Thursday, January 20, 2011
Dry desert air surged though my tent that night. The soothing gusts rushed through the trees surrounding my camp. Perhaps more soothing was the knowledge that my camera was not left at Badwater basin that night. I’m certain it would have been destroyed had I not retrieved it.
I was lucky.
Leaving my camera out overnight has not backfired thus far, but I’m sure my luck will wear thin at some point. (knock on blog)
There was no need for an early start that morning. No shots were planned. I could sleep in, eat a nice breakfast, then move my camp to Stovepipe Wells.
I could have done all that, but of course I didn’t. I can’t stand to miss a sunrise, even if I don’t plan on shooting it.
The sky was void of clouds, and there was a slight chill in the air. A full moon hovered over the Panamint range to the west.
A sense of excitement lingered in the air.
I drove to Zabriskie Point, a tourist viewpoint popular for photography. It was now just a half hour until sunrise. I brought along my Panasonic video camera to record a time-lapse video of the sunrise.
As I crested the viewpoint, I heard phantom voices in the distance. Below the viewing platform, a dozen photographers were prepared for sunrise.
At that moment, it was nice not to be a photographer. There are times when it’s great to enjoy a sunrise without the pressure of trying to capture it.
I think back to my neighborhood when I was growing up. Three colossal radio antennas were set to be demolished. I watched through the viewfinder of a point and shoot film camera as the towers fell. When I pulled the camera from my face, the towers were gone. There was a separation from reality. Even though I watched the demolition from start to finish, I didn’t truly see it.
Sometimes it’s nice to be a spectator.
Other than the full moon, the conditions that morning were far from unique. The sky was barren. Even if the conditions were unique, I had no desire to shoot within a herd. The people in the group were very nice, but I prefer to work in solitude.
Later that morning, I returned to camp. I broke down my tent, and drove 20 miles north to Stovepipe Wells. I selected a camp site, and made lunch.
My goal that afternoon was to scout the Mesquite Dunes. The rolling dunes on the east side are often pristine with few, if any, footprints. The dunes are nicely layered, and vary greatly in size. If you begin your hike from the main parking area, the hike will be nearly 2 miles. If you park your car near the black lava hills just before the Devils Cornfield, your hike will be just under 1 mile. Rather than hiking over dunes, your hike will be over a crusty salt flat.
I logged several locations in my GPS, and made sure to visit each one before sunset.
Unfortunately, none of my potential locations panned out. For one reason or another, they failed to meet my expectations.
I have envisioned an epic dune shot for quite some time. I want a rolling hill in the foreground, layers of dunes in the mid-ground, and a large dune peak in the background. It sounds simple enough, but I have yet to find a composition that works.
This was my third trip to Death Valley, and my third visit to the Mesquite dunes. Perhaps my inability to find this epic shot is symptomatic of my approach to photography. Rather than being inspired by a location’s true potential, I was on the hunt for a pre-visualized shot.
Was my pursuit of this shot causing me to lose sight of the true spirit of this location? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps my pursuit of this mythical shot represents a harmonious marriage of my vision, and the spirit of the location. I don’t have the answer.
In any case, I didn’t find my shot that night.
As the sun dropped below the ragged peaks to the west, I reclined on the crest of a dune. I ran my hands through the cool sand, pondering my journey thus far.