high desert

high desert.small.jpg

This work combines scenes from the wettest and driest places in the United States--the Alakai Swamp near the summit of Kauai, Hawaii, receiving over 200 in. of rain annually (the bottom portion), and Death Valley National Park, California, receiving less than 1 in.   

Eroded volcano, Death Valley (my photo)

Eroded volcano, Death Valley (my photo)

Eroded volcano from the air (my photo)

Eroded volcano from the air (my photo)

The Death Valley shot was taken standing on the eroded remnants of a volcano on the valley floor.  A geology professor visiting the site with us called it "the world's smallest volcano," and although I'm pretty sure I've visited smaller ones, it does go along with my whole concept of landscape compression. (The idea of a landform typically thought of as monumental and threatening, now harmless and reduced to human scale, explains my obsession with small volcanic cones...I'll return to this in later posts.) 

I've taken out the desert backdrop in order to turn the landform into an island (or at least make myself believe that it is).  In a sense I deal with islands in all the compositions, if an island is defined as a landscape surrounded by another, contrasting landscape.  And, in a later work, I'd like to take another look at this particular landform as an island in the desert, maybe adding a different type of environment to the valley in the center.  True islands, though, are particularly entrancing to me because of their total isolation (see the About section for more on why I think this is). 

As I mention in the last post, the Alakai Swamp is too waterlogged for tree growth and is almost always shrouded in mist.  Surprisingly, though, the landscape has a bit of a red cast to it - the result of dead plant matter and a great deal of mud. Placing a photograph of the area next to one of the rust-colored gravelly landscape of Death Valley, I saw that by adding just a little more red to the Kauai image, I could nearly blend the two together despite the difference in texture and overall atmosphere. In reality a transition from desert to upland bog would have several intervening zones of wet and dry forest, but in this case the two extremes turned out to make a more seamless graphic juxtaposition.  Plus, it's a juxtaposition that I'd like to imagine could exist.

I plan to try printing this composition as photography, although the test prints I've made so far show that there's currently a distracting contrast between the sharpness of the artificial edges and the lower resolution of each photograph. Another concern is the wedge of "mist" in the upper left and also the sky, both created digitally--these may look too obviously computer-generated compared to the actual photography.

Having just said all this, I've received some feedback suggesting that in general I might consider abstracting these to the point where they may not be interpreted as landscape at all. In the photography it might involve zooming in to the point where, due to the extreme fuzziness and lack of context, it could become mainly about color and texture.  I'm not sure I want to let go of the landscape "experience" of the compositions, given my initial inspiration, but I'd be curious to hear other opinions.

Paramo landscape with giant espeletias, Ecuador

Paramo landscape with giant espeletias, Ecuador

Giant groundsels (Senecio kilimanjari), Mt. Kilimanjaro (my photo)

Giant groundsels (Senecio kilimanjari), Mt. Kilimanjaro (my photo)

Some additional examples of boggy upland environments include the moorlands of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, the Ruwenzoris (or "Mountains of the Moon" in Uganda, one of the sources of the Nile) and other east African mountains; the paramo of Andean Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador; and the moorlands of the western Tasmanian highlands.  They can also be found on some other Hawaiian Islands, notably at Puu Kikui in the West Maui Mountains

Unlike the Alakai Swamp, many of these landscapes contain interesting rosette-like plants--species with a whorl of leaves at the top of each stem or a single stem--which for some reason evolved independently in many tropical montane environments. (The silversword is the best-known known Hawaiian example, although it's only found in dry zones--on Haleakala on Maui and Mauna Kea on the Big Island.) You can see some other eye-catching species--which I'm not considering to be "trees" given their unique sculptural qualities--in these images of "treeless" landscapes.

Darren

Moorland with Richea pandanifolia (the world's tallest heath), Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania (my photo)

Moorland with Richea pandanifolia (the world's tallest heath), Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania (my photo)

Mt. Field National Park, Tasmania (my photo)--I don't think this area is perpetually wet enough to qualify as moorland, but it's still a very picturesque example of a boggy alpine landscape

Mt. Field National Park, Tasmania (my photo)--I don't think this area is perpetually wet enough to qualify as moorland, but it's still a very picturesque example of a boggy alpine landscape