Walking Through the Desert with My Eyes Closed
I initially traveled to Death Valley National Park in California each year as a way to explore a beautiful, often inhospitable landscape. However, after a few years of annual sojourns to the desert it became clear that I was drawn to barren landscapes because they were exquisitely designedenvironments where I could be utterly alone, with no human sounds to distract me. I had lost both my parents and the land became a metaphor for my loss. Today, the desert is my second home. While hiking, I ponder the marks humans make—those that are temporary (footsteps in the sand), those that are designed to be useful (trailhead signs) and those that destroy(graffiti on petroglyphs, vandalism). I feel vulnerable and insignificant with my backpack and water, yet cognizant that I can do much harm if I choose. The desert is a place where loss is evident even while life continues to adapt and survive. Walking explores the fragility of life as I see it while making my way through barren landscapes. I’m thinking about the literal and metaphorical evidence that we leave behind
I have been photographing myself since 1982. I use a designated camera and each month is captured on one roll of film. If I fail to take a picture the film is advanced so a blank image is recorded, creating a visual calendar. The 2,500+ photographs include my body from head to toe, as well as some of my environment. Mostly, I am at home.
Sometimes friends and family are in the photographs; time weathers their bodies as well: my nieces grow from infants to young adults and two of them now have children of their own, while my parents survive into their eighties and are last pictured on their deathbeds. I am also making digital reenactment photographs in order to record changes in visually dramatic ways.
I know of no photographer who has, or is using my methodology. First, there are no edits. Every photograph is presented—even if I look bad on a particular day, pets act out, or I fail to get in the picture before the shutter is released. Second, I record happy moments (e.g. vacations) and sad ones (my parents on their deathbeds). Third, it’s not just my body that changes: Fashion and hairstyles evolve; pets come and go; typewriters, analog clocks, and telephones with cords disappear; and finally, film gives way to digital and the computer replaces the darkroom. Indeed, the photographs underscore the technological, as well as physical, changes that have occurred over the past thirty-five years—from my youth to the dawn of old age.
While this work is a personal archive and record of my changing body and environment, I’m interested in the passage of time and how these environmental self-portraits can move beyond the personal to address life’s passage.