I am playing with an ongoing series of diptychs and triptychs of photographs, mostly shot in completely different places and/or years apart (and certainly not meant for each other), that seem to come into being when put together. The three pictures below are something of an exception to the rule and were taken during my last trip to the Salton Sea, in California, a few weeks ago. Not intended to be linked, jointly they come to life.
This past week I wandered off Route 86 onto the only paved road (not in a city/town) that leads to the Salton Sea – just past the Border Control station. That morning I hiked eight miles to and from the water; I spent the rest of the time photographing what little remains (without going off-road — a sedan does not cut the grade for driving in the desert; and on top of that, there *may* be unexploded ordinances in the area!) of the old World War II Naval Test Site. This was operated by Sandia Base (later Sandia Laboratory) as a site for test-dropping dummy and live bombs; Sandia called this site The Salton Sea Test Bed.
As I headed back toward the “86” I noticed a Border Patrol truck parked at the edge of a date-palm field. Moments later, it seemed I was being followed; it took about three or four minutes before I was pulled aside. The officer asked me what I was doing down the road. Had I slept there overnight? How long had I been there? I was never asked to open my trunk (thus my smuggled Mexicans and meth remained undetected), my car was not searched, nor was my driver’s license asked for. He did request that I return to my car, however, because i had stepped out (foolish me). Once he’d convinced himself that I was not a risk to anyone or to myself, I had a chance to ask him a few questions. It turns out that this is a common area for illegal entry into the United States from Mexico. Below are two articles I dug up on that topic (most of my findings had to do with people being stopped at this Border Patrol point – not after or before it…) :
And here are more photographs from the Naval Test Site:
In a post from August 10, 2015 I wrote,
I have never considered landscape photography something I “do” nor a genre in which I am seriously interested. Yet, as I review my images of the last few years, I notice that I have taken my fair share of landscape photographs. Apparently, not only do I like “being” in the natural world, I like taking pictures of it from time to time. Looking through Ewing’s book, and other photography books I have, it is evident that the groundwork for landscape photography is as varied as the world itself and that imagery of landscape includes all forms of the man-made. Sometimes, my photographs are devoid of human figures but they are, nonetheless, often pregnant with human presence.
The first three months of this year I was in Florida – a place I do not much care for unless I am in its natural environment. At the end of my stay, there, I had the opportunity to spend time in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. I have been to the Everglades multiple times and adore it but never have I visited Big Cypress. The few days were terrific and resulted in driving to various hiking spots. Perhaps because I recently inherited the book Landscape (part of The Library of World Photography series), from my father, I have been looking at more landscape photography than usual – much of it in black and white. Not coincidentally (perhaps), I could not help but feel in my heart that this part of Florida was meant to be seen in black and white and elusively; this sentiment was abstract but strong as I was engulfed in the terrain and had the opportunity to meditatively reflect on this ecosystem. Unlike many other landscape images in my repertoire, the following are pictures from an environment seemingly devoid of human touch.
Once upon a time, when I was involved in visual arts other than photography (mixed media sculpture installations and a bit of drawing and monoprints), I listened and sang, while I worked, to the music I walk by. These past few months, in Florida, it has not been easy to go out and take photographs so I have spent most of my “photography time” processing my work, instead (i.e., editing images and/or sequencing them). When doing this I tend to listen to music without words. Much of it is percussion. When I started listening to jazz, in my late teens, my ears and heart concentrated on the drums and bass. It is not surprising that listening like that has carried itself to today and relates to the music I love, in general. The following list is not comprehensive but is what I tend to listen to most often *if / when* I work to music.
Alarm Will Sound : http://www.alarmwillsound.com/recordings.php
Andy Akiho : http://www.andyakiho.com/#video
Glenn Gould : http://www.glenngould.com/video/
Glenn Kotche : http://glennkotche.com/listen (probably better known for being part of the band Wilco)
Jun Miyake : http://junmiyake.com/
Oscar Peterson : https://www.oscarwithlove.com/pages/listen
Ravi Shankar : http://www.ravishankar.org/
Rudresh Mahanthappa : http://rudreshm.com/
Steve Reich : http://www.stevereich.com/ (click on mp3 or video to listen/watch)
I have been fortunate this winter to be able to walk about five miles, most mornings, around the retirement development (Century Village) in Deerfield Beach, Florida, where my parents fly the Canadian cold and coop. I love walking! I simply adore it. But my feet are not the best; nor is my voice for, that matter. Trust me on both counts. Nevertheless, I put my earbuds into my ears, crank up the volume, walk briskly, and sing aloud. Below are links to official websites of some of the musicians/composers I listen and sing to. You will be able to peruse these sites and get a feel for some of my favourite walking music. So… (drum roll)… and in no particular order…. “Music to Walk By” :
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds : http://nickcave.com/videos/
Tom Waits : http://www.tomwaits.com/videos/
Jonsi : http://jonsi.com/media
Merdith Monk : http://www.meredithmonk.org/media/concerts.html
Bjork : http://bjork.com/#!page=videos
Steve Reich : http://www.stevereich.com/ (click on mp3 or video to listen/watch)
Leonard Cohen : https://www.leonardcohen.com/videos/
Kate and Anna McGarrigle : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGfQaYnBP5Y | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3ZCcSWaDfc | https://www.google.com/search?q=you+tube+mcgarrigle+sistgers&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=youtube+mcgarrigle+sisters
Jane Siberry : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC93d8JDe9YOaGzZwVHscalQ
Lana Del Rey : http://lanadelrey.com/videos/
Neko Case : http://nekocase.com/site/videos2/
The New Pornographers : http://www.thenewpornographers.com/media/
David Byrne : https://www.youtube.com/user/DavidByrneMusic
Souad Massi : https://soundcloud.com/souad-massi
Mariem Hassan : http://www.mariemhassan.com/index.php/videos
Wim Wenders’ Soundtracks : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSJ28vGa6dY (this happens to be a snippet from one of all time favourite movies, “Wings of Desire” | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSJ28vGa6dY | http://www.wim-wenders.com/music/
Manu Chao : http://www.manuchao.net/tvlina/
Arcde Fire : http://arcadefire.com/site/music/ (to really get you to walk quickly)
The list goes on and on and on…. but these folks are my mainstay – some of them for decades, now. If you have any music recommendations please let me know. Next blog posting: Working Music.
Last year I spent three months in Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, with my parents. They are “snowbirds.” That is, each winter they fly the coop from frigid, snowy, and icy, Montreal to the warmth of Florida. I was there to help my mother with my father who suffers from vascular dementia and with errands and daily tasks around their condo. This year, they arrived a few days ago, and I preceded them by half a week. For many reasons they hope to sell their condominium. This shall be their last year in Florida after almost 20 years of the sun’s felt heat and wintertime comfort. But this is what life is about. Change.
On my drive down from Boston, I sampled some of the motel chains off U.S. highway I-95. I imagine that what I saw there goes for the rest of the U.S., and Canada, as well. What the chains look like and offer may differ a little, place to place; but from what I saw, the change from one to the other is barely noticeable. This homogeneity or standardization is not particularly appealing to me but staying at these motels made my trip a quicker one since I did not have to deviate from my route in any way. Each evening, as I signed in and spoke with the motel desk clerks, it was clear that the outward appearances of these places certainly do not reveal the cultural differences of the locality I landed in.
Still, camera in hand, I was given “variations on a theme” to photograph. Here are a few shots that I took of these different places that are all the same.
Best Breakfast on the Road and certainly NOT Dunkin’ Donuts:
This past June I took a photo workshop with Gerd Ludwig at the Salton Sea in California. Little did I know beforehand, that this would be the start of a long-term project. I found a place that grabbed my curiosity in a strong hold; I wanted to dive right in. The idea that I can go back, over and over again, and pay close attention to this place so that I am more than superficially acquainted with it is thrilling. How lucky!! It is an evolving process, a non-trivial idea, and utterly amazing that I can do this.
This project examines overlooked features of a desert that bares witness to the human touch. In 1905, the Colorado River Dam flooded a low-lying valley and created the Salton Sea. Up through the 1960s, real estate developers worked to make this the next Palm Springs and a magnet for movie stars.
They failed. Today the Sea – California’s largest lake – is polluted and near-dead. Fish carcasses rot along the shore, and have turned the Sea’s perimeters into oddly sanded beaches of their remains. The sea of hope quickly evaporated.
The Salton Sea is a part of an Americana whose culture is a world apart from the rest of the United States. Places like Bombay Beach and Salton City represent the decaying vision of the Sea’s hopeful future; Slab City is a hovel for squatters; Calipatria, and Niland are ordinary city-towns where the life-bloods are agriculture, solar farms, geo-thermal energy.
Silence, emptiness, banality, and “rawness” attract me to this environment. Everything seems to stare at you; the illusory unpeopled streets give me the sense of something invisible. Other photographers have been drawn to the fallen romanticism of the Salton Sea. My own photographs are less about this lost promise; the inescapable “hereness” of this desert landscape and its surroundings opens my eyes to the everyday and the richness of the prosaic.