Billboard, San Luis Valley

Billboard, San Luis Valley

Billboard, San Luis Valley

What is the role of water in the West? That is beyond the scope of a simple blog post and image, and more the subject of innumerable books, articles and documentaries that still have failed to capture completely a vastly complex topic. But I’ve thought about water for a long time, and the Keystone XL Pipeline problem in Nebraska, as it tried to cross over one of the West’s great water reserves, spurred me to begin looking in earnest for images that expressed this conflict.

This is my favorite. It captures so many pieces of the conflict in interesting ways, and it’s an image of which I am very, very proud. Seemingly simple, it masks a complicated and faceted composition that took me more than 72 hours to create.


      1. Eh, we’ll see if it gets in. Who knows? I could get shut out, could have other pieces accepted, etc. I’ll just be happy to get one of the five in the show along with you and Terry Cockerham, pal.

    1. Steven, here’s a quick synopsis. I often just get in the car and drive around with a specific idea (such as “High and Dry, Water Issues, Rural Loss, etc) in my head, but on the day I found this image, I was actually driving with my wife and kids south to Alamosa, where I used to live. I saw the scene on the way down, and almost had a wreck when I noticed it, but kept driving and made notes when we stopped regarding some ideas I had for the scene. I made sure later that day–after sundown–that we stopped again, when the billboard was lit up. An acquaintance of mine, Eddie Soloway, calls this process “sketching.” I made several long-exposure sketches from different angles, and different compositional settings. We then went home, and I kept sketching with a pencil and notebook (I keep science lab notebooks all over the place for permanent recording of ideas), and then determined a few key ideas I wanted to express with the image. And then I waited for the weather to cooperate.

      It did three days later as the Three Forks Fire flared up, and about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I knew I had something. The weather looked right, so I jumped in the car and roared off for the two-hour drive south, tossing a couple slices of cold pizza and sodas in the passenger seat.

      After I arrived, I executed the three or four sketches I had planned out, then began to compose more creatively, and after three and a half hours of working the image, waiting for light and weather to cooperate, and ensuring my technical settings were exactly as I wanted, I had what I wanted: a proper digital negative.

  1. This is a terrific image, and a great idea too.
    It is interesting to hear about the attention that goes into every detail of your photography. I was thinking those 72 hours would probably include laying the water image over the top of the billboard surface. Even though that kind of method is not how I think of your work – I guess the billboard is almost too perfect for it to seem real.

    1. I thought I had hit the jackpot, honestly. When does one ever get so lucky to find something like this? In this case, I like Ansel Adams’ idiom “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

      Thanks for the comment!

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