In 2006 I made several trips to a spiritual retreat in Idyllwild, CA. My favorite route is the Pines to Palms Highway which takes me through Palm Springs and across the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a beautiful route that I never tire of.
The temptation of any artist along a journey like this is to look out over the beautiful vistas and across the horizon, and I stopped several times to peer over Palm Springs without taking any pictures. Although I didn’t initially stop, this area caught my attention each time I passed. Finally on one trip I stopped at a nearby pull-out and walked back with my camera and tripod. The stretch of road was narrow, with little space to walk, and the cars and trucks whizzed by closer than I liked.
Once I set up my camera I was overwhelmed by the scene, and the image wasn’t immediately apparent. Like most classic black and white photographers I know, I search for the balance between abstraction and representation, and we often think that seemingly barren scenes like this one are empty; but it’s just the opposite. Scenes like this are filled with so much complexity that finding symmetry and harmony can be difficult, and require being open to the moment.
This much complexity also collapses the figure/ground dichotomy (an aesthetic concern of mine), so that it becomes difficult to know what’s the figure and what’s the ground (1), forcing the eye to move from point to point throughout the image.
I spent about twenty minutes scanning the area and taking photographs. This image is one of the first, and best, that I took that day.
(1) This idea is very similar to Derrida’s parergon “a form which has as its traditional determination not that it stands out, but that it disappears, buries itself, effaces itself, melts away at the moment it deploys its greatest energy.“