Monument Valley Revisited – again, and again.

I have had the great pleasure of photographing a number of books for KC Publications, owned and operated by the legendary (in my books) KC DenDooven. I’ve photographed books on the Santa Fe and Spanish Trails, Dead Horse Point State Park and the entire Art & Crafts of the Southwest Indians series. (Arts & Crafts, Ceremonies, Tribes, Weaving, Fetishes and Pottery, which I also wrote). Early this past summer I was invited by KC to start re-photographing some of my own work for the Monument Valley book. Ten years ago, KC contracted me to produce a 16-page insert to his (at that time) current Monument Valley book, featuring the photography of Josef Muench. I own a copy of that book signed by Mr. Muench given to me by KC for fulfilling his “order” for photos to bring the book up to date.


That cover photo, by the way, is the first color photo ever taken, nay MADE, of the Totem Pole. I believe the year was 1937. I know this because “KC said so.” KC is history. Not only did he know and work with Josef Muench, but he was also friendly with Harry Goulding and his sister ‘Mike’ who lived on Pleasant Creek in what is now Capital Reef NP. KC befriended Bates Wilson in the early 1960’s as Bates (superintendent of Arches NP) was pushing Congress to accept his proposal for a little “wilderness” national park called Canyonlands. KC also published the first article on Canyonlands written by his friend and then Kennedy administration (and arguably one of the best) Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Need I go on!

Anyway! To infuse my 16-page insert I sought out descendants of the early Josef Muench photos and in some cases older versions of the very people who appeared in the earlier photos!

This past summer KC contracted me to produce a few “replacement photos “ for the current publication. I spent a day at MV photographing and had a few “photo insights” which I share now.

#1 History is Forgotten.
Josef Muench was here in the late 1930’s. Ansel Adams photographed the valley in the 1940s. Back then there were no paved roads leading to the monument or even in the area. The road from Flagstaff to Moab was dirt according to KC, who drove it THEN! There is no record or mention of either of these men in the current displays.

#2 Global Warming is here to stay as is the effect of TOO MUCH VISITATION.
The drought in the greater southwest has really set in. While driving the 17-mile self-guided loop in the valley I paid particular attention to scenes and particular subjects that I knew well, from Muench’s and my own, covering an over an 80-year history of working the valley.
There’s a tree that Josef photographed and I photographed, ALIVE, that is now dead. Dead for lack of water due to the drought compounded by the summer of 2018 heat that likely was over 100 degrees for at least two months, without rain. It was also dead due to visitation. As people trample the ground around some of these obviously good foreground subjects they pack the soil so that when it rains two things happen; 1)the water quickly runs off to other areas over the hardened surface, and; 2) the soil is compacted by the foot traffic exposing roots so they can no longer conduct water (aka LIFE) to the tree.

I drove the valley making a few photos and attempting to locate some of the people I’d photographed for the insert. I’ve been asked to update the current issue this next year and look forward to doing that for it connects me to a fine part of photo history.

Josef Muench is the photographer who made a portfolio of B&W images in Monument Valley who then gave them to his friend Harry Goulding, who then as the legend is told, camped out in John Ford’s Hollywood office for 4 days and then when Ford finally relented and looked at the pics decided pretty much then and there to film his new western “Stagecoach” with an up and coming new kid actor by the name of John Wayne. The rest is…. as they say…..history. KC owns the second and last of those portfolios and intends to produce a book based on them. I was able to trace some of the folks he photographed for the early publication and re-photograph them or their descendants for my insert. What a thrill for them and for me!

Towards the end of my visit I was at the visitor center watching the sun set on the mittens and the two foreground rocks that Adams made famous. The visitor center and parking lot now engulf the spot and the pavement is but 10 paces from the rock. I was watching from the vantage point of photographic history. I know the history of this icon. There were a few photographers gathered near the rock, photographing the light upon The Mittens, hoping for the best. There was one crouched near the two boulders. I knew he must have seen an image of these in the foreground, but wondered, if I asked him, if he’d know who’d been the first to envision that composition? Right about the time I actually thought of interrupting him a tour bus pulled up and out marched (no exaggeration) a group of oriental tourists, methinks Japanese, led by an outgoing gentleman wearing a t-shirt with the Forest Gump name and Monument Valley road scene printed on the back. His air-pollen-face-mask clad clients disembarked and were herded (it is Navajoland!) to the boulders where they were lined up. Evidently he was giving instruction as to how to best photograph the view. Moments later he started to order them to climb atop the right boulder and engage in a pose as he photographed them with their camera and then ordered them to quickly get out of the way. Next!
I watched with a growing amazement and ultimately, admiration, for the way in which he was getting all this accomplished. He seemed to ask for the next person and I raised my hand. There was a short group laugh and he bowed towards me. The crouching photographer did not. Overwhelmed by the event taking place he quickly packed his gear and moved away, noticeably pissed off. At one point in my career I would have been him. I would have been aghast at the sacrilege, called them untold nasty names under my breath. No more. Yes, the two boulders framing The Mittens is a good composition, but it belongs to Ansel Adams AND NOT THE REST OF US. I spent my final minutes photographing the spectacle before me, enjoying every minute of the orchestrated delight this busload of tourists was having in being there in that moment.

Lesson Learned. Many western photographic icons have a history that is to be enjoyed not through our own photography but through just seeing it through the eyes of a history you know and appreciate (with a grin) when others do not.

KC has pretty detailed photo needs and I work hard to complete them. I look forward to spending more time in MV this year making the photos he needs and a few I need ….. Such as…….

There will be more stories on this. Stay tuned.

False Kiva Reality

False Kiva Reality

This past week the National Park Service (NPS) announced that they have closed access to False Kiva, an archaeological site in the Island-in-the-Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. The closure stems from years of abuse that the site has endured from run-of-mill knuckleheads, hikers, well-intentioned photographers simply wanting to “repeat or clone” for themselves a photograph that photographer Tom Till first made several decades ago.

I, for one, totally support the move, not only because of the aggregate damage being done, but also for all those photographers who flock there.

This is the Tom Till shot of False Kiva, made on 4×5 film, back in the 1980s.

I remember going to False Kiva in the early 1980s with my friends Glen and Mr. Till. Tom had a view camera and I had a 35mm. Since it was the 3 of us, it’s very likely that Glen had been there before. Tom’s image became the image standard for this place. It was published widely . . . . . and I don’t fault him one bit. And then people started to figure out how to get there. Landmarks help you triangulate. I’ve actually encountered people with calendars or Xerox copies of an image featuring False Kiva walking across and damaging the natural resources to get to the cultural resource. Not good! A while back the NPS decided that there was so much visitation to the site that they had to establish a “presence” there to let people know that eyes might be looking. That obviously did not intimidate some folks who would camp and evidently “party” in the alcove, move rocks and generally disrupt the environment. I’m glad it’s closed and I hope anyone caught violating the closure is fined heavily.

But that’s not my priority reason for supporting the closure. My real reason has to do with landscape photography and personal vision.

There is a problem with landscape icons. Usually, somewhere back in time, a pro like David Muench, Jack Dykinga, Guy Tal or the like finds an amazing composition featuring a well-known landmark such as the Mittens of Monument Valley, Delicate Arch, etc. makes the photo, publishes it and then the world descends on that spot to essentially make THAT photo. False Kiva is one of several Tom Till’s iconic area shots. Like a few others in the area the image was first made years ago and has simply been copied ever since.

Back in 1972, David Hiser first photographed Turret Arch through North Window and Mesa Arch at dawn with the beautiful under-glow. People flock to these spots now. You practically have to take a number and wait in line at Mesa Arch.

This is Hiser’s much-copied 1972 image of Mesa Arch

This is Hiser’s “FIND!” Turret Arch through North Window.

Basically all you do is go to the spot, found via GPS, image downloads and other means, set up, and wait for weather and lighting to play her part. The essential composition has already been established BY SOMEONE BEFORE YOU! All you do is tweak it a bit and wait, maybe change focal length, over-slide your saturation or make it Black and White.
Oh to have such a personal relationship with a saguaro!

It also happens to much lesser-known landforms as is the case with one of Jack’s iconic photos with a certain, very certain, curved branch saguaro in bloom. People go looking for it and miss the beauty all around them. Archaeological sites are particularly prone to this behavior as excess visitation can lead to very real damage. I’ve seen published (but not located) images of my own cloned perfectly. It makes me wonder if the person spends more time looking at a pirated print of my shot to line things up than he does in actual communion with the place.

The thing is, IT’S NOT YOUR SHOT! You are NOT BEING CREATIVE! Sorry, but not. You are not performing an original act. You’re cloning.

Yes, there is something to learn from cloning a fine composition first made by SOMEONE else, just like many painters paint like a chosen master for a while to learn their technique, their vision, IN ORDER TO ADVANCE THEIR OWN. However, most of these painters treat such paintings, however well done, as an exercise, not as a finished piece to call their own. (Unless they make their living at forging!)

Creativity – where fore art thou?

It does not seem to be the same for landscape photography. I type False Kiva into my browser and there appear pages of imagery, essentially the same composition, as well as a few maps and a video with directions. At one point in my career I would have been happy to have a few of these to call my own. I probably DO HAVE a few that are very similar, but the thing is, they never felt like a true, personal image of mine since my friend Tom made that first one, and so I let that place go and went looking for something I could call my own.

That is why I applaud the NPS decision to close the site. Photographers! Be free of the chains of cloning! Go back up the trail, out onto the land and be original!

(Note: I’m really speaking to those photographers who want to develop and be known for your personal artistic vision. There are those among us who simply “research” other people’s work, find the locations and then seek to fill their portfolios with cloned images in order to perhaps gain some sales and unearned notoriety. Don’t get me started on these ……….hmmmmm…….. how nasty to get?……..these imposters!)

Weeping Beauty

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!


Weeping Beauty

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!






Yucca Dreams

Have you ever had the burning desire to photograph and have it be so strong that it consumed you, blinded you to everything else and even paralyzed your ability to act because the urge to merge with the landscape with lens and light was so paramount in your mind and body that it controlled and intimidated your very being?
No? Well, ok. I have and often do and was under that influence on this day.

I’d driven down an eroded sand road on Cedar Mesa to a point of land overlooking a string of deep side canyons with the intent of walking their rim and finding a few archaeological sites to photograph. No such luck. The sandstone shelves were bare. I felt this strong need to consume my time with photography, to actually make one image that moved me. The previous days’ long hikes had left my legs tired. I was slothful.

A secondary, likely woodcutting road, led further out to the point than I’d stopped. I followed it driving and walked to the far point of land overlooking Valley of the Gods. It was Memorial Day, 3 pm and the sky was clear and blue. Not exactly prime conditions for quality landscape photography. I was an image-addict in need of a fix. I made a few iPhone remembrance shots and feeling unfulfilled dragged myself into my truck to drive home. I drove slowly over rocky sandstone outcrops.

My visual and mental search for sites had blinded me to the bloom taking place. Claret cup and prickly pear cacti. Ricegrass. Peppergrass. Blue lupine, penstemon, scarlet gilia, paintbrush and several versions of yellow sunflowers were all showing their colors. I stopped, gathered equipment and followed the voice inside me saying, “photograph desert flowers,” and began to collect cactus blossom images. One amongst spines. Three amongst spines. I’d seen these compositions before, and not by me. I stopped. A breeze had come up making photography of the slender dancing flowers difficult. Out came my flash, extension cable and a switch to rear-curtain sync.

After that rather furious and fruitless session I drove again and was stopped by a few prickly pear blossoms nestled under a small narrow leaf yucca with its strong radiating lines. I like contrast like this – still flower, dynamic lines. Soft petal, sharp spines.


I’d added my large, 48-inch, collapsible diffusion reflector to my gear. It was leaned over my little scene making the light even and luminous. The breeze blew it off. As I reached for it from my stooped position I turned my back towards the yucca so I wouldn’t puncture myself on its sharp ends. Turning back to work my unfocused gaze was shaken as I peered into the yucca and the random pattern of hair thin filaments that curled and curved away. I was startled and then transfixed.


Here! Here was todays dance in the desert. Each spear had dozens of these delicate spirals attached to it. I was lured in by their movement. Time for the 105 macro!

For the next 2 hours or more I gloried in making a few images deep in the yucca. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “I paint the inner world of flowers, color and light, and paint them large so people cannot ignore their beauty.” I was going into this world as I had not done before. As I peered into the viewfinder and changed focus ever so slightly I felt like a one-person audience at a great modern dance. Even the slightest shift brought new dancers to the front of the stage.

It took quite a while to make the first good images as small camera and tripod adjustments made major changes in my general composition. I was glad for the extension arm I’d brought as it allowed me to swing and angle the camera to more workable positions. I do little macro work and so don’t own a focusing bar, but I certainly understand their worth now.

The first photo left me almost breathless and I stood slowly to relieve the tightness in my knee and ankle joints. Whew! I thought about moving on – but where? I admonished myself. It’s happening right here. Right now. Yep! So I better prepare. I collected my sleeping pad, snacks and water bottle out of my truck, tethered my diffuser and gathered my camera bag close by so I would but reach for what I needed. I’d formed a little creative cluster of comfort and equipment.


I then sat on the pad, pulled the reflector into place so I and the yucca were shaded and stilled myself by openly gazing into the plant. I’d single out one particular curling filament, consider its movement, squint at it to get the out-of-focus feel, and alter my angle by leaning slightly side-to-side. I did this for about 20 minutes until I felt I was in that world and knew what I was responding to. At the forefront of my perception were the delicate gestures that each filament made. Curl up. Curl down. Embrace another. Spiral away. I would isolate and position it in my frame while all the while considering all the out-of-focus movement behind and in front of the principal dancer. In macro, objects between the lens and the main object area as important as those behind the subject.

There was a growing breeze and an oncoming cumulous system. ISO went to 400 from 100. Aperture in this situation is of great importance as the amount of content in focus can make or break the image. Too little and your primary subject is not well defined. Too much and you may have visual chaos and not be able to determine subject from content. Just right and the subject moves and connects to the rest of the frame in a most pleasing way. All 3 of my “keepers” were at f8.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time concentrating on such a small portion of land. My subject was not even a whole plant, but a small portion of the deep and marvelous world within! Feeling finished I leaned back, stretched out on the ground and felt quite relaxed, refreshed and content. A good session within the glass will do that.

At home adding contrast and clarity, reducing highlights and making a slight color adjustment in Lightroom returned me to the essence of the experience. These were a new kind of image for me and I remain thrilled! My ‘idee fixe’ of stone structures had nearly blinded me.
Slow down.
Let go of photo intentions.
Allow images to find you.

Old Friends

In anxious anticipation of our good President Obama designating a Bears Ears National Monument here in southeastern Utah (specifically San Juan County) I’ve been visiting some old friends. Over Labor Day weekend I revisited two archaeological sites that are dear to me. What? You want the names and locations? Sorry, this is not about that.
I have enjoyed making photographs of archaeological sites in this area since the early 1980’s when I first really explored Cedar Mesa. I was living and working on the Navajo Reservation in the Utah town of Montezuma Creek. This made Cedar Mesa my default backyard. The Needles District of Canyonlands was 1.5 hours further north and Moab was beyond that. At first I was lured in by the deep canyons and mushroom rocks at canyon heads and rims. It did not take long for me to become enthralled by the vast array of archaeological sites. Dwellings, granaries, towers, kivas, lithic scatters, stone kilns, and, of course, rock art. All of these and more became part of my weekend walking vocabulary. I was already photographing when I arrived in Montezuma Creek at the age of 24. I had a dream of becoming a ‘national park photographer’ and though I have essentially done that having created interpretive slide shows for Organ Pipe Cactus NM and Arches NP (now gone), that early and innocent outlook did not prepare me for the depth of feeling and commitment that was to develop toward this particular subject.
As I wandered the canyons alone and with friends I began to feel something I had not when traveling to farther locations like Yellowstone, Zion or the Grand Canyon.
It was there in the Needles District, the Maze, Escalante and even Capital Reef, but not this strong. It took a few years for me to acknowledge what it was.


It was home.
Home, to me, is a place, not an address. This is a concept I learned best among the Navajo. Cedar Mesa was my backyard and for the past 30-40 years I’ve been exploring it as often as I can. I need more time, but it seems that time is running out. Cedar Mesa and the surrounding landscape are being overrun by people, by us – for lots of reasons. Some people come because of stringent and enforced group size and camping limitations found in the national parks. Some are after something new and have been bitten by the ‘rock art and ruin’ bagging bug. Others see this vast landscape of BLM and some NFS land as an open playground in which to ride their motorized road maggots (atv and ohv)…….oh, I’m sorry – not!

Let’s move on.
Labor Day. 2016. I was pleasantly surprised to NOT find too many people on the Bears Ears or Cedar Mesa. I assumed it would be packed. I camped high and visited the two sites taking my time and allowing the visits to last for hours.


There is much creative compositional insight that can happen if you give it time. I made but a few photographs (5-7) at each site, but stayed at each for about 4 hours. At both I made an initial “gut” photo, then laid my gear down and just sat absorbing the sounds of the canyon, the light, and re-discovering the nuances of the rock, both the natural and built environments. One of my attractions to this subject is finding a balance between the geometry of the built environment and the natural poetry of place. My seeing has been enhanced by years of large format photography where the image is inverted on the ground glass. Among other considerations the inverted image helps us to erase ‘nouns’ from our mind’s eye and encourages and almost requires us to see in the visual language of line, shape, balance, etc. If an image “hangs together” in inverted form you can be assured that you have a strong working composition. Try it; you’ll like it, Mikey!

I’ve made two dozen or more other images at these sites over the years, but these recent ones seem most satisfying, not out of technical consideration, but that I considered them for a longer period of time and let them work their magic on me more than I sought to work any magic I might possess on them.


The musician Mary McCaslin has a great song titled Old Friends. “Remember old friends we’ve met along the way, the gifts they give us stay with us every day.” I think of the Cedar Mesa region this way, and it’s the reason I’m trying to be a good friend and give back by being involved in its protection. I’m convinced that a national monument is the single best choice for the region and that’s why I serve as vice-president of Friends of Cedar Mesa.


NPS 100th Birthday & KC DenDooven

NPS 100th Birthday and KC DenDooven

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and this past Thursday, August 16, was the actual date. Here, in Moab, we’ve been celebrating for a while. 2014 was the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park and I had the privilege of creating a 3-program set of radio features on the park and its founder and first superintendent Bates Wilson. And besides, when you live in Moab, you pretty much live in the parks so every day is a celebration.
The birthday headlines caused me to reflect on my relationship to the parks. There are three of profound significance – family camping trips, home, and KC DenDooven.

YOUTH. I was raised on family camping trips in the national parks. When we three kids grew just large enough our family would take the annual prescribed 2-week summer vacation from our Salt Lake City home and visit the national parks. With our 1955 Chevy loaded with our Coleman everything (tent, stove and grill, lantern, and Dacron 88 sleeping bags with duck scenes on the inside) we’d either head north to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone or turn south for Zion, Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. On occasion the parents would get a wild hair and we’d go all the way to Glacier, coming dangerously close to visiting my mom’s siblings, and then we would much to my father’s chagrin. We once went to Mount Rushmore and several times visited Rocky Mountain NP. Those were great days. We saw all the sights. Rangers would check our camp at night and we’d invite them in for hot chocolate……….and they’d stay! We saw wolves, bears, bison, mountain goats, deer, moose, elk, squirrels, and at 14 I saw my first bare-breasted woman walking down a trail in Rocky Mountain NP! Dad quickly scattered us into the forest where we nearly got lost trying to avoid the natural wonders awaiting there!

Canyonlands Birthday,Canyonlands NP,Canyonlands National Park,Chesler Park
My Favorite View : Prints Available

HOME. The camping bug bit hard then and has never let go. While most of my high school friends involved themselves with football and debate, I took to backpacking, first with a few of my errant Lutheran boy scout troop buddies and later on by myself and with my long-time Moab buddy Glen. Trips became more and more epic and we were not limited to the national parks. When it came time for me to move out of Salt Lake City I tried to find work in Moab, but didn’t. Serendipity played her hand and I moved to Montezuma Creek, Utah to teach in a Navajo school. Ten years later I bought the house that became my home in Moab, moved to Santa Fe for 9 years and returned to stay in 1999. This is home……well, almost. If I could up and move my little home to Squaw Flat I’d be content to live my years out there without ever going anywhere else. The Needles District of Canyonlands and its sister, Cedar Mesa, are my refuge. Home is not a numbered address but a state of being. My “immediate” backyard runs for 250 miles in all directions!

kc 1001

KC. When I think of the NPS turning 100, I quickly think of my friend and publisher KC DenDooven, who has published over 100 books on the national parks all with the subtitle: The Story Behind the Scenery. KC pioneered the publication of books on the parks by having park naturalists write the texts that would be illustrated by some of America’s most celebrated nature photographers. When first in Santa Fe I was fortunate to befriend one Dan Murphy who worked at the regional NPS office in interpretation. He also authored the historic trails book series for KC. Thanks you serendipity. Dan liked my work and suggested to KC that he hire me for the upcoming Santa Fe Trail book. KC agreed and my publishing career began. I have produced 11 books for him, mostly on Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts and was allowed to write the one on Pottery. KC is an integral part of the history of western parks. He was the first publication to feature an article on the brand spanking new Canyonlands, an article penned by Secretary of the Interior Udall. His Monument Valley book bears the first color photographs made of the Totem Pole, the Mittens, and the people of the valley by legendary photographer Josef Muench. In 2000, a year after Josef passed away, KC asked me to write and photograph a 16-page Monument Valley Today insert for the re-issue of the publication. The first thing I did was to take copies of the original book to Monument Valley and begin the long process of tracking down the descendants of those in the original. In some cases a child from the first book had just grown much older. It was a great circular weaving of history and perceptions of landscape. The land had not changed much and neither had the valley resident’s devotion to that landscape. Park management and the level of tourism had grown significantly, and though there has been threat of paving the 17-mile loop road you can drive in your personal vehicle it remains as it has been – dry and sandy, rocky and rutted and subject to flooding when it rains. As the valley residents say, “It makes you see this place on HER TERMS, not yours.”

That is essentially the mission of the National Park Service. It is a mission that we can cherish and participate in. The national parks are subject to issues of budget, management, diversity, development and divestiture. They are threatened politically. At the end of the day, though, they still take our breath away.

Happy Birthday National Park Service! You’ve given me a sense of place, a sense of self, a home in the homeland and friendships that will last a lifetime! And thanks to you as well KC – you are the first two-legged, living, walking, scuba-diving national park!

First Blog – Welcome!

Greetings and welcome to my blog –

I’d like to begin this experiment in verbal discourse about a visual subject by talking to a subject that, for me, lies at the heart of what we do.
I believe that how we think and speak about our work determines how we perceive and go about it. Therefore I believe that we need to think about and change the language of our medium.
The first word that needs replaced is “take.”
May I “take” your picture? I’m going to “take” a picture of that mountain.
Take suggests that you are acquiring something that is already made or completed. In my mind it is dangerously close to steal, possess without permission, or worse – to gain control over something that you did not exert any energy in creating.
The definition of the verb is “to lay hold of something,” “to get into one’s possession, power or control,” “to seize or capture,” or to “carry or bring.” Synonyms include get hold of, bring, bear, transport, convey, transfer. Nothing in there references the creative process.

Those who know me, especially via the Moab Photography Symposium, know that I promote the term “make.” Let’s go make a photograph. Or we could simply replace take with “Let’s go photograph.” The root of photograph is “light-drawing” which suggests the action of drawing. Drawing requires a combination of intently perceiving, thinking, talking to oneself, visually measuring to calculate placement of objects, tones, etc. on the paper, adjusting, selecting what to include and exclude and a host of other active decisions.

The verb form of “make” is defined as: form something by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create; to cause something (in our case an image) to exist or come into being. Synonyms include construct, build, assemble, produce and form. Is this not what we do?


When we are out for a hike and come across an interesting landscape subject we start assembling an image in our mind, we start working the scene by moving slowly to begin finding the best position and angle. As we gather objects before our eye and placing them in our composition by adjusting our position and selecting the tools (lenses) we want to use, we also turn to our inner landscape to gather our thoughts and emotions that in some fashion match the forming external scene. We keep honing in on the juncture of the external and internal landscape. I view the process as having a conversation. I employ objects in the natural world to help express thought and feelings from my internal landscape. I listen quietly and intently to what the elements in both landscapes saying. Sometimes they shout with glee. At other times they whisper. We set our final composition. We set our camera functions and re-check the firmness of our tripod. The shutter is triggered. We go home and re-enter the process of bringing the image into being via post-processing, printing and sharing. All along the path of creativity we have engaged with our subject, with our equipment, with ourselves. We have “taken” nothing….for granted. We make photographs.

The other word that needs replaced is “shoot.” I’m a pacifist. I get the jitters when I see children making a gun with their folded fingers and pointing them at a friend. With a gun we “shoot” and “take” a life and there is far too much of that happening in the world today for me to be comfortable using that term in the beautiful and personally sacred creative act of expressing the beauty of self and the natural world with a camera.

“Shoot” implies an element of speed – the force of a racing bullet, and a target. A target is usually outside of us – a deer to feed the family, or antlers to hang on the wall – an avowed enemy who is training his weapon on us – the person shot in the act of self-defense outside of a military conflict, or the innocent victim of a robbery or murder. Do we now hold the gun? I guess I’m influenced by too many western movies, spy novels and murder mysteries, and the constant barrage of TV shows and video games that advocate, highlight and celebrate gun violence, not to mention the ongoing headlines of shootings in many cities in America.


My photography is a refuge from all of that.
In stark contrast to “shoot” in the aforementioned environment is the use of “shoot” to describe the fresh growth of a new plant as its young, slender form just emerges from the nurturing soil. New life. New life full of possibility that will eventually grow, blossom, flower, seed and even provide sustenance to animal, human and even its own kinds as it completes its life journey.

Aw shoot.
Shoot. Photograph.
One syllable. Three.

Select Definitions of “shoot” from Merriam-Webster (online)

* to eject or impel or cause to be ejected or impelled by a sudden
release of tension
* to drive forth or cause to be driven forth by an explosion
* to discharge, dump, or empty especially by overturning, upending, or
directing into a slide

* to wound or kill with a missile discharged from a bow or firearm

* to engage in the hunting and killing of (as game) with firearms
especially as a sport
* to pass swiftly by, past, or along
* shoot from the hip: to act or speak hastily without consideration of
the consequences

The most common uses of “shoot” have far too many negative overtones for me to want to infect my creative process by using it. I prefer my photographs to be considered, thoughtful and usually paced a bit slower than a speeding bullet.

To “make” a photograph takes considered time.
Photographing invites a more lyrical and poetic approach to image making. Drawing with light takes time and the “target” is internal – it is ourselves.

Let’s honor the entire process and MAKE photographs!

Coast, Coast Trip 2016, Highway 1, Highway 101, Northern CA Coast, Oregon Coast, Redwoods, Salt Point State Park, northern CA, road trip 2016
Fence Line : Prints Available