Extreme heat, no moisture, rocks, sand, high altitude, below sea level, rattlesnakes. What’s not to like? I don’t know what it is, but I love photographing the desert. In the last five or six years I’ve been to White Sands, New Mexico twice, to Death Valley, California three times, and to the Atacama Desert in Chile. While each of these three desert locations is completely different (i.e. Death Valley -282 feet below sea level and the Atacama at 16,000 feet above sea level), there is something about the desolation, the natural beauty, the sand dunes, and the amazing mineral deposits that keeps me going back.
I just returned from 9 days in Death Valley, California, and although I had been there two times previously, I came home with new photographs and an even greater appreciation for the diversity and beauty of this extreme location. Returning to the same locations doesn’t mean returning with the same photographs. Quite the contrary. No matter how much one prepares and tries to anticipate, there are always surprises and challenges – like Death Valley’s record high temperatures of 105 degrees just two weeks ago, the lack of nightly winds which left the sand dunes covered with footprints for six days, or the sidewinder rattlesnake tracks I had not previously seen in the sand dunes! And although on previous trips (and for much of this trip), the cloudless skies provided harsh, direct light, I found shooting before and after the sun appeared and disappeared behind the distant mountains provided an entirely new (for me) way to capture the “softer,” more beautiful view of this extremely harsh environment.
Finding new ways to see and photograph the familiar is a challenge I enjoy. And when you visit the same location multiple times, much is familiar. In great locations, the raw material is always there, but it is the photographer’s responsibility to see the familiar in new ways, and to try to convey that uniqueness to the viewer.