It's been over 19,000 miles since I was last among these Pinon trees in April. My life goes by in miles these days, rather than days or hours. Every mile I've experienced, since my last stop at base camp in Santa Fe, is emblazoned in my memory and some made it into photographs. I'll be back in New Mexico for a bit now - doing some work on the Airstream, preparing to teach some workshops, writing, printing, and enjoying fall in New Mexico. When asked how my trip was, I say, it's not over. Everywhere is camp for me and everywhere I camp is home...I've just stopped in at base camp for a bit. The trip IS good. Light, Memphis
Notes from and about the road and traveling - on my continuing expedition in search of the stories of light.
A film of fine, gray ash coated picnic tables. A brown haze of wildfire smoke hung heavily in the air. A small flock of geese passed noisily overhead, heading west. Night birds began cooing and a water bird quietly cruised the shoreline of the lake down the hill. Then, came a very distinct change in the light shining through the smoke haze. The world began to appear as if seen through a deep blue tinted window. A dog up the hill began a worried barking, on alert that something wasn't quite right in its universe. Then, suddenly, rapidly, it was dark. This wasn't a dark like night or dusk darkness. It was a dark like a highway tunnel through a mountainside, or the dim glow of LED emergency lights in a corporate building hallway when the power grid has gone down. It was the glow of another realm. An odd cyan glow filled the spaces between things and seemed to come from everywhere, yet nowhere. The ceiling of day was momentarily split, the illusion of separation from the void of space temporarily removed. Revealed, were the dark depths of space to the creatures of earth and sun light. The dominance of the human world evaporated and the expanse of heavens made themselves known. A thin ring of light hovered in the darkness. And then, just as suddenly as it arrived, the darkness left. The ceiling of blue sky was once again in place and there was no visible trace of what had just happened.
I created a series of images of the sun and moon during the totality phase of the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. The folio is now available for purchase on my website - Purchase Here. The folio is $300, but until Monday, September 4, 2017 it is available for $150 plus shipping. This is a rare moment that I discount my work.
The folio consists of 5 prints, plus a colophon page and list of prints. It is packaged in a black, archival, paper folio. The prints can be framed individually or as a series. This folio could also be treated as an unbound book and kept in the folio cover. The prints are Archival Pigment Prints created with Epson Ultrachrome HD inks on a 300 gsm, 22.5 mil, 100% cotton rag fine art paper.
The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of angry gods and that it was the beginning of disasters and destruction. Here we are, a week before the eclipse and a couple of political leaders with nuclear weapons at their disposal are threatening to use them against each other. Hmmm....
Early this spring the articles and postings about the solar eclipse began. I was intrigued, but busy with other things so I didn't pay too much attention. Well, that's not actually entirely correct. I did pay attention enough to decide it was going to be crowded in the eclipse path so I made plans to be far away from it in the Eastern Sierras. I'm seldom excited about being in a crowd. Then last month, I met some people in Oregon who had been making their plans for it for the last 7 years. They invited me to join in and got me on a wait list for a camp site in central Oregon. A few days ago, an email arrived notifying me that I am in.
I have only the issue of lacking a few key items to make the photographs I imagine I would like to make. Fortunately, I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area right now where there are still photographic supply stores, and the internet right at my fingertips. The internet came through with perhaps the last two solar filters available on the planet. The supplier just lacked the pieces needed to attach the filters to my lenses - and they didn't tell me that until after my order arrived. A phone call to Samy's Cameras in San Francisco and a drive into the city - with my big truck in afternoon traffic - got me the last two of the pieces I needed... I did get to drive over my favorite bridge.
Now I'm only missing one more piece - a motorized mount that could move the camera along with the sun as it moves through the sky. Lacking this piece I have to stay close to the camera if I want to record the sun & moon dance in the sky. The sun actually moves faster than you think through the frame of a telephoto lens. That might slow me down from using a second camera to photograph the landscape and other things I'm imagining I'd like to record.
The last solar eclipse I photographed was partial and I was busy printing work. I made a quick iPhone photo of it as it shone through the window blinds onto a wall. The one I photographed before that was May 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I didn't have the correct filter setup, but I stacked all the neutral densities I had, closed my camera as far down as I could and went for it. That eclipse was an Annular Eclipse - a "ring of fire" with a dark center because the Moon's apparent diameter is smaller than the Sun's. The Moon passes right over the sun, but doesn't completely eclipse it.
I'll be a bit more prepared for this eclipse than I ever have been, but I'm still going to be winging it in some or many respects. That's what much of making art is anyway. There is always an aspect of making it up and figuring it out as I go along - using my imaginative faculties. Art is an adventure, an exploration. Art is a journey into the unknown, the uncharted - the realm of the imagined, the imagination...
There once lived a paleontologist and writer named Loren Eiseley. I never met him, but through his writings he roams the planet with me. His words echo & blend with my thoughts as I wander and I'm often heartened by having a comrade with broad vision to whom I can mentally converse as I watch modern humanity climb, crawl, jump, paw, drive, fly, crush, and push, our way through current time and space - blissfully recording it all in a magical cyberspace universe of our own creation as we go.
On a recent evening, I sat near the core of an ancient volcano in northern California, on the edge of a pool of gray silty water, heated to boiling by magma somewhere below the surface. I watched the center of it bubble, roll, leap and splash. A young girl stood near me as a thick, wet belch of Sulphur engulfed us. She looked down at the pool and then at a baggie of goldfish crackers in her hand. “What would happen if I threw my goldfish in there?” She asked. The woman with her seemed confused for a moment, but gathered herself and said that it wouldn't be a good idea because that would make things “less nice” for those who followed her here. The girl crinkled her nose, seemingly not completely satisfied with the answer, but decided to leave it at that in the interest of wandering onward to another spot of interest - one that perhaps didn’t smell quite so bad.
As my spot on the earth rotated away from the sun, toward the dark depths of space, the girl and other visitors wandered to their cars and drove away. I was left alone to sit and contemplate, in peace, this place in time and space. I often let my imagination take me to other times of a place where I am. This place is filled with tall evergreens, a lively stream, and patches of wildflowers. A family of deer stepping gingerly uphill past me and a steaming hole in the earth. A mountain lion was recently spotted near here so there are signs warning visitors to be alert and to travel in groups. There are sturdy graphic signs that tell human visitors to the area about the geologic, natural and human history of the spot. If I walk backward down the road of time about 600,000 years ago - a mere few feet on the great map of existence - this is a place of molten lava, massive explosive forces, flying rock, ash and steam.
I turned away from the pool to look toward the east and think about exploring down along the stream. The moon was now visible just above what remains of the crater rim of the ancient volcano I stood in. That moon was there, reflecting the setting sun, over the place in time when molten lava, gases, water and forces of geology conspired to fling a mountaintop into the sky. It was there when the first mountain lion set foot on the edge of this stream below me to take a drink. It was there when the first humans wandered into the area in search of food or shelter. It will also most likely be there shining down upon whatever life form walks along this earth in humanity’s footsteps and perhaps stops to sit on a rock, that holds our fossil remains, and watch the moon as it appears above some version of this crater rim.
The world of geological prophecy has vanished. There is only this vast uneasy river of life spreading into every possible niche, dreaming its way toward every possible form. Since the beginning there have been no breaks in that river. The immaterial blueprints were an illusion generated by physical descent. The lime in our bones, the salt in our blood were not from the direct hand of the Craftsman. They were, instead, part of our heritage from an ancient and forgotten sea.
Yet for all this flood of change, movement and destruction, there is an enormous stability about the morphological plans which are built into the great phyla — the major divisions of life. They have all, or most of them, survived since the first fossil records. They do not vanish. The species alter, one might say, but the Form, that greater animal which stretches across millennia, survives. There is a curious comfort in the discovery. In some parts of the world, if one were to go out into the woods, one would find many versions of oneself, with fur and grimaces, surveying one’s activities from behind leaves and thickets. It is almost as though somewhere outside, somewhere beyond the illusions, the several might be one.
- Loren Eiseley, The Firmament of Time
If you don't know ... or want to know more about Loren Eiseley, I recommend a book called The Immense Journey to begin with. There is also a Loren Eiseley Society that has a website, twitter, and Facebook.
Two minutes at the Headwaters of the Mississippi River...
When I photographed Kennedy Space Center and stepped into the Vehicle Assembly Building - VAB as it's known - I stood in the door and looked up. I felt as if I were standing in the doorway to space. It was and is here, in the VAB, that rockets are assembled and then taken out to the launch pads. It was here that Apollo 11 - the rocket that carried astronauts for the first moon landing - was assembled. This is why I made the first image of my series on Kennedy Space Center look as if I was looking up into space - in a sense, I was.Read More
Thus far, this year I've traveled from the Desert Southwest, across the lower Great Plains, into the Blue Ridge Mountains to Virginia, across the Appalachians and into Kentucky's rolling hills up along the Ohio River, down through the Deep South to Florida, back up along the Mississippi and north to the Ohio River Valley again. I continued farther north into the home of the American Industrial Revolution and farther then across the Great Lakes and the north woods of Michigan. I turned westward and passed through the northern reaches of the Midwest farmlands and across the headwaters of the Mississippi. Next I paralleled the railroad though North Dakota's oil and gas boom towns to Montana's wide open rangelands and into Glacier National Park.
I've lost count now how many times I've crossed the U.S. by automobile. I can safely say though, it's more than 20. As I travel, geographical regions, neighborhoods, ecological zones, time zones, towns, yards, parking lots and cities wash through me. Everyplace has a distinct feeling. There are some places I pass through that I am struck by thoughts of the people who lived in the place before it was called a part of the U.S., before Europeans established their order on it.
As I stand at the base of these northern Rocky Mountains, surrounded by crowds of summer vacationers, I think about the people who used to hunt and fish here. They now live down the highway and shop at Teepie's IGA and Glacier Family Foods. It's hard not to feel like a trespasser as I stand beside a paved road filled with cars and watch groups of people run along the rocks and streams with iPads and phones making photos of themselves in this place; as I watch the cars drive under glacial runoff, passenger arms reaching out to touch it; as I listen to cameras click, children squeal, and people laugh and make excited comments about this or that.
I lift my camera and make a photograph, feeling extremely humbled in the presence of this place. It's too late now to go back to how things were as the tsunami of modern humanity spills wildly across the planet. As I stand here, I am struck by a feeling that these mountains and the spirits that live in them are just watching all this happening and waiting for it to pass - all things do.
The remnants of an afternoon thunderstorm rushed through the shallow, cement gutters, overwhelming them in places and spreading into the streets. I walked to the front door and paused for a moment to look into the kitchen at my mother’s back as she prepared dinner. Before she knew I was there, I turned and walked silently out the front door. In my left hand was a red bandana tied around a candy bar, a pocket knife, my life savings and some other assorted provisions I thought I should have with me. I was going on a journey and I wasn’t sure when I’d be back, if ever. I walked down the wet street, rounded the corner, turned right at the next street and reached a large field with the giant wooden, two-legged power lines. I stood there looking through them eastward. They hummed and hissed high above me, like giant creatures of some strange, foreign mythology. I squinted far into the distance, trying to see what that eastern horizon and accompanying future held for me. I could feel and sense something calling me, but no matter how hard I squinted, I could only see grass, weeds, power lines and an eternity of horizon. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning cut the horizon in half. Its sound cracked and rolled across top of the grassy field toward me. A cool breeze from behind, stirred the tall weeds and grass in front of me and made the skin on my arms goose-bump. I stood there on the edge of a distant future somewhere out there in the horizon and from somewhere in me, common sense and some other knowing turned me around, sent me back up the block, up the street and into the front door. My mother was still busy in the kitchen. It wasn’t time to go yet. … I was four years old.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by exploration, journeys, learning and mysteries. I’ve also always felt compelled to take notes and seek ways to share my experiences. If I think about it and try to explain it, I can come up with all sorts of reasons why, but at the base of it all, it’s just simply a fact of my life and being. It’s there like the horizon – it’s everywhere I turn, calling me, always out there in front of me no matter how far I travel, and yet, far back where I came from and, actually, always right where I stand.
I've created field notebooks to share some of the written and visual stories of my travels – current, past and future. If you would like to keep up with me, please consider subscribing here on my website - it's a lot more reliable than social media. I also have another section called Studio Notebooks that will be filling with thoughts more directly related to photographic techniques, thoughts and practice in the studio and in the field.
May my work enrich your world.
I'm currently traveling through the green, watery, northern edge of the United States - A part of the planet I've not been before. So far, it's a lot like this...
I grew up in Sarasota, Florida and spent probably 75% or more of the first 18 years of my life immersed in the sand and water of the Gulf of Mexico. One of my earliest memories is from a sand bar off Longboat Key with my grandfather, swimming under the water to retrieve living sand dollars and starfish from the creamy bright white sand. I've been away now for more years than I lived there, but a very deep connection to that place remains within me. No matter where I roam, I will always feel a call to return to that water and those beaches. Perhaps I feel something similar to why sea turtles return to the beaches of their birth to lay the eggs of their young.
I just made a trip to Sarasota and spent my time on the beach, resting, writing, visiting family, and walking and sitting with the water. I made a couple of impromptu videos on my iPhone to capture some moments "in a bottle" that I could take with me and have a couple of minutes with my Gulf of Mexico home beach wherever I go. I thought I'd share them with you to enjoy for yourself as well. So here you are:
All original content on this website is registered copyright Memphis Barbree.
In 1989, I sat on a hillside and declared to a friend that I saw life as but a series of journeys woven together - a continuous expedition and exploration. There is no "home" only base camp and wherever I am is home. Base camp from there on, I said, would be - and still is - Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sometimes my travel has been by automobile, other times airplane, and still other times by foot. In 2015 my travel tool became a silver Toyota Tundra towing a 27 foot Airstream travel trailer named Endeavour. In the spring of 2017, that evolved into a RAM diesel towing a 30 foot Airstream travel trailer named Taj M'Haul.
By whatever form or tool and wherever I am moving on the planet, I am on my continuing expedition in search of light, stories, truth, and expressions of the oneness of all things.