“When Words Weren’t Enough”
This is a tough post for me to write and I apologize in advance if it’s a bit choppy or short. This image still shakes my soul when I look at it, 7 months after I made it. I’m not going to explain the actual image but I believe a bit of context is in order to understand why I made this and why this image is by far my favorite image of 2015, possibly of my entire life. Topaz is a historical site of an internment camp from WWII, in Delta, Utah. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US quickly responded by imprisoning US CITIZENS of Japanese Ancestry to “Relocation Camps” throughout the US. Topaz was Utah’s 5th largest city at 8-10,000 people living in exactly 1 square mile.
Read this again.
The United States imprisoned US CITIZENS based on ethnicity.
“In any circumstance, anywhere and anytime, take up your brush and express what you face and what you think without wasting your time and energy complaining and crying out. I hold that statement as my aim, and as I have told my friends and students, the aim of artists.” – Chiura Obata (1946) Topaz Moon
The people of Topaz did something incredible while living under such incredible injustice, they created art. I visited the Topaz Museum in the afternoon of my visit and was the only person there. I was shown some smaller works on display by the staff before wandering the museum in silence. It didn’t take long for the visual impact of this place to move me to tears. Display after display of artwork in various styles lined the museum walls. Incredible beauty and soul radiated from each piece. I think you get the picture.
I would strongly encourage you to have a look here for much more information: Topaz Museum
After visiting the museum, I headed a few miles West to the abandoned site of Topaz. Concrete slabs remain but the barracks have been removed, leaving little evidence of the life that thrived in this desolate and barren wasteland. Dead trees dot the landscape that is largely filled with sagebrush and other drought tolerant plants. It is far from the most beautiful landscape you’ve ever laid eyes on. The bugs are thick after the recent heavy rains and only added to the feeling of disgust. I came out here to see something though. I was trying to get a glimpse into the mind and eye of the artists that lived in this place nearly 80 years prior, a glimpse into the beauty they saw, a glimpse into the soul that is still present here. I spent 2 hours, again all alone, wandering this square mile with my camera and swatting away bugs. I finally came upon a few trees that immediately caught my eye. Click.
Spending time to find beauty beyond the obvious is something I value and strive for as an artist. I was only here a brief moment and in no way can I come close to understanding what the people of Topaz felt while living here. But knowing they yearned for something else, beyond the physical, beyond reality and under such injustice inspires me to no end. Expression of thoughts and vision is only one part of the equation as an artist, the other part is sharing the expression.
This single photo I took is my representation of this.
I had the opportunity to visit the largest National Park in the United States earlier this year as the hype of the Super Bloom was building. Major blooms in Death Valley are rare, happening every decade or so, and even though it will happen again, I may not be able to make it there for the next one. It’s not exactly a convenient place to get to! I’ll discuss this more in a future post but first, I want to share a little of what I learned in Death Valley along with a few images. I shot only 35mm slide film during my few days there and the images here were scanned (low-res) and converted to B&W.
Perception is a funny thing. We may view these distant snow-capped mountains as not overly tall but to the best of my knowledge, the north side of Mount Rainier is the only other place in the Lower 48 that mountains rise 11,500 ft above the adjacent landscape. That’s over 2 vertical miles! Our eyes don’t tell us this accurately but maybe a camera can help. It certainly can’t show how massive this place is. As I’ve probably mentioned before though, cameras and eyes don’t see the same way so I use a camera to show something else. My hope is that you can see it too:)
There’s a hidden beauty in Death Valley that isn’t obvious at first glance. It takes time and effort to find it but is there for anyone willing to seek it out. It may be in the way the colors in the sky transition in subtle ways, the juxtaposition of life and death, of light and shadow, or in the simplicity of open space. With this in mind, Death Valley no longer seems like a giant area of nothingness but more like a landscape of infinite possibilities. It’s simply a matter of perspective.
Death Valley is millions of years in the making and constantly changing on a scale of time that is beyond our comprehension. Sometimes these changes are so slow we perceive the landscape to be motionless. Other times, it changes before our very eyes. In October 2015, portions of Death Valley had 3+ inches of rain in 5 hours, destroying roads and buildings while transforming this arid land into an oasis. Then it evaporated. Other times, the motion of the landscape is on a much smaller scale. The wind in Death Valley can be brutal, as I found out on my first day here, and is responsible for the creation of massive sand dunes that stretch for miles. With winds in excess of 50 mph, I decided to pass on shooting that day since I didn’t feel like getting sandblasted. I waited until conditions calmed a bit and photographed the aftermath instead. The result of this intense windstorm was beauty that took my breath away. All signs of human presence had been erased and replaced with Nature’s art. I was in paradise.
I’ll share more images soon from the dunes and eventually, the wildflower Super Bloom. Spending a few days here in the 75 degree February sun was the perfect way to kick off Spring and I’m already looking forward to next year here!
Thanks for reading and following along,
What colors do you imagine?
A few weeks ago, I received a call from some friends asking if I would photograph their wedding. The thought of shooting a wedding is enough to make some cringe with the drama, pressure and formalities. It’s an event that only happens once (hopefully!) and there are no re-takes. They weren’t exactly getting married in a church though and it wasn’t your typical wedding. They had planned a sunrise wedding at one of the most beautiful places in Utah, Dead Horse Point State Park. My answer was easily YES!
For those who have been to Dead Horse Point State Park, you know how impressive the view is. The landscape falls away from the edge in all directions with the La Sal Mountains filling the horizon to the east and the Colorado River carving deep canyons to the south and west. It’s one of the finer viewpoints in all of Utah and the perfect place to say “I do”. I had the opportunity to spend a few days in and around Moab before the wedding to photograph and explore. I hadn’t been to Moab in years because it is generally a hotspot for tourists, and living in Park City I get enough exposure to this. I prefer the quiet, serene and remote places of the desert southwest to the bustling tourist towns. The week before Easter is the beginning of the Jeep Safari in Moab and as you can guess, the place was literally crawling with people and Jeeps! So many Jeeps.
I planned to go to Dead Horse Point the day prior to scout locations and observe the light so the big day would be smooth on all parts. I arrived at 4:30 AM to photograph the Milky Way before the glow of dawn obscured the stars. With a setting moon 3:30-4:00 AM, there was only a short window to see and photograph the Milky Way. In March, the Milky Way is only visible in the early morning hours so timing was on my side. Seeing the bright moon set to the west, then the Milky Way briefly appear, followed by the glow of dawn and a landscape appearing before your eyes, is truly a magical experience. Some things are not really possible to photograph, you just have to be there and experience it.
The following day was crystal clear and breezy which made for a chilly wedding and tough light to shoot in. Strong contrast, blueish pre-sunrise light and people not 100% comfortable was a challenge but this wasn’t my first sunrise in the desert;) We were a bit delayed due to part of the wedding party taking a wrong turn but it worked out perfectly. That was actually pretty funny. They accidentally turned into Arches National Park (in the dark) and drove around trying to find Dead Horse Point. After asking a few other people, they realized their mistake and quickly made their way to the right National Park:) The bride and groom said “I do” at 7:34 AM and at 7:35 AM, the sun rose behind the La Sals and the perfect moment was greeted in style. Click.
We wandered a while and created more portraits with the beautiful morning light and knock-your-socks-off scenery before heading back to Jeepville. It was a special day that I am honored to have captured. Although weddings are not my normal subject, it’s all the same. Light, composition, subject, moments and emotion. And passion. And love.
For behind the scenes and daily updates, follow me on Instagram @sageroamer I’m heading out on Sunday for a week so stay tuned to find out where:)
Thanks for reading and see you outside,
Wow, I guess its been a while since my last post! Sometimes a break in the action isn’t such a bad thing. 2016 is off to a great start with several adventures already in the books. I’ve photographed Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Moab and the Salt Flats so far this winter and I look forward to sharing some images from these amazing places!
I’ve also shot many rolls of film in these locations as well as in Park City. Shooting fewer images has definitely been a test of patience and observation but also highly rewarding. I still find myself glancing to the back of the camera after I click the shutter though! I share some of these slides on my Instagram along with semi-daily pics and observations.
I’m looking forward to sharing more and to spend more time blogging, so stay tuned for more:)
Park City, UT
I spend many days of the summer hiking the trails throughout Park City and most images aren’t planned. I generally have an idea where I want to go based on the conditions of the day, perhaps a view that could look good with the given weather or exploring a new trail. One particular day last summer I was hiking near the Silver King Mine in Park City when a thunderstorm popped up and the rain quickly forced me to seek shelter inside the abandoned mine. I’d explored this building a few times before without a camera but now I was there while waiting out the storm, camera in hand. I began looking around at the rusted machinery and the pieces of Park City’s history left behind, noticing how the rain saturated some of the exposed steel and fading paint. Heavy rain and hail beat down on the tin roof of the 5-story structure, water dripped through the leaking roof and the place came alive with colors and sound.
Over the next hour, I wandered the building and began photographing various pieces of this history. The light was a mix of warm daylight, cool shade, reflections and deep shadows. All these pieces began to form a thought in my mind of what I thought the images could look like once processed. I began focusing on forms and compositions, quickly finding subject after subject to capture. This process repeated a few other hikes to various locations around Park City over the summer.
I didn’t think much of my initial images, as they didn’t fit my normal subject matter of the natural world. I kept coming back to them though and found they told more of a story and contained more than I initially saw with my eyes. I began editing the photos without restricting myself to what the scene actually looked like. Colors were changed, saturation and tones changed, and some perspectives were altered. One thing I didn’t do with the images is remove or add anything that wasn’t physically already there. Color is an interesting aspect of photography in how it is often confused with light. Color is completely subjective since the human eye sees a small spectrum of wavelengths of light. Objects appear a certain color because of how we perceive the light with our eyes, not because the light is a certain color. With this in mind, color in photography becomes a complete choice of the photographer as to how it’s presented. Camera’s do an amazing job at recording information of light and detail, which the resulting digital file can then be interpreted by the photographer.
This series of images is an ongoing project with no specific time frame. Finding this subject and exploring the photos with no creative barriers has opened my eyes to more scenes around me in everyday life. I now find myself wondering how everyday scenes appear to others. How does someone else see leaves covering a grassy yard? A tree in the fog at sunrise? A river in the evening? A rainy day? The possibilities are endless but one thing remains constant: We all see differently. It is for this simple reason that the experience of finding, creating and trying to understand these images has been a top experience for me from 2015.
Go explore and look beyond the obvious:)