Eastern Plains of Mono Lake

Along the eastern plains of Mono Lake lies a sandy plain sparsely dotted with long dead shrubs. Driving east on California Highway 120, past the iconic Mono Lake tufas (towers of precipitated calcium carbonate), a small dirt road leads north. It is one of many such dirt roads that crisscross around the lake.  I'm often alone when photographing and it puts me in a unique artistic mindset; a wandering mindset. On this shooting trip, my destination was anything of artistic interest along the 400 miles of the Eastern Sierra escarpment. And so I turned onto a long stretch of sandy road, unsure of what I'd find.

The road meandered north for several miles before turning due east into a series of deep dry riverbeds. I thought for sure the sand would bog down my Jeep with its slightly balding tires, but slowly I came through and rolled up onto the alluvial flats of Granite Mountain. Slipping and sliding through the flats, I was again nervous about getting the Jeep stuck, so I stopped at the first hard patch to turn around. There I saw my scene.

In the distance, the Sierra Crest rose like some impenetrable wall, shielding moisture from reaching the dry, hot expanse of the inland deserts. A dead and burnt shrub-land lay before me, and the stark contrasts between these two distinct elements made me grab my gear. Swiftly moving clouds lent the sky a foundation to support the distant mountains. Had I left the clouds static, it would have created a visual tension between the two that I didn't want.

I wanted this image BW, so I used my Hasselblad camera loaded with medium format Kodak BW film. I wanted the sky and foreground shadows to go black, a perfect use for the deep red #25 filter (which absorbs most blue light thus turning blue sky black). Stacked with a 10-stop neutral density filter (which uniformly reduces the amount of light entering the camera) my exposure was around 8 minutes. I waited with an open shutter.

No sound was heard save the pebbles crunching underfoot, no movement seen except my own. Long exposure times afford something rare: time. Time to lose oneself to stillness and the sensory acuteness that accompanies it. A wind passing overhead, the distant flutter of a raven's wing beat, and the desert quiet all become much more consequential.

The making of art should be like that.

  Eastern Plains of Mono Lake, 2015

Eastern Plains of Mono Lake, 2015