West Series 1

West Series photo set number 1
West #03 – Joshua Tree (left); West #01 – Owens Valley (center); West #02 – Palouse (right)
(click to see them full-screen)

These three images are part of a recent project, West. It is something that has been in the back of my mind for the last few years, and it started coming together thematically over the past year.

As an East Coast boy growing up in the tight spaces of suburbia, the idea of ‘the West’ fascinated me almost from the time I was old enough to read. It was not really the cowboys and Native Americans in books and Western movies that captured my imagination: it was the deserts and the mesas, and the mountains and great rivers (and dams), and the open spaces. Looking at maps of the United States, it was clear that there was something big there, and I wanted to see it.

It was only after I moved to California in the early 1990s that I realized that the West was an amorphous, unwieldy thing, messy and quite unlike the images buried in my head. It seemed too big to me—and a bit unreal—and was clearly based on a romantic notion that didn’t exist. In those early years out West, I explored a small bit of the Southwestern deserts and some of the Rockies, Cascades and Sierras, but my work, along with raising a family, kept big explorations far from my world.

After Lee passed in 2013, I had a series of vivid dreams about the desert, which rekindled a yearning to explore those places that had so long been in my head. Starting in 2016, my new wife Susan and I wandered and camped through California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Oregon and Washington (among other places). We explored deserts and the mountains throughout the West, and I discovered a rather amazing feeling: that of becoming grounded in the world, of being of a place at a moment in time.

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Joshua Tree I (for Richard)

I have just returned from a tour of the deserts of the Southwest: Death Valley, Palm Desert, Joshua Tree, and the Valley of Fire. It was good for Susan and me to be down that way: the desert nourishes us, especially in the late winter and early spring. I also received a lovely gift during our trip: the welcome return of the photographic spirit, which had been largely absent for me last year.

Today, as I was editing some photos from the trip, I learned that an old friend, Richard Wanderman, passed away earlier this month while I was largely incommunicado. I had known that he was seriously ill, and that his illness was most likely terminal, but I had hoped that he might make a bit of a recovery. He was often on my mind during my travels, but I wasn’t online enough to check about his condition.

I’ve known Richard in one way or another since the 1980s: he was a subscriber to my newsletter MacInTouch (which I published with my friend Ric), although our interactions were largely at trade shows. After a number of years in the ‘90s where we had minimal contact, Richard reconnected with me on Flickr. Since that time, we have had a wonderful ongoing photographic discussion, with the occasional detour into personal topics. Richard was one of the people who commented regularly on my essays and photographs, and he had deeply felt words of encouragement and care for me during Lee’s illness and after her death. I valued our connection, even if it was electronic and occasional.

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death valley milky way

During Hudson’s Death Valley workshop, we were out every morning before dawn and back out until the blue hour. (It was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.) On this morning, we woke up at 3 a.m. to go out and catch the rising Milky Way, which was visible for only 30 minutes that day. Hudson did a great job of preparing everyone the evening before, working to get cameras and expectations set for the morning shoot.

After heading out in the van, and hiking out to the Mesquite Dunes, we all lined up and waited for the Milky Way. Hudson had brought along a portable light to illuminate the dunes during our shots, and, although I got a couple of the latter that I liked, this unlit one is my favorite shot of the morning. It violates the cardinal rule that says “thou shalt not put thy subject in the center of the frame,” but to my eye it looks better than some of the off-center shots I made that morning.

I’m still a bit of a newbie on the whole Milky Way thing, but I’ll get there.

an afternoon in the alabama hills

I just finished up helping out on a workshop in Death Valley, run by my good friend Hudson Henry. It was a rich and rewarding event, and it recharged my photographic batteries, which have been low for a few months.

I’m less than midway through the culling process of shots from the trip, but today I started in on a bunch of panoramas that I worked on in the Alabama Hills, which Hudson and I visited the day before the workshop began. The image shown here is one of my favorites, and belies the weather conditions at the time, which was cold and stormy to the west and the south of us. (Click on the photo to see it larger in this browser window; right-click this link and choose “Open Image in New Window” to see it at 6,000 pixels wide.) It’s a bit darker here than I’d like, but it speaks to the mood of the day for me.

I know I’ve been more than scarce with the photos posted here over the past year or more; besides the trailer travels, I’ve been working on book publishing projects[1. Red Notebook Press, my first publishing imprint, released Nan Narboe’s Aging: An Apprenticeship last spring; it did well, but not great, for a variety of reasons. I will say that I learned a lot in the process, and am anxious to apply those lessons to future book projects. (If you’re interested, you can read more about that process in the post, “What I did on my summer vacation“)] and a redo of an older website, Complete Digital Photography (known as CDP around the house). These gigs have kept me quite busy, and I’m pretty much heads down on CDP right now.[2. I also left Portland, and moved to La Grande, a small college town in eastern Oregon, but that’s a story for another day.]

All that said, the image above is a direct result of one recent project: late last year, through CDP Press, I published Hudson’s Panoramas Made Simple. As part of that book’s editing process, I worked to move from the sloppy, “Rick LePage pano method” to the more accurate—and, frankly, more satisfying—methods that Hudson talks about in the book. When we were out in the Alabama Hills and in Death Valley, I spent a lot of my photographic energy working on panoramic compositions. I have a few more that I’ll get up in the next few weeks, but I thought I’d share this one now, while it was still fresh.

eclipsed

I went down to a friend’s farm to shoot the eclipse the other day, along with Hudson Henry and his eclipse workshop students. We had a blast hanging around all morning, waiting for totality, which was so worth getting up at 4:30 in the morning for.

(I posted this on Instagram and Facebook, but those sites really compress photos, so I decided to repost it here. Click on the photo to see it larger.)

Sunset in the Badlands

 

Over the past year and a half, I have discovered many beautiful places in this country, and camped in sites that provided gorgeous vistas, but few compare to this place: the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, which is immediately outside the Badlands National Park (and managed by the US Forest Service). I boondocked here in the Escape for a single evening last month, and was utterly captivated by the vastness of the landscape and its quietude. The camping spots were primitive, and there were about 20 campers along the ridge over a few miles, but it still felt like my own personal park. (The gentleman sitting on the right of the trailer in this shot was strumming on a guitar, which provided a lovely small interlude as the sun set.)

I would have spent days up on this ridge, but I had to move on (and it was due for days of rain, which wouldn’t have been as fun). I also wish Susan had been with me—there is magic in this place—but we’ve talked about it, and we’ll get back there together.

This is a five-frame panorama shot with my iPhone and stitched together in Lightroom. Click on it to see it bigger.

[where is this?]

Capitol Reef sunset

We just spent a beautiful week in Capitol Reef National Park, a gem of a place tucked into the middle of Utah. There were a few weather challenges here and there, but we found plenty of time to get out and see the magnificence of the park and the area. (If you want to see the glorious beauty that is Utah, and you don’t want to deal with the crowds at Zion, Bryce or Moab, you need to go to Capitol Reef—seriously.)

On our last night at the park, Susan and I went out for a shower and a burger on a cool, windy evening, and on our way back to camp, we stopped at a viewpoint. The skies and the rock cliffs were so beautiful, and the light changing so quickly that I pulled out my iPhone and snapped a bunch of photos. Back in the trailer, I stitched 4 frames into the panorama above.

(We’ll have a bit more about Capitol Reef on our blog, once we’ve caught our breath and schedule some writing time.)