April 13, 2005

Defeated By Landscape

Sidewinder Rd, Mojave DesertBarstow and the Mojave: this landscape defeats me every time. Junk-strewn foregrounds, immense and beautiful mountains in the background, the desert floor all stony glare, sagebrush, dunes, and spent cartridges... for nearly fifteen years now I've tried to capture it in photos, using everything from a little Nikon digital to my old Sinar 4x5 view camera, and every time the results mostly miss the point. The point is the context, the juxtapositions of the everyday and the alien, the way people go on living here as though they were in suburbia. Which, of course, they are now, by sheer force of will. The images can't convey the strangeness of a shiny factory outlet mall in the middle of a desert with any real force -- the sight's even more unreal than Las Vegas, where the unreality is the whole point, and where it's entirely self-conscious and calculating (here it's just the Triumph Of The Will again). Single images can't do much justice to the reality of stumbling across a discarded sofa or fridge in the middle of nowhere, in front of a beautiful granite peak or set of sand dunes. Static images can't do justice to the way the desert is nearly always seen on the move from the freeways (I've started using video for this...). And in the desert the drama's in the distance (in all senses), which doesn't work so well with my wide-angle street-honed approach.

Everywhere the introspective domestic architecture of the High Desert, the windowless clapboard walls, the small shuttered windows... what strikes this (semi-) Australian is the lack of verandahs and houses up on stilts, the lack of awnings around shops and stores...


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