Natural Springs in Arid Landscapes


          In the deserts of the American West, natural springs are the unnoticed and disregarded. They exist in marginal terrain where it takes an act of will to endure. This body of work stems from an awareness of the need to conserve the essential resource of our existence–water. Aridland springs are places which symbolize the conflict between the idea that water is infinite and the reality, that it is finite.

          Rachel Sussman’s photographic catalogs, blending art and science to investigate our problematic relationship with the natural world, helped to inspire me. My photographs examine the past and the present which are key to interpreting the uncertain longevity of desert springs and aquifers. Dried-up springs, overused and lost, fade into memory.  Pristine springs unaltered by humans are few. The exploited, and mismanaged springs are most common.

This project began when biologist Larry Stevens showed me a world teeming with life in a trickle of water—a single spring that created an entire ecosystem on an arid hillside. I became drawn to the fragility of life in the desert.  For the last two years, armed with paper maps, a rented GPS, a cell phone with intermittent service, I’ve driven through vast landscapes searching for these tiny features. I compose portraits of the character and environmental narrative of each spring—from lush to bone dry. In desolate lands water takes on a spiritual aspect, it embodies the persistence and the precariousness of life. Since springs have been a focus of activity for thousands of years, protecting them may serve a function beyond what we imagine. These images reveal the potential of the unseen as places with purpose.

          As an artist, I’ve used landscape as my lens to question how we shape our experience with nature. We all want water in arid places to survive. Conserving it, is a life or death reality, for only where there’s water can there be life.


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