Springs and Seeps in Arid Landscapes

 

     

In the deserts of the American West, natural springs are unnoticed and disregarded. They exist in marginal terrain where it takes an act of will to survive, yet preservation efforts are negligible at best. Springs have been places where humans and animals gathered for over 10,000 years. They symbolize the conflict between the idea that water is infinite and the reality that it is finite.

I am influenced by Frank Gohlke’s images of the seemingly ordinary, which evoke a feeling of transcendence. In addition, Rachel Sussman’s photographic catalogs, which blend art and science to investigate our problematic relationship with the natural world, continue to inspire my focus and approach.

My photographs examine the past and the present, both of which are key to interpreting the uncertain longevity of desert springs and aquifers. Springs that are pristine and unaltered by humans are few; those that are exploited and mismanaged are most common, while dried-up springs, overused and lost, simply fade into memory.

This project began when biologist and friend 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 and how, despite being only a small feature in a vast landscape springs wield a massive influence on the ecosystem.

For the last two years, armed with paper maps, a rented GPS, and a cell phone with unreliable service, I have searched for what Stevens calls “the canary’s canary.” I am creating portraits of the character and environmental narratives of each spring, whether it be lush or bone dry. In desolate lands, water takes on a spiritual aspect. As I discovered during my first experience with springs, water emerging from the earth is a gift. Given that springs have been a focus of activity for thousands of years, protecting them may serve a function beyond what we imagine. This preservation may ultimately reveal the purposefulness and potential of the unseen.

I look through the lens of the landscape to question how our perceptions shape our experience with the natural world. Preservation of water is vital in desert landscapes, for only where there is water can there be life.

 

 

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