8. A Trip to the Southwest



In 1993 my mother died and my chiropractor, who was also a photographer, suggested I get a change of scenery by joining a photography river trip to Utah she and her husband were going on. We would take rafts down the San Juan River and stop to take pictures of Anasazi ruins along the way. I decided I would bring view camera gear and camping stuff and go.

If you’ve never taken a river trip, I recommend it. Southern Utah is beautiful and rafting on the San Juan River we got to look up at 1000 foot rock walls on either side. Our guides brought us to see Indian ruins where most of us took photographs and several people painted or made drawings.

I thought the ruins were interesting, but the terrain and rock formations were what attracted me most. Where the Dunes of Colorado offered bold shapes of dark blacks flowing into various tones of white, what we saw on this trip was much more subtle. I found myself often looking for sandy surfaces of rock, much of it caked with dried mud. At the Dunes I looked for big vistas. In this part of the Southwest I concentrated on things much smaller and closer.

Once again, nature gave me some lessons in lighting, namely cross-lighting. It happens when light grazes a surface to pick up textures.


I think of the black and white photograph above as my Pieta.  I see the dark shadow on top as a symbol of the cross and the vertical mud streaks as the Virgin’s tears. It also sums up in visual terms what this Southwest trip meant to me.  It offered a variety of stone and mud textures which allowed me to create abstracts with no real sense of scale. You don’t know how big that wall is. It could be 10 feet tall or 100 feet tall. There is no “duck on the pond” stuff going on here, where 90% of the picture is context for a duck which takes up 10% of the image. Here everything in the image counts.


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