The Nile, Bakersfield, California, 2007
The Nile Theatre stands empty in downtown Bakersfield. Its graceful Art Deco design recalls the era of the great movie houses built long before the advent of TV, DVDs, and cinematic multiplexes. Yet without the fragmented threads of fading jet contrail clouds floating in the sky overhead, this image would be merely descriptive, rather than expressive. To me, those fading contrails symbolize the old searchlights that used to sweep the night skies over those great movie palaces. The contrails are almost gone, as are the searchlights that once lured entire cities to the doors of its movie houses. These fading clouds, extended by my use of a camera with a 28mm wideangle lens, best tell the story of this shuttered theatre.
Lenticular barrage, Tecopa Hot Springs, California, 2007
Lenticular clouds are stationary lens-shaped clouds that form at high altitudes, often over mountain ranges such as those that flank Death Valley National Park. These clouds appear to be a pile of stacked lenticulars. The more fully formed ones on the bottom of the stack seem to be flying saucers. Their presence turns the evening sky into a surreal barrage. After shooting this image, I noticed ground forms reflecting these very clouds. But they were not visible in my frame. I changed cameras, and made an image six minutes later of the same clouds, yet in a quite different context. It is the next image in this gallery.
Dreamscape, Tecopa Hot Springs, California, 2007
Just six minutes after making the previous image of lenticular clouds with a zoom lens set at 76mm, I made this image of the same clouds with a camera using a 28mm wideangle lens. Within these six minutes, they have changed their form and shape, becoming more diffused and less defined, yet they still hover in the same spot as in the previous image. The previous photograph told its story through the clouds alone. Because of this wideangle perspective, this image can expand on that story, relating the clouds above to a surreal figure etched within the Tecopa wetlands below. The body of that figure echoes the thrust of the huge white cloud overhead, linking sky to ground. The colors of the sky and distant mountains are picked up in the ground “figure” as well. This image is a haunting dreamscape – we become involved in the tensions between the expansive cloud in the sky and an invasive figure on the ground. It is a juxtaposition best left to our imaginations to resolve.
Abandoned borax plant, Death Valley Junction, California, 2007
Borax salts were once gathered and processed in and around Death Valley -- today, the remnants of this old borax plant stand alone under heavy skies. The massive rain cloud dominates the image, yet the shafts of light link it to the ground, while the soft layers of rolling hills, and the dark field of debris in the foreground echo its presence. The power line and water tank also tie the clouds to the earth. The image is rich in threat, yet not without a glimmer of hope. The old industrial world of borax plants seems lost and forlorn in such a setting as this.
Nightfall, Tecopa Hot Springs, California, 2007
Color plays the central role in this image. In the moments after the sun has set, surrounding clouds will often turn pink. That is what is happening in this image. The blue of night has already come to these rugged mountains and the wetlands that surround them. Yet the day still lives in the sky above. I waited for a lone car to pass down the road, so I could add both scale and meaning to the scene. The day is over, and that car seems to be on the way home.
Sierra summit, Lone Pine, California, 2007
The summit of the High Sierra is crowned with clouds, illuminated by the sun setting behind them. The dark sky behind the clouds provides ample contrast. The shadow of the peak at center is clearly seen upon the cloud behind it, adding a touch of depth to an otherwise single layer image. Are the clouds we see here are real clouds that cling to mountain peaks? Or are we seeing clouds of blowing snow, or perhaps some of both? In any event, it seems as if the Sierra Nevada Mountains are on fire, with the sun as the flame.
Squall over the Grapevine Mountains, Death Valley National Park, California, 2007
These billowing storm clouds appear to reaching out towards us. I’ve intensified this effect by using a camera with a 28mm wideangle lens, and structuring the image so that the shapes on the ground echo the shapes of the clouds. The wideangle lens expands the forward thrust of the clouds, while also embracing the circular clumps of sage in the foreground. The colors work well here, particularly the pink range of hills that pull the eye into the center of the image.
Storm at dawn, Death Valley Junction, California, 2007
Low flying clouds bring freezing rain to the outskirts of Death Valley. But it is an illusion. Rain here only lasts for a few moments. The whole area gets only two inches of rain a year, making it the driest spot in the United States. Yet the clouds here are putting on quite a show. They echo the color and bumps of the mountains below them, and mimic the clusters of sage that lie in the shadows. These clouds will soon pass, but those worn badlands and distant mountains will be there forever.