Monday, October 27, 2014

Published 9:16 AM by with 4 comments

Under Desert Skies

Living on the road has been an amazing adventure of discovery. America is such a monumental place, it would be impossible to see it all in a single lifetime. As we cross each state border, it feels like we are entering a new world. Hell, it sometimes feels like we are on a different planet.

Arizona, for me anyway, is one of those states that is so different from what I am used to, it feels exotic. The people and culture are not noticeably different but the landscape is made of the stuff I had only so far seen in books and magazines.

My first indicator that we weren't in Kansas anymore (so to speak) was the prevalence of cacti (as an aside, the world "cacti" doesn't sound like a real word to me. I think it should be "cactuses". But I digress). They were everywhere. Linda said I had seen them before when we were in New Mexico many years ago but my eyes were not as photographically trained back then and so many things of interest got away from me.

The other thing that caught my eye was the rock formations. There seemed to be an abundance of red in every direction and the carved shapes of these structures were unlike anything I had seen in Washington, Oregon or California.

The final differentiating factor was the quality of light. It seemed to affect everything I looked at. Sunrises and sunsets were more vibrant and shadows seemed more intense. Was it my imagination? Maybe, but it was real to me and my photographs seemed to corroborate my experience.

We stopped briefly at a campsite/gas station in Gila Bend and, although we were there for just one night, I made the best of it roaming around the dusty desert landscape in search of cactuses, er, I mean cacti.

The many shapes and personalities of each cactus fascinated me. I like the almost human form of this particular one.

The moon, the distant mountains and the formation of this group made this an interesting composition. I felt like the dude on the left balanced the picture.

The next day, we traveled to Usery Mountain RV Park near Phoenix where I had lots more opportunities to become acquainted with the abundant saguaros, a fascinating species of cacti that can live for up to 150 years. They were particularly plump when we arrived because of the recent rain.

One of many beautiful sunsets. The clouds in the sky caused spotlights on select objects in the landscape. At this moment the top of the mountain and the cactus lit up. A few seconds later, the sun had disappeared.

I loved the rock formations in and around Usery Mountain RV Park. We had way more cloud action than I expected during our stay.

Superstition Mountain near Usery Mountain RV Park had the most drama, almost on a daily basis. When I saw these clouds, I jumped in my car and sped to the scene. Luckily, on this day, there was almost no traffic allowing me to stand in the middle of the road for this shot.

We had arranged to be neighbors with fellow RV fulltimers, Fred and Jo. I flexed my portrait-snapping muscles on them during our stay. When I first got on the road, I was worried about essentially giving up shooting portraits in favor of landscapes so it was nice to get back to it again, albeit briefly.

We also managed a trip to Sedona, a city in the northern Verde Valley region of Arizona. Unique to this area is an array of sandstone formations that glow red during the setting and rising sun. Although their color is the big attraction, it was the textures that drew me to the landscape and I felt like I could best interpret it through black and white.

Bell Rock in Sedona. We had every intention of reaching the top but it was the end of the day so our tired feet dictated our actual ascent (about halfway up).

This was the actual view we had from that point on Bell Rock. Not too shabby. I prayed for some clouds but none came.

Part of the appeal of Sedona for many is the presence of vortexes (yes, that's spelled correctly) that evoke a sense of inner peace. This particular area is known for that energy.

Arizona is vast and sprawling and I honestly feel like I could easily spend a year there and produce thousands of unique photographs. It was thrilling to live in the desert for a little while and I hope to do it again in the not to distant future. 

In my next entry, I'll share my experience of seeing something that has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember: Grand Canyon. Stay tuned.
Read More

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Published 11:50 AM by with 2 comments

Splendor in the Sierras

As mentioned previously, I am studying the work of Ansel Adams in great detail and have been fortunate to be able to trace some of his travels through my own adventures on the road. I am continuing my exploration of landscapes in the black and white medium and hoping his influence on me is strengthening my photographs and not turning me into a second rate imitator. Either way, it's stimulating and inspiring me to appreciate the experience of being there, not just pressing the shutter.

I recently visited the quaint town of Lone Pine just off Highway 395 in California. This is Sierras country and Adams took several of his most well known photographs there. My main stomping ground during our stay was an amazing drive right up to Lone Pine Peak itself called Whitney Portal Road. The views are breathtaking and I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn't in a dream. 

During our stay at Lone Pine, Linda and I visited the Manzanar National Historic Site. It was quite a moving experience. This was one of several relocation centers set up when the US declared war on Japan in World War II. What was unique for me was the abundance of personal stories and anecdotes. It was as close to being there as is possible for someone like me. Of course I could never even imagine what it was really like but the visitors center wasn't just about statistics and facts. This old truck was eye-catching to me against the drama of the mountains.

I love horses and will stop to photograph and hang out with them whenever I can. These two were hanging out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. They were friendly and we had a nice few moments together.

There are lizards everywhere in this part of the country and I have to get used to this new precedent. They are to California what squirrels are to the Northwest.

One beautiful morning, I found a place not to far from where we were staying that had wonderful views of the mountains after the first dusting of snow for the season. I shot this as the sunrise crept over the peaks.

Movie Road is a right turn off Whitney Portal Road and is home to many famous westerns and modern blockbusters alike. Examples include: Around the World in Eighty Days, Django Unchained, Gladiator, Gone in Sixty Seconds, High Sierra, The Lone Ranger, North to Alaska and many more.

Another view of the Sierras with some dramatic clouds for good measure. 

While staying at the spectacular Tuttle Creek Campground, we had an unobstructed view of Lone Pine Peak and surrounds. I had the opportunity and privilege to watch the movement of the sun and how it affected the shadows and character of the mountain over the course of the day.

As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, it created layers and separation between the various peaks.

The sun sank behind the mountains and gave off one last beacon of light before it finally disappeared.

I have never seen so many stars in my life, at least not consciously. Astrophotography is a whole science and art unto itself but I tried my hand at it to capture some of the essence of what I saw.

One of my favorite Ansel Adams photographs is called Winter Sunrise and it was shot in Lone Pine. I did some research on the Web about Ansel's exact location when he shot it but came up empty. It took me a few days driving around but I finally managed to figure it out. Ironically, it wasn't in some remote place, it was right on the side of highway 395, just north of Lone Pine. I wanted to make my photo as close to the original as I could just so I could feel what it was like to be there in his shoes in 1944. Of course, it wasn't winter when I was there so the angle of the light was different and the clouds were obviously very different too. I couldn't stand in exactly the same place, however, because a huge tree was obscuring the entire scene but what I got was close enough and I felt touched by the spirit of the master as I clicked the shutter.

You can see Ansel's original photograph by clicking here.

We will return to this area whenever we get a chance. We have tentative plans to be there in March of next year. At that point, there will be a healthy dose of snow on the peaks. Until then, this experience will stay with me as one of the most important places I have ever visited.
Read More