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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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.