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.