A couple years ago, I spent several days shooting in the Moab area at Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Unfortunately, the sun played hide ‘n’ seek, and it was mostly “hide.” On two mornings I was at Mesa Arch, hoping to capture the glow that comes with sunrise as I had on a previous trip. It was not to be. The sky remained overcast and I didn’t get any memorable shots like the one I captured a couple of years earlier (above). Not surprisingly, there were 8 other photographers there (typical for Mesa Arch, although I had it to myself a couple years before) and we were tripod-to-tripod, waiting for sunrise. It was December and very cold, but that’s we signed up for.
What I didn’t sign up for was endless yammering. Naturally, there was talk about the sunrise and comments about the chill, but then it devolved to, “Have you ever photographed _____?” It became sort of a competition about who had been where, and most of it wasn’t related to photography. I flew 2,500 miles and drove another 300 to take in the beauty of the national parks, and instead of soaking it in, I had to listen to chatter. Can’t we just enjoy silence for a few minutes and experience what we came to see?
They probably thought I was unfriendly, because I was pointedly silent. I often chat with other photographers at a destination, but not when I’m actually shooting. I would have been content to keep the talk to a minimum so I could enjoy the arch and the landscape around me. Instead, it mindless babbling.
Thanks for listening (assuming you can hear me over the blather.)
My second trip to the Moab area was largely disappointing. The weather for my December 2014 trip had been essentially perfect: cold and clear, even some snow to keep things interesting. When I photographed the iconic Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park at sunrise, incredibly I had the place to myself. I’ve heard of dozens of photographers showing up for sunrise.
However, the weather for my December 2016 trip was overcast and dreary. A few clouds add texture to the sky, but this time it was low ceiling and gray. For two mornings in a row I was at the arch, hoping for the clouds to lift just enough for the sun to break over the horizon, and I wasn’t alone.
Conditions improved slightly throughout the second day, and as I got ready to leave Canyonlands for the last time, I decided to stop at Mesa Arch to see if it could be photographed at dusk. Unfortunately, the arch was already in shadow; but at least I was alone and there was no chatter. I lowered myself and looked under the arch, where I saw the full moon rising over the La Sal Mountains.
I wish I could say this shot was planned. As Louis Pasteur said of his seemingly serendipitous scientific discoveries, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” In my case it was pure good fortune and a bit of desperation.
Before my second visit to photograph Monument Valley, I asked Phillips Tours, if they could arrange for me to photograph some residents, rather than limiting myself to landscapes. They agreed and, as it turned out I was able to photograph my guide, Ray Begay’s mother and father at their winter camp in Monument Valley. Ray had guided me three years before on sunrise and sunset photography tours of the Valley. During our tours we talked about life in the Valley, which extends far beyond what visitors see in the Tribal Park from the loop road. I was very pleased to travel with him again.
I was not completely comfortable with my request. I did not want the Begays to feel they were on display or were objects of curiosity. Instead, I wanted to capture who they were as people, if only for a few minutes. They live in the Valley closer to Kayenta, and have two camps, each with a hogan and pens for sheep, goats and horses. They move between them from summer to winter. Although they are within walking distance of each other, the two locations experience different weather during the warm and cold seasons. Mrs. Begay is a medicine woman and healer, and she advises Navajo visitors from all over northwest Arizona. Mr. Begay is a retired uranium miner and told me he was a cowboy. He chuckled when I complimented him for being a “handsome cowboy.”
We met at their winter camp, where a fire in the small stove warmed the hogan to a comfortable temperature in the December chill. Mrs. Begay was working on a basket and I began shooting. A hogan is a small structure, maybe 20′ in diameter, and I decided to shoot with the limited natural light that came in from the door (which always faces east) and the stovepipe opening. I shot at ISO 2000 and came away with some good portraits. Mrs. Begay concentrated on her work and after about an hour I moved outside to photograph Mr. Begay, who was dressed in his finest clothing and turquoise jewelry. Continue reading “Photographing the Begays: Monument Valley”→