Colorado

Cabin, St. Elmo

Cabin, St. Elmo

Cabin, St. Elmo

Well, my PhD work is done for the semester, and I’ve finished grading all my courses. Translation? I can resume my photography. It’ll be spotty yet for a while, since I need some time to build a new body of work around a theme or two, but I’m back in the saddle. Just to hold everyone over, here’s a new piece from 2013 featuring one of my muses: St. Elmo.

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Dunes No. 2, Alamosa County

Dunes No 2, Alamosa County

Dunes No 2, Alamosa County

Sorry–it’s been a while. PhD students during the last month of the semester are akin to moles: squinty and pale from too little exposure to light.

I’ve always found the work of Brett Weston to be brilliant, and his influence can be seen in this image.

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.

Aspen Leaf, Chaffee County

Aspen Leaf, Chaffee County

Aspen Leaf, Chaffee County

Ansel Adams was fond of saying, “The negative is the score, the print is the performance.” I agree. The digital negative for black-and-white is the beginning; from there, we create a musical performance with the image. I was frustrated for years with Photoshop’s challenges in the black-and-white arena, but when NIK’s Silver Efex Pro emerged, I was overjoyed. Many of the techniques I had used in the darkroom, such as high-contrast developers, paper choices, proper filters, as well as push or pull processing, could now be replicated digitally.

This image is an example of creating the performance.

Legacy Homestead Barn, Chaffee County

Legacy Homestead Barn, Chaffee County (1)

Legacy Homestead Barn, Chaffee County

This barn has stood as testament to the fortitude of a family in the Colorado peaks for more than a century, its weathered exterior the evidence of perseverance and wisdom. But a new storm is battering the high valleys and front range of this mythical state, the hurricane of urbanization and development. Outside this small ranch that overlooks the Arkansas River valley, an 8-foot-by-10-foot real estate sign proclaims, “Legacy Homestead for Sale. Original Buildings. Ready for Development.”

Realtors’ “Property for Sale” signs are now more prevalent in high summer than Colorado’s   fabled wildflowers. The signs litter nearly every driveway, every Forest Service road with access to private land. It is nothing short of the sale of legacy to the highest bidder, the relegation of pioneer heritage to nothing more than an available tract of ground. Wolves to the hunt.

And so I return to this image. Look closely, for it bears the indelible mark of modernity and society upon it. It is not just a survivor, but a symbol of inaccessibility and suspicion, of gated communities, and of “haves” and “have nots.”

Aspens, Chaffee County

Aspens, Chaffee County

Aspens, Chaffee County

Aspens moved Ansel Adams, and for good reason. The mountains of the West are fraught with shadows, especially in the early morning and late evening hours of the day, making a dramatic backdrop for the whitewashed splendor of one of nature’s largest communities. What do I mean? Aspens groves are a single organism, connected below ground by an interconnected network of roots. They are as one, a suitable metaphor for our own relationship with the world.

Detail, St. Elmo

Detail, St. Elmo

Detail, St. Elmo

The iconography of the ghost town is worth exploration; textures, objects, and reflections each take on new meaning in such circumstances. Renewal? Loss? Decay? Each has element in these places has the potential for making us consider the greater issues surrounding humankind’s relationship with nature, with time, with itself. This image is just such a treatise.

Deserted Homestead, San Luis Valley

 

Abandoned Homestead, San Luis Valley

Abandoned Homestead, San Luis Valley

I came upon this homestead as evening moved into night, the clouds of a passing storm moving off to the east. The loneliness of the stark-white walls against the deepening dark, the distant peaks, and the dry desert left the thoughts of humankind’s relationship with the dry places of the world on my mind for many miles.

Stark Bros. Store, St. Elmo

Stark Bros. Store, St. Elmo

Stark Bros. Store, St. Elmo

The Stark Bros. Store has a long history in St. Elmo, and one of both prosperity, tenacity, and ultimate demise. As the town died out in the 1930s, Annabelle and her brother, Tony Stark (no, not Iron Man Tony Stark) eventually were the only residents of the near-ghost town. After she died in 1960, local legend says Annabelle returned to haunt the store and hotel in which she eked out a meager existence for so many years.

Either way, the iconography and composition of the hotel–regardless of what Anna may think–make a compelling photograph.