One thing you learn as a photojournalist is to be ready when the opportunity arises; you know, f/11 and be there. A landscape photographer learns to be ready when light makes magic. Either way, patience is required, and mine is wearing thin. For a week our little boat is pounded by relentless wind and waves. My spirits are as damp as my sleeping bag, and I wonder if I’ll ever see the blue whale.
I rise early, maybe in the mistaken view that more hours awake equals better images. In any case, on day eight it works: we are now sailing a calm, glassy Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur. High atop the wheelhouse I drink in both strong coffee and a pre-dawn sky that sends me into a shooting frenzy. It might be pent-up energy, but I feel as though I’ve left a gloomy gray world for one of pure gold. I cannot not photograph. After 50 years of image making, I know when the sheer love of place drives me to express my feelings visually (Ansel Adams was quoted as saying he did not simply record the scene as much as react to how he felt).
My shipmates are a ragtag band of friends from Spain, England, the United States and Mexico, united in our search for wildness. Noted Mexican photographer Patricio Robles Gil has brought us together to experience a place he calls el mundo aparte—the world apart. For years he’s urged me to join him, and at last our schedules are in synch. When I question his nephew, Jaime Rojo, about a missed photo opportunity, he smiles at me and says, “Sometimes it’s enough to just share these moments with friends.” Slowly I catch on. Relax, gringo. The rhythm of Baja is in control, and all I need do is be ready for serendipity.
The shout from the bow is “Cola, cola, cola!” In Spanish it means “tail,” or in this case, the fluke of a giant blue whale. No sooner do I get all presets ready than he surfaces again for a profile dive off to my left (I’m a desert rat and don’t know port from starboard). I can’t help being in awe of the largest animal on the planet. My camera seemingly fires on remote control while my heart stops.
Photography really isn’t all that complicated after all. It’s merely a visual statement of what we see, what moves us and what we choose to share.
Later we visit magical places like Isla San Jose, Isla Espiritu Santo, Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Santa Catalina. Like every other photographer confronted with too much information, I have visual overload, so I walk the landscape, searching out compositions, juxtapositions and textures that command attention. Details are my starting point.
When I’m on a boat, I shoot hand-held, reacting to fast-moving dolphins, whales and Frigatebirds; on land it’s a different story. I work slowly, my eye seeking the angle of light and where I need to be when the sun sets. My mind is filling with a running inventory of possible photographs. I visualize a line of golden light contrasting surrounding blue-gray coastal stone. Details in striated sandstone form leading lines of a design that requires golden sunrise light, so as I shoot sunset photographs I plan where to be in the early a.m.
Telling features of survival in the harsh Sonoran Desert landscape allow my images to give viewers a sense of place. As I work from a tripod, compositions of the corrugated biznaga cactus take shape. Cardon cacti, the largest of the columnar cacti, rise above me on the ridgelines as sunset light begins its transition to warm colors. Careful adjustments and checking compositions with Live View allow fast responses to changing light. Even in contemplative landscape photography, there’s a decisive moment.
Days later I sit at my computer, editing and revisiting Baja’s body of images. Some shout, some whisper; many make me smile. Photography really isn’t all that complicated after all. It’s merely a visual statement of what we see, what moves us and what we choose to share.