Images from the Film Archives 2007
In the fall of 2007, I flew into Las Vegas, picked up the standard SUV rental, stopped at a nearby Walmart as I usually did on any trip to load up on supplies, and finally headed north to make my way toward Death Valley. I just blew through there, because the initial destination of the trip was Fossil Falls further west, beyond the White Mountains along Highway 395, the north/south highway that runs along the eastern side of the Sierras through most of California. The main reason for the trip itself was to explore the mountains, canyons and lakes that lie just off this main artery in California, and included the Alabama Hills, the Ancient Bristlecone Pines, Mammoth, Mono Lake, and Yosemite’s high country along the Tioga Road.
Fossil Falls sounded so intriguing when I read about it, but turned out to be a photographic bust. Although it was an interesting area of ancient lava flows, there was no water in the “falls”; and after wandering around the area, could barely take a single image. The only saving grace was two rabbitbrush bushes adorned in autumn color which stood out against the blue/black basalt.
Later in the trip, just outside Bishop, I was following the road up along Bishop Creek toward Sabrina Lake, and found a beautifully lush hillside of autumn color and white trunk aspen trees. It was an overcast day, so the hillside was evenly lit, making compositions a bit easier to construct within the frame without any extremely bright sunlit areas. Photographically, it was the opposite of Fossil Falls in that there was an abundance of photos to take, and I burned through quite a bit of film. After I switched to digital in 2012, I scanned and printed the image at the top, and around 2015, after using Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) quite a bit on the month long trip a year earlier, I tried the same technique using the print itself instead of using the actual landscape, the results of which are seen below with quite a bit of added artistic license.
The following morning, along the very same stretch of road, conditions were completely different because of an overnight snowfall. I spotted an aspen tree close to the road with a few of the golden leaves still holding on, and its branches bearing the snow. It was close enough to fill up the frame as a loosely considered abstract, knowing some of the edges of the frame would be cut off as an imagined square final image.
Further up the road, I parked at Lake Sabrina for what was expected to be a longish hike, so the backpack was filled with camera gear, food, water, and an extra jacket. I put on gaiters to stay dry from walking in snow, and everything was hoisted on my back, buckled up, and I began to hike along the trail in the few inches of the same fresh powder as on the aspen above. After all that preparation, I wasn’t more than five minutes into the hike, when I came upon this view of the lake and the mountains with a fresh, virgin frosting. The low foreground bushes covered in snow, the sweep of the lake shoreline, the snow-covered evergreens and mountains beyond, all just seemed to fall in place for a balanced shot. I stared at it for a few moments though, before finally making the decision to unpack the camera, put it onto the tripod, attach the lens and cable release, and rattled off a few frames. I suppose having to go through all that (everything is more of a chore in the cold and snow), then repack everything and continue on with the hike, always brought on a decision as to whether the shot was worth all the effort; which is probably a reason to be a bit more selective in what was actually photographed. Plus the fact that every time I tripped the shutter cost about a dollar for film and processing! There were several bracketed frames to ensure at least one was properly exposed, because sunlit snow and shadows with five-stop dynamic range film was a bit tricky. I probably started out at what the meter said was the correct exposure, and worked my way up in 1/2-stop increments, until a +2-1/2 exposure.
As it turned out, the hike continued climbing for about an hour without the camera ever coming out again, and I decided the effort would probably not produce anything better than what I had already shot early in the hike. Plus the snow was quickly melting off the trees in the sunshine, so I turned around and headed back down to the car, saving myself a lot of energy.
Although that trip began a bit slow in terms of photographs, it ended up producing several successful images that are among my favorites. And it was probably the driving force behind the decision to return to the area in 2017 for a three week swing through California.