Images from the Film Archives – 1999
1999 marked the beginning of annual photo trips to the western United States rather than the northeast. I hadn’t been there since 1982 when my wife and I packed up the tiny car we had and drove across the country to revisit the places I had seen on the very first of my cross country drives with a friend of mine in 1977.
Rather than several long days of driving, that first trip began with a short 5-hour flight into Las Vegas, and was basically a circle route around the Grand Canyon, beginning on the south rim for a few days, then stopping in Page to experience Antelope Canyon, with the next stop the Paria River. The plan was to hike the beautiful canyon through which the river flows, and I brought along some “river walkers,” hiking shoes specifically designed for being in water.
After a hearty lunch of crackers and a can of tuna, the entire afternoon was spent hiking along the river’s course, most of it in the water itself, admiring the play of light on the colorful walls of the canyon, how that reflected light illuminated the plants, trees and rock formations, and how it changes character during the course of the day. I would come away from that hike with many memorable images that were never scanned, and if the problems with the scanner are ever resolved, this series will be the first to be added to my digital files. But before the problems, I did manage to scan these two from the initial hike down this enchanted, red rock canyon.
The image at the top was the final taken within the confines of narrower, but not the narrowest, part of the canyon as I neared the area where the canyon walls widened. It was late in the afternoon with the sage completely in shade, soaking up all the blue color from the cloudless sky above. But it was also lit by the reflected sunlight from the opposite wall that gave its branches a warm glow. Using my widest lens, because the sage was on a bench several feet above the river bed and unable to back up any further, this composition was chosen for two reasons. First because the branches seemed to radiate from around the small dark circle near the center of the frame, and second, because the top of the bushes seemed to mimic the shape of the dark desert varnish along the wall in the background. The 4-second exposure did show slight movement in one of the branches, but otherwise, the entire frame is sharp from using a very small aperture and utilizing the barrel markings on the lens for hyper-focal distance focusing.
As I continued the hike out toward the wider area of the river, as the scene above came into view, I was immediately struck by the amazing light, the reflections in the water, and the ominous clouds against the sandstone cliffs. I’m glad I didn’t know about those clouds before hand because narrow canyons are not where you want to be if there are any downpours upstream. It’s would certainly be cause for alarm. But the scene was nothing short of breathtaking, and I was now in the wider sections with an escape from possible disaster easily found. I had to stop and photograph the incredible light before it disappeared, and hurried to change lenses to the normal 80mm, and frame up the shot.
This particular afternoon was significant in that it was an introduction to, and completely understanding what was meant by “the light” of the American Southwest. It was a great way to finish up this tiring, but exhilarating hike and the immersion into that light.