Desert Primordial

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Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Strange rock formation suggestive … of art or science? Where does all this sand come from?

Millions of acres of sand, farther than the eye can see. To the horizon and beyond. Moved by water and wind.

Then moved again or buried by later deposits. Time passes.

Vegetation struggling to find water and nutrients, growing roots further into the slowly weathering soils. Chemical weathering of the mineral grains is slow in these dry conditions. It’s just a pile of quartz, feldspar, mica, hornblende, and other minerals. Very few nutrients in suspension for the roots to capture.

The exposed rock disintegrates. The granitoid rocks decompose into their original individual mineral grains. Chemical weathering is aided by physical weathering-wetting and drying, freezing and thawing, warming and cooling-driving expansion and contraction forcing the rock apart. Rock beneath the surface continues to weather slowly increasing the depth of the sandy material.

So in that sense the rock formations are suggestive of science and formative processes. They suggest the birth of the desert. But they are also interesting and suggestive in an artistic sense.

Both male and female forms are present. Together, resting comfortably in the sand that they created.

Some people are a little uncomfortable with this image when they first look at it. But it is more complicated than it first appears to be. And people tend to be drawn to it as if to make sure what they are seeing. Then they see more.

Maybe there are only a few people who see the desert soil formation aspect of this image. When I talk to people about my photographs it is always interesting what they see and what portion of the image they key in on.

I have a photograph of an old chateau in France with a small shady courtyard in the foreground. On that morning when I took that photo I did not know there was someone else taking photographs there also. That person appears in my photo in the shade by a tree and is very difficult to see. But when I was displaying that photograph another photographer walked up and looked at the photo and said that that person by the tree was what they saw first and what they thought was the most interesting part of the photograph.

We recently visited the exhibit of impressionist painters at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. You enter with a group at an assigned time and are gently pushed through by your group. Three times I went back before being pushed out the exit, against the flow, to look at several paintings. On that day Renoir’s painting ‘The Swing’ held my attention. It is a famous painting of a woman on a swing in a long white dress with a line of blue bows down the front. She is in dappled shade and is surrounded by several people. Apparently it was an act of painting heresy at the time because it was impressionistic. The more I looked, the more I saw, and the more I imagined about the setting. (The exhibit ‘Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces of the Musée d’Orsay’ continues through September 6, 2010. Another exhibit featuring Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and others begins September 25.)

Probably all art is more complicated than it appears to be at first glance. I have learned that it is very rewarding when someone takes the time to look carefully at one of my photographs or even think about all of the aspects of the image.

When people look at this photograph, only a few will imagine what it was like to be there, how quiet it was, how hot it was,  what scent of desert shrubs was carried in the warm evening air, how soft the sand was to walk on, or how the scattered sand sounded as it ground beneath your shoes when you walked on the rock. This small enclosed rocky basin was a short ways from a scenic stop inside Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southern California, USA. But it was a separate world.

There are more Mojave Desert photos in my California gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

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