Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Arizona Desert – A Sense of Place


Over the past nearly two years, I have traveled frequently to the Southwest border of the U.S. ranging from El Paso Texas over to the Arizona-California border near Yuma.  Living in Washington DC, and having spent my adult life along the coast or in large cities, I find this territory quite foreign.  In the midst of this travel to the Southwest border, I began travelling regularly to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Spending my first career on or close to the water, I guess it only makes sense that I should be sent to the desert for my second career.
And so goes the theme of this article…a sense of place.  Photography is a wonderful way to capture the essence of a location.  But even more powerful is a collection of photos that more fully describe and convey a sense of place.  My original intent for this article was to pick some Southwest border shots and talk about the relative starkness of the Southwest desert in contrast to my city/coastal experience, and how this starkness can be a magnificent attribute to exploit through photography.  However, as I began to collect the shots I wanted to s show, I began to get a clearer “sense of place” as I viewed the various shots as a group.


With this revelation of a “sense of place” I offer the following collection of shots taken along the Southwest border.  The shots were principally taken near Tucson Arizona around the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, the port of Sasabe, Coronado National Forest, and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  (As a side note I have met and worked with managers of these refuges and wilderness areas as well as the U.S. Border Patrol; all of which deserve our greatest respect for their service.)
The first four photographs were each taken on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The first shot (top of the article) of a cholla cactus is one of my favorite Arizona desert shots.  This cactus is beautiful, and even more so when you are fortunate enough to get the right lighting.  The closely knit spines seem to nearly glow against the background of the desert mountain range.  I placed the next three shots together to prove to myself it is possible to get exceptional color shots in the desert.  As a big fan of black and white, is difficult for me to keep desert shots in color.  The starkness of the desert is always begging to me for black and white.  However, as these shots show, that even with a limited color palette, it is possible to draw out some uniquely interesting shots.

In the next four shots, I return to what is natural for me when considering the Southwest desert in winter.  These shots were taken on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and the Coronado National Forest.  

In my mind, these black and white shots while physically in the same geographic area, transport the observer to a completely different place.  The place is much more lonely, ghostly, remote, and foreboding.  In other words, for me the shots are much more Hitchcock and much less Disney. For instance, take a look at the second black and white shot.  It is somewhat dark, moody, and menacing.  The highlights of the shot are clearly the spines on the cholla cactus in the foreground.  

But while your eyes are focused on the cactus, they inevitably end up wandering to the power-line pole in the background.  However, when my eyes move up to the pole, I don’t see a power-line…I see a grave marker in a very inhospitable place.
Finally we end up with the last picture…back to color, and back to another angle and composition of the same cactus shown at the beginning of this article.

The photographs in this article are, in order of appearance;
1.       Dramatic Light on Cactus on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ISO 100, 50mm, f/4, 1/1000 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS).
2.       Big Color Cactus on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ISO 100, 28mm, f/14, 1/200 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS).
3.     

Cowboy Camp on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ISO 100, 105mm, f11, 1/60 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS).
4.       Desert Mountain Pano on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ISO 100, 28mm, f/11, 1/320 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS).
5.       Desert Mountain Panorama on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ISO 100, 105mm, f/9, 1/100 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS).
6.       

Fuzzy Cactus on Organ Pipe Cactus
 National 
Monument (ISO 100, 24mm, f/4, 1/1000 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS).
7.    
   Tucson Desert Cactus BW (ISO 100, 92mm, f/4, 1/3200 sec, Canon 5D, Sigma 70-300).
8.       Tucson Desert Road to Nowhere (ISO 200, 70mm, f/8, 1/320 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 70-200 f/4 L).
9.       Pretty but Dangerous Cactus on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ISO 100, 50mm, f/4,
 1/1000 sec, Canon 5D, Cannon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS).
All photographs in this blog are available for purchase.  Please send me an e-mail for a pricelist.
Enjoy,
Craig

1 comment:

  1. I am really enjoying your blog and all the wonderful photos you have taken. Along the way, I am also learning something about photography. Thanks for sharing buddy.

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