When most people think of the southern California desert, they think of Palm Springs and its resort neighbors strung like pearls along the necklace of highway 111. It’s the desert that beckons movie stars and ex presidents. It’s the desert transformed by water and wealth, a dash of green in a sea of brown.
This is not that desert.
The desert pictured here is that desert’s poorer sister to the north, the High Desert of the Mojave. The one depicted in, The Grapes of Wrath, braved by the Joads on their way to the promised land of the Great Central Valley. It’s a vast stretch of high plain creosote crosshatched by volcanic mountains, sand dunes and dry lakebeds. Our habitation here – aside from that relating to the military – consists of a few widely scattered towns of modest means. And it’s the homes and gardens found in four of these towns, Twenty Nine Palms, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and California City, that comprise the subjects of these pictures.
Whereas we’ve transformed into our own image the lower Colorado Desert of Palm Springs, most of our efforts to that end have run dry in the sands of the Mojave. Denied the water and wealth available elsewhere to keep the desert at bay, it pervades every nook and cranny.
Our homes comprise our most lasting and revealing connection to the physical world. Their deep familiar provides a solace without equal, an inviolate refuge that mirrors, reinforces, and gives shape to our individual sense of self and place.
Just as it provides little succor for the green retreats we crave, this desert offers scant shade from the loneliness that is part of being human. There are no people in these photographs, just the detritus of their lives---a propane tank, a barbecue, a basketball, a dog bowl scattered across one dusty yard. In this spare landscape, such objects attain additional weight. Even a crack in the street suggests disconnection. In fact, the only thing that seems to connect the objects in these photographs - be they ranch homes, or an absent child's swing set - is space.
While these pictures may speak to the gulf that separates us from this difficult terrain, they allude, not infrequently, to the gulf that separates us from each other. It’s a distinction that can be hard to draw sometimes. Either way, one thing is certain. Our endeavors in the high desert of the Mojave bask in the most glorious light imaginable, leaving one to ponder: Is it by irony or grace that our efforts here - ugly and otherwise - to make a home for ourselves only underscores this desert’s stark beauty?
About The Photographs
The photographs represented here were obtained with medium format equipment and derived from negatives printed on Agfa Portriga and Ilford Galerie paper toned in selenium for both visual enhancement and archival permanence.
Photos measure 10 ½ x 13 ¼ inches.