are many layers of information; some need to be added to, others subtracted from. In the case of the badlands of the San Juan Basin, the latter is the case.


The landscape itself is in fact formed by subtraction. It is eroded by the force of wind, and water over time. Things are not always as they appear. The tree trunk in the first image is no longer composed of wood; it has, over time, become transformed by minerals that replaced the dead organic matter, making it a petrified semblance of its former self.


This layered channel sandstone was infused with minerals which leeched into the ground making it harder than the surrounding matrix. As the accumulated sedimentation eroded, the harder stone was left exposed.

Much like the landscape, these photographs were created by removing some of the information, more specifically, the color. A black and white image presents the bare bones of the subject and allows the viewer to see the underlying structure.


Most of us are subconsciously influenced by colors. We make associations between colors and a certain emotion or mood, so removing the color eliminates the preconceived idea, which in turn leaves us free to experience an image in a more visceral way.


The badlands are a visual experience; the textures, shapes, and patterns inherent in the stone and clay are extraordinarily diverse. So, whether the image is one of more intimate proportions as in this photograph of a small alcove in Ah Shi Sle Pah, or of a grander scale like the image of the Bisti Arch shown below, the simplicity of the black and white image allows the landscape to stand on its own merits.


And while the yellows, reds, browns, greens and magentas which paint these amazing places with an astounding palette, play a role in telling the whole story, the absence of those colors conveys the essence of their austere beauty.


48 responses

  1. Very interesting discussion of layers and colors; and the photos, as always, are a pleasure to behold.


    May 12, 2014 at 10:06 am

  2. The stones speak in great depth, without words.
    Beautiful scenes!


    May 12, 2014 at 10:28 am

  3. Like colors in photo’s but also B&W


    May 12, 2014 at 2:53 pm

  4. Amazing images! B&W was the perfect choice. How were the images processed if I may ask?


    May 12, 2014 at 4:26 pm

  5. This set of images are quite stunning and depict a landscape of total diversity, I would have liked to see 1 with the colour effect but the mono work certainly does the job.


    May 13, 2014 at 12:30 am

  6. Simply beautiful work


    May 13, 2014 at 1:22 am

  7. Thanks for liking my post on Rocks and Hard Places, Jim. These are stunning photos of yours. Quite some landscape and you capture the drama of badlands erosion. Removing the color was a smart move. I looked up conventional photos of the San Juan Basin rock formations and the color is a distraction from the beauty of form. I’ve seen badlands in Wyoming, but not the San Juan Basin. You have a nice blog there and I look forward to seeing more of your work. Best, Susan


    May 14, 2014 at 9:39 am

    • Thank you Susan. I appreciate your comment.


      May 14, 2014 at 9:48 am

      • My pleasure, Jim. May I ask what camera you use? I fell on rocks in Wyoming and damaged the Panasonic Lumix that I’ve been using. I haven’t yet taken it to a repair shop, but fear I might have to replace it.


        May 15, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      • Susan, I use Nikon DSLRs (D700 and D800) with Nikon lenses.


        May 15, 2014 at 8:58 pm

  8. Great post of the badlands.I saw a little piece of them 10 years ago and will never forgot the beauty of them. Great photo’s


    May 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

  9. Wonderful images as ever Jim!


    May 14, 2014 at 11:53 am

  10. Amazing shots Jim! I love the sepia treatment but do find myself hoping you post the color versions too 🙂 I especially like the vertical “moonscape”. Beautifully done.


    May 14, 2014 at 12:21 pm

  11. Reblogged this on Matthew Lambert NH and commented:
    A lot of great photos here!


    June 27, 2014 at 9:39 am

  12. Thanks for sharing your thougths and ideas. It is like the pictures, very inspiring. Beautiful pictures!


    June 30, 2014 at 12:40 pm

  13. It has been a long time ago sinds I drove through the west of USA, also been in New Mexico. It was long before digital photography … Watching these photos I remember the feeling I had to be on another planet. It is so much different then my country. I wonder how these immages looked like in colour but have to say that black and white is verry exiting.

    Greets from the Netherlands.


    July 8, 2014 at 3:13 am

  14. THis place is very similar to places in the Patagonia Desert. Beatifull. Congratulations.


    July 30, 2014 at 3:42 am

  15. I forgot to say, even the petrified trees…


    August 18, 2014 at 5:16 am

  16. Good information beautifully portrayed. Silica pancakes.


    September 2, 2014 at 9:04 am

  17. ali5214



    September 2, 2014 at 9:29 am

  18. Thanks for the sharing. Wonderful!


    September 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm

  19. Stunning pictures. Amazing landscapes.


    September 2, 2014 at 2:52 pm

  20. Reblogged this on cwcnicky.


    September 2, 2014 at 3:32 pm

  21. Amazing photos!


    September 2, 2014 at 7:17 pm

  22. Thank you for sharing!


    September 2, 2014 at 8:24 pm

  23. Beautifully written


    September 2, 2014 at 9:18 pm

  24. Film makers would surely find this an awesome place for another planet settings. The infra did it!


    September 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm

  25. Thank you
    Blog fantastic
    Good luck


    September 3, 2014 at 2:21 am

  26. Frez

    beautiful !


    September 3, 2014 at 2:40 am

  27. Reblogged this on A E R O .


    September 3, 2014 at 4:48 am

  28. Beautiful work


    September 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

  29. Amazing photos and interesting text about this place.


    September 3, 2014 at 11:43 pm

  30. its a piece of art


    September 4, 2014 at 12:37 am

  31. Stunning images. Congratulations.


    September 4, 2014 at 7:50 pm

  32. Wow! The images in this blog are simply stunning!!!


    September 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm

  33. These photos are breathtaking. They are solid proof of what you are saying about people being influenced by colors. The black and white hues evoke true emotion.


    September 6, 2014 at 10:54 pm

  34. I love the way you presented these images. Especially when you talked about “removing information”. And the monochrome tones you chose work really well.


    September 7, 2014 at 10:51 am

  35. Beautiful pics, makes me want to visit!


    September 11, 2014 at 3:33 am

  36. simply breathtaking images!


    September 11, 2014 at 4:50 am

  37. Reblogged this on utan203.


    September 11, 2014 at 7:27 am

  38. Such beautiful photos!


    September 11, 2014 at 8:09 am

  39. Wow! Awesome picture. I wish I was there..instead of sitting at my desk


    September 15, 2014 at 4:34 pm

  40. Fantastic post. Though I am new at WordPress it’s posts like these that inspire me to write more. I hope you can take some time and go through my blog. It’s new but your critique can help me hone my art too. 🙂 PS: The photos paint a aliensque landscape. The descriptions however are spot on and all one can do is marvel this austere beauty yet untouched by callused ‘modern’ hands that bring concrete jungles with them.


    September 23, 2014 at 3:01 pm

  41. Stunning photos!


    September 24, 2014 at 1:31 pm

  42. wow! seriously very nice!


    October 1, 2014 at 3:42 am

Tell Me What You Think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s