Bears’ Ears National Monument is the poster child for the many national monuments and other wild public lands that the Trump administration would like to turn over to state and private development — this despite every poll showing overwhelming popular support for their protection. Bears’ Ears has the added impetus of being co-created by various southwest native American tribes to protect, both literally and symbolically, thousands of years of heritage and antiquities. To a pitiable few, this is all the more reason to oppose it.
Beauty is but one of many reasons that public lands are a refuge in modern times. Being an artist, my inclination is to seek out and record the natural beauty of these lands, which they possess in abundance. Like many others, I have found a great deal — some of it well-documented and some of it unique to my vision. Presenting it here may or may not make and difference in the outcome of the struggle for preservation, but it is what I can do:
The old quarter of the ancient city of Sana’a, Yemen, is a marvelous architectural monument at any time of day – but at night it becomes a stunning, luminous wonder. The difference is the ubiquitous stained-glass “Qamariya” windows – the “windows of the moon” in Arabic translation.
First-time visitors to old Sana’a marvel silently at the sight of the world’s oldest skyscrapers, built by hand from brown stone and mud-brick and decorated with whitewashed geometric designs and patterns. The effect is so unique in the world that it is hard to describe; terms like “gingerbread” and “Aztec” and ”Abyssinian” come to mind, but don’t quite describe it.
It is no surprise that old Sana’a became one of the first United National World Heritage Sites in 1986. The current version of old Sana’a dates from the first days of Islam in the 7th century, but it has been a major city for at least 2,500 years. Some claim it was a stronghold of the Queen of Sheba of Biblical history. Many of the building designs and detail may date from at least that age.
The Qamariya windows come out at night, of course. They are virtually always used as transom windows – a small decorative window above a main window. Their rainbow colors of stained glass are built in what seems an infinite variety of shapes and patterns. I have seen hundreds, but by no means all of them, and I have never seen two identical.
At night, when they shine out of on the tall buildings and narrow stone alleyways of the old city, the Qamariya windows transform this old mountain fortress and its Afro-Arab people into a lively market town with an artistic and esthetic overlay. It is a calming experience just to walk the streets and take in the multicolor glows.
Some think that windows’ reference to the moon reflects an Islamic tradition, but it actually goes back much further than that. The juxtaposition of the crescent moon and star was also popular in ancient Greek and Byzantine culture, and did not become associated with Islam until advent of the Ottoman empire. Qamariya windows were common much earlier than that.
The windows are hand-made by craftsmen who learned the trade in traditional apprenticeships. The bits of colored glass were initially encased in gypsum-based stucco, due to its availability and affordability. In the last few decades, metal fixtures have become more common for greater durability. The Qamariya window tradition extends to many other countries in the region, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Feeny, J., Saudi Aramco World, Saudi Aramco Corp., pgs. 2-3, Vol. 26 no. 4, July/August 1975
Berer, J., Nomad Out of Time (a journal of islamic art), accessed 4/4/17 at https://joshberer.wordpress.com/2009/10/05/the-qamariya/, October 5, 2009
We are trying very hard to understand and appreciate fire in the forest. Nature’s life cycles are wise beyond human intellect, according to human intellect. Emotion rules, however, and the burned forest always seems a mistake, a loss, an epic tragedy. After the smoke clears, the embers die, and the rain settles the dust, there is nothing but black and gray. We fear that as the forest succumbs, so our lives will play out into ash, and of course that is our unavoidable destination.
Like nature’s version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” fire ends with rain. Water from the sky calms the conflagration and lays the destruction bare, and we see the forest for the first time. So much better, with the logs down and the vegetation missing, to finally know what has gone missing. Even with new shoots ready to begin the cycle again, the forest will not rise to its former majesty in our lifetime. A new generation will know the forest again, love it again, and lose it again.
(Photography near Lizard Point, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, September 2016.)
Many of our so-called domesticated animals are quite happy to call it quits with people and return to wildness if given the chance. So it is with horses. The western US states host as many as 30,000 feral animals making up several hundred herds. All of them are the descendants of domestic horses that escaped their confines as long as 200 years ago. They are so successful roaming remote deserts and rangeland that their population is a problem, outstripping their resources. They would damage environments and starve if not for soft-hearted Americans who prop them up with food and water. We cannot bring ourselves to see them hurt, even though managing them becomes ever more expensive.
The Onaqui Mountain group of perhaps 200 horses lives in western Utah’s Great Basin, within sight of the salt pans of the Great American Desert. Despite our desire to see them romantically as bold, strong, free-spirited masters of nature, their existence is tenuous in every direction. We may run out of time and money to manage them, or just tire of the task. If left on their own, the next drought will mow them down like desert grass. There are too many to adopt. As I looked over these photographs in the light of their uncertain future, they seemed to be ephemeral and ghost-like, and that is why I chose to make them glow. They seem to be arriving and leaving at the same time, halfway in and halfway out of the world.
China possesses hundreds of man-made wonders that stagger the Western visitor…and a few wonders that fall a bit short. The Shanghai Tourism Tunnel is one of the latter. Connecting two popular visitor sights in Shanghai — the Bund and the Pearl Tower — with a tunnel under the Huangpu River, the light show along the mini-railway is a little underwhelming…until you see it through long exposures in a camera, that is. There, the lights and lines jump out at you in a psychedelic riot. It takes some experimenting to get the technique just right, and at 50 RMB a trip you want to catch on quickly. I gave it my best shot, and the results remind me of tie-dyed fabric.
A large, salty lake in the desert might seem the most monotonous of subjects, but in fact the opposite is true. The Great Salt Lake in the western USA has a way with light that produces myriad colors and shapes — it becomes a palette from which to paint endless scenes, both real and abstract. In winter, the effect is exaggerated, as if the observer has stepped off of Earth and onto another planet.