As a teenager; long before it became sort of a ‘destination park’ for people to hike the trail, see the sights and then add it to their bucket list; we used to come here to escape the heat and the world we knew. Close enough to be a day trip, no matter how hot the weather, the water was always deep and clear and cool.
Harsh light on a harsh landscape. Shoulders and head bobbing on the surface, arms outstretched and floating, your feet sink down below the thermocline to the chilly water stuck below. A flick of the head and a quick churn of limbs and you are propelled towards the shore to float between rocks and their giant fractures. Your body rising and swaying on large gently rolling swells arriving from the deep.
You join a world of constant motion like a jelly-fish, turn over and floating face down, soar above a vast underwater escarpment like an airship from another age. Lost in that special combination of youth and imagination, borne aloft on buoyant water while trying to imagine whether one day you’ll really fly.
Less than 100 metres off this shore, the depths of the water reach down more than 60 metres.
With 20-25 metres of visibility underwater this area is a phenomenal place to swim. While the water at the surface may reach 20C in the summer heat, the mean temperature year round is an enormous 4C. Stretching 320kms north and south and 80 kms wide, it acts like a giant cooler along with the other great lakes.
I grew up along it’s shores and return to it often in my mind and heart.
Dead Horse Point State Park, UT
With a vista this magnificent, even a small change in view can mean a whole different feel to the photograph. No matter how many times you come back. No matter how many times you look. There is always something you didn’t notice before. And always something equally compelling just outside the viewfinders frame.
Dead Horse Point State Park, UT
Apparently the scenic vista from this park is one of the most photographed in the world and it’s easy to see why. At 1,800 meters above sea level, it’s possible to stare into one of the planets most complex, intricate and fascinating landscapes. From the wall to wall sky clipped at the horizon by distant mountains to the Colorado River winding 600 meters below it’s a visual Grateful Dead solo almost too much to take in.
There are places so amazing that you can place your camera on a tripod and slowly turn it around and never fail to capture something good. This is not one of those. No doubt sheer luck will get you something impressive most of the time. Personally, I have never struggled so hard to capture a landscape. While the approach to the point is one thing, once I actually got to the edge, the immensity of what I was looking at made my jaw drop. We should all be so lucky to find a place like this.
Faced with an exuberant world blasted by light – coming to grips with the complexities of how colour is absorbed and reflected – involves a great deal of creative risk. Especially at the processing stage where it’s often beyond our verbal understanding. The conversation between luminance and shadow that starts precisely where words will fail you.
The heat of the day blending into the quality and strength of the wind on your back. The texture of the sagebrush mixing deeply into its fragrance as you crush and roll it between forefinger and thumb before bringing to your nose to smell.
Knowing the dryness of the brush you’ve driven beside is the same as the twigs that are gently snapping beneath your step. The traction your foot has against the rock helps you understand what it might be like to walk in the distance.
The dry sound of sliding pebbles remind you how close you are to the edge. Birds wheeling in the air make certain you don’t forget your lack of flight.
You’ve travelled through the towns out there on the horizon. You know what a torrent of water would looks like crashing down these gulches. You search for meaning in what you see.
And the image you’re looking for is always in the corner of your eye. A fleeting shadow that doesn’t yet exist. The picture that will say all this and more. You bring everything you are to every shot and hope that it’s enough.
There are few harder situations than shooting at high altitudes in bright sunlight with lots of haze. Sticking with the ‘black box with a hole in it’ approach; getting an image that represents both how you both and how you experience a vista is incredibly difficult.
It’s even more difficult when you don’t resort to intense filtering, gadgetry or massive post-processing manipulation which is when a document can start to stray.
It’s also why I have come to appreciate ( almost worship ) those photographers of the 19th century who ventured into the mountains with cumbersome equipment and an intent and understanding of how they might get it in ‘one shot’.
And too, to those photographers like Ansel Adams who spent a lifetime struggling with technicality in order to capture, partly through process, the grandeur and complexity of life.