Sometimes it just all catches up to you. I’m talking about feelings here, not f-stops. Over Christmas I spent 3 nights at Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada) camped in my cozy 12’ Aliner, a hard-side, pop-up trailer. I arrived Christmas eve and set up Saturday night just before it started pouring rain.
The east side of Valley of Fire is a mesmerizing swirl of colored sandstone cut by 5 different washes. A walk up any of them will make your eyes pop. I spent my first day, the whole day in wash #5. You’d think I’d have covered 10-12 miles, but I doubt I did 4, going up the wash and back, meandering side to side, unfettered, stopping here and there to photograph, to even consider a photograph for a lengthy bit of time.
On the second day I paid a visit to David Muench’s little cave on the east side where he made the image that appears on the cover of his book ‘Windstone.’ I spent what I thought was the rest of the day roaming those same hills, looking in all the nooks and crannies, holes and caves. I felt the air chill about 20 degrees and thought that it must be about 4 pm, but returning to my truck I found it was only 1:30.
I drove back to the east side and parked in lot #2, angled towards wash #3 and started my slow meander up. About an hour in I was on a side of the canyon where the stone is striped orange and vermillion. A few clouds had softened the scene, deepening the color and I found myself caught up in a great emotional flare. I turned slowly around, my eyes moist. Beauty seemed to be dripping from every pore of the land.
What a feeling! It welled up quite strongly. Love? Solo anxiety? Fear? Old age? I do find myself getting a bit moist in the eyes far more often than I used to, but I’ve traced that sentiment to my work teaching children’s art in Moab. Kids will get under your skin that way. This was something different. It kept pulsing through me. I closed my eyes to center and discovered I was overcome with a powerful sense of raw beauty. Everything I love about photographing with nature was surrounding me. The forms, the lines, the light and mostly the color were all so very strong that I just had to sit. Looking back at this moment (that I hope repeats itself for me, for you, for a lifetime) I can see that up till then I’d been walking the wash whimsically making photographs. Then the elements came knocking at my door inviting me to experience them in raw emotional form. To meet them head on. To form a stronger bond and relationship with them. If we are not moved to tears by our subject from time to time then are we fully connecting? Are our subjects just pawns in the game of composition or do they mean more? I hope for the latter and while trying not to be to woo-woo here I personally do believe that engaging the landscape as you would a lover, a good friend or a trusted spouse (with all the joys and entanglements) will net you better, more personally meaningful photographs. I’d just been reminded of that again!
I sat for a few minutes longer and took out my little notebook that I used to jot down words and ideas as I walk, cause you know some of the best ones are like leaves falling from a tree; if you don’t reach for them out of the air the pass you by. I started making a list of what I see when walking for photography. Let me say that I don’t go ‘looking for’ this and that, but instead plant in my head some thoughts, ideas, etc. that I may later recognize in nature as equivalent. The most meaningful photographs I make are those that contain a balance of internal and external landscapes. The internal landscape is one of emotions and ideas while the external landscape contains the raw material of rock, plant, sky, water, light, etc. I employ elements of the external landscape to reveal my internal landscape. My word list included: sinuous, drape, winsome, meander and more. With a chuckle I pretty quickly connected “Weeping Beauty” and wrote that down. That pretty much said it all for me. The land was weeping beauty.
After my “break,” l looked around and followed a glimpse of purple and yellow stone to where the image Weeping Beauty was revealed. How amazing that I could be putting those words together not but 5 minutes before and then take no more than 30 steps to make an image to match them. What a joy!
So here are a few samples of what I walked away with on that trip. Most of them wanted to be color, but I threw in the one B&W for good measure. There’s more in the gallery section of this website. Go to: Go West Young Man/Valley of Fire.
And may you always be warmed by the fire of your photography!