This place used to be extremely hard to find. When I went several years ago, I had to deep dive the interwebs and had to then use a fledgeling version of Google's translation program to get to English from German to find out just generally where it was. Now there's a trail out to it.
I was on my way out to Death Valley National Park and passing through Las Vegas, which I hate, and staying for the night with a good friend I had not seen in years. I had some time to kill before he got off of work so I jetted up to the Valley of Fire for a sunset shoot. There are lots of good photographic opportunities there from ancient petroglyphs to the Windstone Arch but I was after the grail at that time, 'the Fire Wave.' This beautiful aggregate of red aztec sandstone mixed with limestone is awesome and much more accessible than 'the Wave' that sits in the Vermillion Cliffs area which requires a hiking permit and a not short trek out and back.
Where did that come from?
The clouds weren't helping me out much on that particular evening and that's why I've never published a shot until now. Oh yeah, that's not the actually sky or rather not the sky from that direction anyway. I ended up shooting the sunset from a different direction and blending the sky into this frame. I'm way past worrying about a factual representation of exactly what was or was not there. I'm an artist and this is a much better representation of my vision. This is the original, unedited RAW version straight out of the camera. Way different right?
Photographers are in a unique position in the art world especially us landscape folks. We are in the business of interpreting a reality but the public ethic seems to want us to veer much closer to the factual over the expressive. You would never find that constraint applied to a painter or sculptor unless they are trying to pacify a specific client who commissioned them to represent themselves or a family member. So where does that come from?
A not small part of it is tied to the western landscape tradition often associated with Ansel Adams and Group f/64 who created a movement in the 1930s towards images that employed extensive depth of field to allow sharpness across the entire picture plane emphasizing texture and a complete tonal ranges. This was also a uniquely American style created as a reaction to the pictorialists, more of an international movement from the 1880s-1940s, who often manipulated a scene using soft focus techniques who's intent was crafting an image over simply recording it, projecting an emotional design onto a viewer's imagination. The history is fascinating and it's interesting how much politics and World War II shaped both these movements and the people who perpetuated them.
We are still transitioning from the western landscape tradition today. I don't really consider myself attached to one camp or another but do believe the context is important as we discuss the craft of image making. More tools are available now than ever before to photographers and I encourage you to experiment as you develop your own personal style. This image is originally from 2011. I was able to rotate back to it with a fresh perspective and that's how what would look to be trash source material can be manipulated into something beautiful. On that note, don't delete your files because memory is cheap and you never know.
The map below shows where I was standing when I grabbed this shot.
"I don't like sand.
It's course and rough and irritating and gets everywhere."
Until next time,