EDGE of the GARDEN
The Edge of the Garden photographs continue my long-term interest in visually exploring the synergy between humankind and nature.
For the nearly 50 years that I have been making images of the American landscape, I have examined the idea of human intervention in the natural world and attempted to define the beauty and meaning that can be found there.
A silver lining of stay-at-home pandemic isolation has been the opportunity to explore the flip side of that concept: the unintended encroachment of what we think of as “nature” — flora and greenery — in a constructed, human-made world.
I am attracted to the visually metaphoric possibilities of deserted urban and industrial landscapes. There is beauty and wonder to be found in the disordered and the ignored; areas that are filled with everything human, but devoid of its creators. I look at the constructed landscape transfigured by the natural and photograph the complexities of this tender relationship.
At the same time, I am fascinated by the paradoxical idea of the fabricated landscape — nature replicated, meticulously planted horticultural displays that humanize and lessen a bland structure’s expansive cold concrete bleakness. Plantings so clearly needed in a warming world, both for function and to sustain the spirit.
My images are views of an authentic landscape; they seek to broaden the syntax of sentimental landscape photography and expand prevailing conventions of the picturesque. As I explore what at first glance appears to be a barren, unforgiving environment bereft of life, I am intrigued and heartened by the irrepressible persistence of nature, disrupted but still beautiful; for me a wonderous untamed garden.
A gateway is for passing through; it is not a destination.
I photograph what it is like to coexist with celebrated nature in a gateway community; to understand the sense of that place. My photography is an investigation into the vernacular landscape — looking at the relationship of those who live there with the surrounding, often spectacular landscape.
There is no line on a map that delineates the prosaic areas of the West from the striking and picturesque. The gateway outposts that I document are towns that lie just outside America’s tourist meccas: national parks and public lands with sweeping vistas, unimaginable geologic formations, mountain views, and cultural and historical attractions. Hundreds of millions visit our national parks annually.
Conversely, a scant few thousand or fewer live and work in the typically rural gateways to these renowned natural attractions. These are towns with service economies; tourism has often supplanted waning local industries like mining and agriculture, which the savvy town will often leverage as a sightseeing attraction. For the traveler passing through, these gateways are often just a place to stay for the night; a gas stop on the way to somewhere else; or a bathroom break and a bite to eat before heading on to the planned destination.
I have deep affection for the ordinary and often-disregarded on the edge of paradise — the flip side of natural splendor. I am drawn to those places that contrast a pristine viewshed with the reality of living in, coexisting with, promoting and working in an often remote and unique place. What is the community’s attitude toward the land and its sense of place, its pride of place? What is behind the public-facing façade of Main Street?
These photographs are about hope and pride and devolution and resignation and beauty at the outskirts.
I photographed the Port of Los Angeles thirty years ago when I lived in San Pedro. I’ve returned to photograph here again.
The photographs are an attempt to see this whole dynamic landscape — natural and industrial — and to see its beauty in all its guises.
The light defines, mostly hot and Southern California brilliant, but sometimes so soft with wildfire smoke or ocean fog that it caresses the industrial landscape with a gentle touch.
Unseen nature is everywhere — a warped weed in a sea of macadam, scraggly brush surviving between rails, a manicured shrub along a wall's edge, reminding us that there was something here before us that will persist regardless.
Dynamic industry dwarfs those it serves, monumental structures in constant motion that define this landscape.
I hope the power of these photographs lies not only in their potential to challenge and expand notions of beauty and form in the landscape, but also in the questions they engender whose answers may well be a gauge of ourselves, our environment and
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.
expanse of it.
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.
As I roam the suburbs of Orange County, California I've become 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. But 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.