Landscape photography is often thought of as either a celebration of beauty or a vehicle for environmental advocacy. While I have benefited from intersections with these paths, my natural tendency has taken me in a somewhat different direction. Since I was a boy, I have turned to nature the way an avid reader returns to a beloved text. I believe such connections to place shaped humanity. They certainly shaped me. How could I photograph that?
I knew where to photograph it: my landscape is the desert. Though the clarity of the air, the frankness of the land and the promise of solitude are among the qualities that brought me here, the ineffable sense of belonging to this place is what keeps me coming back. After traversing the desert for years with my camera, I came upon the idea of photographing individual desert plants over time. By visiting certain plants regularly, I hope to bear witness to my subject’s roots, and my own, in place and time.
In making this work, I have drawn inspiration from landscape tradition, botanical illustration and scientific investigation. I am currently photographing just over 100 individual plants, including saguaros, palo verde, mesquite and ironwood trees, as well as a variety of cacti and other desert perennials. Although the subject matter is consistently botanical, strategies for rendering these plants vary, suggestive of the many threads of experience one may follow over this hot ground.
Along with facilitating recurring travel, my residence in this desert affords a kind of kinship with these plants, rewarding the time spent peering through a lens or the effort involved in learning how they function as part of a larger whole. As with many long-term ventures, I have begun to tell this story without knowing the end. Some of the plants on my list have died, others will certainly outlive me. Some will suggest a narrative over time, others will remain reticent. For my part, I intend to continue along this path for as many years as I am able. This project takes me to remote areas of southwest Arizona, northwest Sonora and southeastern California, in answer to some sort of longing, yes, but also with the idea of strengthening an attachment to the desert country that I, and many others, have come to regard as home.