This body of work, called Dinosaur Dust, was made with the community based around the edge of Joshua Tree National Park in California during an artist in residence programme and subsequent visits.
It is an intimate portrait of a peripheral and charismatic community of the high desert, struggling to find meaning and moments of grace in an hostile environment. The work explores the encounters between people and nature, playing with light, impermanence and the faculties of seeing.
Working with the contrast of the black of the night and the blinding light of the day, this work investigates the narrative potential of photography in relation to its abstract capacities, bringing forth a reality that is simultaneously uncanny and unknowable. I am interested in landscape, and particularly in combining a desire to experience the ‘sublime’ with the inexplicable seduction of the abyss.
The desert is filled with many wonders. Trees grow out of rocks. Frogs come out of the sands in a cloudburst. I found people in this desert hanging on fiercely and yet just barely. What are they escaping to or from, have they been banished almost, to a place that is misunderstood by many, regarded as a dumping ground for outcasts. Their lives are fragile, some are heavily armed in response, like cactus with thorns. However, in contrast for many, that wide open terrain invites spiritual healing and people derive comfort and nourishment from its expansive spaces. Beneath that outward appearance, the sounds of all kinds of experiments, mysteries, utopias, are hidden.
Alongside the photographs the project includes botanical drawings of the 'spring bloom', the flowers that emerge for a few days with the first rains, covering the parched desert floor with iridescent colour.
Many western desert communities came into existence because of the Small Tract Act (STA) of 1938, but people did not thrive in this unfriendly landscape. These deserted and remote vistas have attracted nefarious characters. There is also a small but growing community of artists, musicians and writers fleeing rising housing prices and other urban frustrations are reclaiming and re-envisioning the cabin structures as artist studios or as creative weekend retreats. The spacious desert backdrop, its perceived tranquillity, and a desire to form a sense of community within a rural environment inspire these inventive enclaves. I’m interested how these groups live side by side.
This desert community offers many the opportunity to start anew, providing a blank slate of sorts for people attracted to this fragile and contrary environment, to make a life in a merciless clime that is not nearly as empty as it looks. The nature of this human ecosystem is that of a paradox demonstrating an intensity and delicacy, isolation and accessibility, diversity and ambiguity.
In the American West everywhere has been conquered and exhausted, so people look to the desolate outposts and then to the heavens in search of the authentic wilderness. The images generate a powerful atmosphere and sense of place, one that is infused with the longing, uncertainty and expectation associated with the unseen.