I went to Texas recently with my good friend and former assistant Liz McCue to see several other dear friends, including two accomplished photographers, Melinda Green Harvey and George Nobechi Bumstead. On the way there, we drove through myriad small towns, but in one, took a wrong turn. As we looked for a spot to turn around, both Liz and I exclaimed at the same moment, “Did you see those chairs?!?!”
Since as early as 1772, the site of San Francisco de Asis Mission Church has captivated the human imagination. It is breathtaking, and that very reason is why every time I teach at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, I take students to this very location. Oft-seen in images? Yes. Mystical in reality. Oh, my.
This time of year–actually, any time of year–I long for the Southwest.
Some prints just want to be difficult. This is one.
I made this image after four years of planning: a full moon at perigee and rising as close to the end of the blue hour as possible; an arch in Canyonlands National Park or Arches National Park which provided a miles-long and layered view toward the Lasal Mountains in the distance. Oh, and clear weather and a January night. No big deal, right? Except it happens only once every eight or nine years with all the elements in order.
And yet, everything came together on January 16, 2014. The moon. The stars. The snow. And the arch.
But such an image is very, very difficult to master, and I spent months–MONTHS–fighting with its substantial dynamic range and challenging colors. Why the problem? The arch is red, and to show its natural color, needs a white balance temperature of 7000 Kelvin at night. The stars? 4000 Kelvin. And that was just the start.
But nearly a year later and after a lost grand prize in a show (for a failed version of the print), I reached my breaking point. “Trash it, reshoot it, or figure it out,” said I.
So I trashed it and started over. And figured it out.
And so here is Moonrise, Mesa Arch, an edition of 50. I hope you find it inspiring, for I certainly did while shooting it.
It was a cold day in January, but the light in Santa Fe was warm. I wandered the Plaza and the surrounding streets looking for subtle still life photographs, and found one that warmed my heart just as much as did the light itself.
My mother tells a story that goes something like this: When I was 15, I was engrossed in a typical pastime at my grandmother’s house–looking at pictures in old copies of National Geographic. I ran upstairs, holding out a picture of two fishermen in Newfoundland, saying, “This is what I want to do!” The picture was by Sam Abell, who years later in an unbelievable turn of fate became my friend, mentor, and classroom colleague. No words can ever express the honor and joy I’ve experienced through working with Sam.
Similarly, I used to look at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops catalogue, awestruck by the photographers who had earned places there as instructors. How amazing, I thought, to take a class in Santa Fe from such people. Had you told me then that I would teach there instead, I’d have laughed in disbelief.
But no more.
The coming summer marks the first (and hopefully not last) course I will teach at the Workshops, The American West: Crafting Fine Digital Prints, from June 30-July 4. I’m eternally grateful to Reid Callanan, the SFPW director, for the opportunity, and I hope to see many of you in the digital lab this summer!
If you haven’t been to White Sands, you’re missing out on a photographic paradise. The contrast of deep blue skies in evening, coupled with the white of the gypsum-powder sands and their abstract textures are a black and white paradise. Is it any wonder Brett Weston and Ansel Adams (among many others) have been entranced?
It had been a magical evening: Clouds on the horizon had allowed a perfect rosy-pink light to illuminate Mesa Arch, while snow on the distant Lasal Mountains had created just the right amount of contrast.
And then a nearly-full moon rose on the horizon, wispy clouds moved through the frame, and the stars came out.
A magical evening, indeed.
I’ve always been interested in the textures of yucca. Some call it “soap weed,” but I have another name for the plant: beautiful.
Mesa Arch sits 1,200 feet above the Utah desert, the Lasal Mountains in the distance. In winter–the best time to shoot there, in my opinion–those peaks sit snow-covered and veiled in evening lavender colors as the sun sets in the distance. On this evening, clouds on the horizon lit the sky even after sunset, illuminating the arch and the vast layers in the distance in broad crimson and purple brush strokes. It was one of the most magical moments I have experienced in the outdoors, and making a strong image was icing on the cake.
I returned from the great American Southwest late yesterday, over 3,000 miles and 11 days in my pocket. My students and I held communion with some of the most spiritual and visually stunning places imaginable, such as Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, and Arches. It’s an excellent way to be reminded of what magical places sit at our doorstep here in the West.
The image above was one of the first I made: a winter storm beginning to clear over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes shivering beneath the cold and wind of the clouds.