Graffiti over Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 2008
I have little interest in replicating the famous views of Yosemite’s Half Dome created by Ansel Adams and others. When Adams made his memorable black and white images of this very scene, there were no contrail clouds in the skies left by jet aircraft passing overhead. Today those same skies are filled with contrails, adding a symbolic matrix of technologic graffiti to the scene. I made this image as both an incongruous reference to a famous photograph and as a potential warning of environmental incursions yet to come. Yosemite offers one of the most beautiful natural wilderness areas on earth, yet even within this sanctuary, the hand of man can overwhelm the fragile beauty of nature.
Frost Shop, Mariposa, California, 2008
This incongruous neon sign is the only remaining trace of the drive-in ice cream shop that once stood on this street corner. Weeds have crawled up its base, and seem intent on eventually getting to that neon ice cream cone. The sign is a work of man, now left to the whims of nature. My image reminds us that man’s pleasures are temporary and easily forgotten. Yet nature never forgets.
The Hand of Man, Yosemite National Park, California, 2008
The skillful fingers of this photographer cradle a tiny camera as he quietly stalks a chattering squirrel just outside of Yosemite’s famed Ahwahnee Hotel. Together, fingers and camera repeat the arc of a fragile sprig of greenery emerging from the tree – a tree that abstracts the image by hiding the photographer from us. The photographer, of course, is not aware of this symbiotic natural relationship. But the viewer will be.
Field Trip, Yosemite National Park, California, 2008
A cluster of high school students gathers on Yosemite’s Stoneman Meadow. They stand below the budding trees and massive granite monoliths that make Yosemite a spectacular natural arena, yet they seem to have eyes only for each other. I make the group of students incongruously small, dwarfed by the grandeur of the natural world. I wanted this image to imply the subordinate role of man in the natural realm. The great meadow below their feet, and the towering trees and cliffs of Yosemite above them, should still be there long after the last human has departed. Yet we also might wonder, given the precarious state of the global environment, if Yosemite too, may someday vanish.
Faded inscriptions, Yosemite National Park, California, 2008
The Giant Sequoias that stand in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove are among the largest on earth. Some of them are over 2,000 years old. This one fell 300 years ago, and generations of visitors have inscribed their names on the curving surfaces of its ancient roots. I moved the camera close to a few of those inscriptions. Time has made most of them illegible. The fallen Sequoia proves that even the oldest living things eventually fall and die. Yet this tree managed to survive far longer than the faded inscriptions carved into its roots.
Elation, Glen Alpine Falls, near Lake Tahoe, California, 2008
The man appears to be passionately celebrating nature as a wall of water roars down on him through the trees. (Actually, he is throwing large rocks at the falls -- the big tree at right has obscured a rock in flight, leaving him to echo the thrust of the branches with both of his outstretched arms.) He seems so small, while the wall of water and the trees around him are so large. I wanted to express the simple human desire to exult in nature.
Territorial imperative, Cosumnes River, California, 2008
Here, in an idyllic setting, is a manifestation of man at his most territorial. The owners of this land along the banks of the Cosumnes River obviously want to keep others from setting foot on their land. An ancient tree, burdened here with strident warning signs, seems indecently dressed. We see nature out of character here due to the selfish territorial imperative of man. The tree plays the role of an innocent bystander, made to carry a message it can never understand.
Mining Machinery, Jackson, California, 2008
I moved close to the rusting gear of a 150-year-old mining machine in order to stress the effects of rainwater flowing between the teeth of the gear. Years of streaming moisture have created ideal conditions for nature to thrive upon the abandoned work of man. The green lichen clings to the rusty gear with great precision, and even imitates the pyramidal shapes of the gear’s teeth. The machine, like the men who once built it and used it, is long dead. Yet nature still flourishes within it.
Turkey vultures, Jackson, California, 2008
The cross atop the chapel at Jackson’s Catholic cemetery provides an incongruous yet obviously useful perch for these turkey vultures. The faith of man and these creatures of nature join here in a natural alliance. I photographed these vultures for over 15 minutes, and finally was able to freeze one of them in backlighted flight.
Nature reigns, Jackson, California, 2008
Parts of Jackson’s old cemetery have been virtually turned back to nature. In this case, a human grave gives way to a massive tree. Small in scale, and bent backwards under great pressure, the tiny headstone is no match for the inexorable pressure of nature. In a symbiotic gesture, man nourishes nature here.
Our Darlings, Jackson, California, 2008
A small angel stands over a children’s gravesite in the Jackson cemetery. I noticed a fading contrail from a jet plane dropping towards the horizon and moved my camera position so that it seems to be rising into the sky from the gravesite. While the contrail and the angel are both created by the hand of man, they conspire here to lift our thoughts skywards towards the cosmos.
Flora, Jackson, California, 2008
A 21 year-old woman named Flora died in 1874, and was buried in Jackson’s cemetery. Her gravestone has long since fallen over and cracked. It now lies in the shade of flowering weeds. I stood over the stone to make this image, taking care to include a pink plastic flower left by a compassionate human. Flora’s very name ironically speaks of flowers, the work of nature. In death, flowers – both real and imagined – have become her companions.