Darwin seems like a ghost town to the dirt bikers and tourists who meander through (I certainly thought so on my first exploration), but it is not abandoned; trust me: Visitors are very well observed while doing whatever they're doing in town. There are no services, no amenities — no gas station, grocery, rest stop. Not even a pay phone anymore (thanks, Verizon). A part-time post office and Internet via slow satellite or dial up allow connection for those who wish it. Some don’t. There’s a land line, but no cell service unless you count the one bar you might get standing on tiptoe in the south end of town by B’s place, or driving 10 miles out of town.
A small grocery and hardware is 80 miles round trip; your big chain supermarket and big box home store will take up the better part of a day to get to, 180 miles or so round trip.
Darwinites (a.k.a. Darwinians) value the solitude and beauty of the desert, the historic character of the town and the sense of community shared by residents (feuds and animosities notwithstanding), generally shunning big city and suburban life. Despite modest incomes, Darwinites are typically self-reliant, both as individuals and as a community, relying on our own resources whenever possible rather than seeking outside assistance. For example, water comes through an 1880s supply line from a spring in the Coso range some nine miles to the south on the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake. All maintenance — which is considerable — is performed solely by community volunteers; no governmental agencies or big utilities are involved.
There is a hole in the ground and a decrepit, bleached ladder drops into the darkness; I cannot tell how deep the shaft is – a dropped rock takes 10 seconds to hit bottom, bouncing against the walls on the way down, taking pebbles with it. There is a weathered wood structure, paint long gone from years of battering winds. Corrugated metal panels, rusted and twisted, lay about and are perforated with shotgun blasts.
There is sadness to the place, a sense of abandoned hope, of brutal, back-breaking work, and of desertion and failure. There is also the knowledge that these structures will inevitably be gone someday, perhaps soon, like the men who built them – the result of weather, vandalism, looting and the neglect of the forgotten.
I am exploring an abandoned mine site deep in the remote mountains of the Mojave Desert. Hiking up a rock-strewn, broken trail scratched into the side of the mountain, the truck is left a mile back, the road too dangerous to drive. The site comes into view as I round a bend. Its appearance raises so many questions: What was mined here? Who lived and worked here, and when? Why did they leave? How did they get materials, machinery, fuel, food and water here? Were they lonely in this desolate place?
These photographs can only ask the questions; I have few answers*. I can only hope that in some small way the pictures might illustrate the emotion I feel, the wonder of discovery, the stark beauty and the finality of the place, the hope and the despair, the legacy. If they memorialize the scene, then I have succeeded in some small way.
*Technical records exist that answer some of these questions, for some of the mines: What was mined, how many men worked here, the equipment used, the economic value. It is documented that during the Great Depression of the 1930s many who were displaced and destitute from the economic collapse migrated to public lands and took up mining in an attempt to eke out a living. As the economy shifted for the war effort in the 1940s and the government ordered these small scale mines closed, these subsistence miners abandoned their mines either for more lucrative employment elsewhere, or enlisted in the military – never to return at war’s end. It was the end of an era.
The desert landscape for me is about metaphor, a place resonant with meaning and allegory. I am uninterested in making overly-dramatic and sentimental scenic photographs that illustrate a romantic pictorial notion of nature and God or unspoiled wilderness as natural cathedral — you can buy a postcard or calendar for that. Rather than idealistically record the sublime moment and spectacular vantage point, I strive to document the compelling interplay and interconnectedness between humankind and nature — an inclusive view that embraces the transformations that we impose on the landscape in an attempt to make it habitable, hospitable, utilitarian, familiar — and ultimately ours.
Exploring the contrast between the encompassing vastness of the desert land-scape and the ingenious, often ironic yet poignant structures on it, a paradox-ical thought arises: perhaps a landscape might be beautiful and natural and touched by man; that here may be a particular kind of beauty specifically derived from a human presence and human culture.
As my work has evolved (and my world view grown somewhat darker), another theme has intrigued me: the persistence of nature — its remarkable return over and over to its unaltered, pristine state. In a seemingly relentless struggle to tame and eradicate the natural world through over-development, resource extraction and unchecked population growth, the fact is that we are clearly over-taxing our planet. I am awed that nature miraculously renews in all but the most devastated of landscapes. Weeds grow through asphalt cracks; brush thrives in toxic tailing piles; flowers bloom in parched land devoid of other life.
California State University, Fullerton, CA
• Major in photography
• Master of Arts degree
• Studied with Jerry Burchfield, Eileen Cowin, Darryl Curran, Vida Freeman, Mark Johnstone
Thesis: The Landscape Revisited: A comparative study of the aesthetic and cultural issues of mid-19th century with mid-20th century Western American landscape photography
Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA
• Major in photography
• Bachelor of Fine Arts degree
• Studied with Gus Kayafas, Nicholas Nixon, Stephen Shore
Addition seminars and symposia with Lewis Baltz, Harry Callahan, Carl Chiarenza, Weston Naef, Beaumont Newhall, Todd Papageorge, John Pfahl
• Women in Photography, International, traveling exhibition
• Artists at Angels Gate, San Pedro, CA
• LACPS (Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies) Members Exhibition, Los Angeles, CA
• Paradox (solo exhibition), California State University, Fullerton, CA
• American Color, New Mexico State University, traveling exhibition
• Contemporary Photographic Thinking, Chapman College, Orange, CA
• Graduate Student Exhibit, California State University, Fullerton, CA
• Photographs from the Graduate Program, California State University, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
• Interchange, Claremont Colleges, Claremont, CA
Faculty, art department, Los Angeles Harbor College, Wilmington, CA
• Lecturer in Photography, Lecturer in Art
Lecturer in Photography, California State University, Desert Studies Center, Zzyzx, CA
• Developed and led a series of intensive desert photography workshops with the emphasis on visual and conceptual capabilities and photographic technique
Faculty, photography department, California State University, Fullerton, CA
• Instructor in Photography
Full-time commercial and editorial photographer
A little bit about Darwin