Darwin’s evidence as a desert mining town is everywhere: old shacks and storefronts; trailers and wrecked cars; machinery and ore cars and junk. The photographs of this idiosyncratic Mojave outpost are a narrative that tells of the interplay between the people who live where the end of the road meets the wilderness, and how they accommodate and celebrate the isolating vastness of their home. By delimitating, framing and personalizing this space, reducing it to a manageable scale, they co-opt, and ultimately co-exist with it.
In Darwin, the limitless landscape, human presence and history intersect. These photographs explore the idea of isolation: how physical remoteness informs the space that people inhabit—while conversely, historical remnants, the individuals and the constructs that they create define the character of a place.
The photographs celebrate the humorous and absurd juxtapositions as well as the often beautiful eclectic monuments, artworks and enigmatic objet d’art created that intersect with and humanize this landscape, while contradicting and mitigating the sublime expanse of it.
The Gateway project is a photographic exploration of a simple question: How do people live here?
Millions annually visit the tourist meccas of the American West—the national parks and public lands with sweeping desert vistas, unimaginable geologic formations and forested-mountain views. In contrast, a scant few thousand live and work in the gateways to these sublime areas. These are towns with a service economy—profiting from tourism ensures their existence. For those passing through, it’s often just a place to stay for the night—a stop on the way to somewhere else; or a rest stop and a bite to eat and a souvenir before heading to the true destination.
There is no arbitrary line on a map that delineates the ordinary areas of the west from the celebrated picturesque. I am drawn to those borderlands: places that contrast a pristine viewshed with the reality of living in, coexisting with, and earning a living in such a remote and unique place. I have deep affection for the ordinary and often-disregarded entry portal on the edge of paradise—the B-side of natural splendor.
These photographs are about hope and devolution and resignation and beauty at the outskirts.
MINES of the MOJAVE
The silence is broken only by gusts of wind and the songs of cactus wren and the scrape of rusted metal against metal. Broken glass, bullet casings and rock shards crunch underfoot. Creosote sways in the wind. Brush snags, catches, trips me as I walk. A dust devil whirls sand in my eyes and grit in my mouth. Relentless heat scorches and stifles, yet the sweat evaporates before it cools. My water is hot and does not refresh.
I am exploring an abandoned mine site deep in the remote mountains of the Mojave Desert. Hiking up a rock-strewn, broken trail scratched into the side of the mountain, the truck is left a mile back, the road too dangerous to drive. The site comes into view as I round a bend. Its appearance raises so many questions: What was mined here? Who lived and worked here, and when? Why did they leave? How did they get materials, machinery, fuel, food and water here? Were they lonely in this desolate place?
There is a hole in the ground and a decrepit, bleached ladder drops into the darkness; I cannot tell how deep the shaft is—a dropped rock takes 5 seconds to hit bottom, bouncing against the walls on the way down, taking pebbles with it. There is a weathered wood structure, paint long gone from years of battering winds. Corrugated metal panels, rusted and twisted, lay about and are perforated with shotgun blasts.
There is sadness to the place, a sense of abandoned hope, of brutal, back-breaking work, and of desertion and failure. There is also the knowledge that these structures will inevitably be gone someday, perhaps soon, like the men who built them—the result of weather, vandalism, looting and the neglect of the forgotten.
I have been photographing these lost mines for several years. I cannot say if I will ever find them all, but I will keep looking. I can only hope that in some small way the pictures might illustrate the emotion I feel, the wonder of discovery, the stark beauty and the finality of the place, the hope and the despair, the legacy. If they memorialize the scene, then I have succeeded in some small way.
Camping and Americans’ desire to commune with nature is a time-honored national recreation. Multitudes visit the American West to experience the grandeur of immersive desert vistas, iconic canyons and epic peaks.
It’s a paradoxical space. Wild lands must be demarcated, manicured, managed and protected from the very populace that comes to experience them. Experiencing the outdoors in the age of technology is a comingled desire for remoteness accompanied by the overlay of comfort and convenience of a pre-made fire ring, picnic table and clean rest room. Air conditioning, WiFi and satellite TV in a motor home or at a resort or motel ensure all the familiarities of home, if one desires convenience and has the ability to pay.
My photographs are an observation of the irony and poignancy and intersecting narratives of how people interact with and experience this accommodated landscape.
Unable to travel, I began to roam the suburbs of Orange County, California, the place where I live when I cannot be elsewhere. What to photograph in a place, for me, of sterile visual sameness and overwhelming density? I became intrigued by the ubiquity of transmission structures and power lines; the omnipresence of them, their prosaic architectural intervention, unnoticed yet layered in and shaping what is an overlooked and disregarded landscape.
At first I approached them ironically. Here was some of the most desired and most expensive real estate in the country; yet million-dollar cookie-cutter homes are clustered along the characterless, mostly-deserted parks with a random smattering of trees that are built under the lines, and that barely qualify as nature. This is the dream, the good life, I pondered?
The more I photographed, the more I became captivated by the idea of the power lines as equalizing artifacts—a part of the infrastructure that visually impact all, necessary to sustain the business of our everyday lives. Perhaps best and most beautiful of all, while one can’t actually live under the lines, nurseries abound: suburban ecosystem, sanctuaries of flora buzzing with bees and voltage.
They are like sentinels watching over us, symbolizing the coherence and interconnectedness that link us, visually shaping our world regardless of affluence or class, whether residential or industrial.