From Sea to Sonoran Desert
While some people honed their cooking skills and others learned a second language, I spent much of the pandemic lockdown stalking the local fauna with my camera, in part so I would not binge-eat myself into a wardrobe filled with elastic-waist pants. But also to be outside where the air was fresh and relatively COVID-free. Lucky enough to reside in Santa Barbara during this “interesting” time, I took full advantage of the mild weather and the county’s expansive spaces, spectacular shoreline, serene bird sanctuaries and muddy marshes (I returned to Tucson mid-February, 2022, after a 7 year interlude in California).
In these natural spaces I encountered peace, solitude, a smattering of masked humans, and a whole lot of fun-loving, funky-looking, sometimes common and occasionally exotic birds—snowy egrets, gulls, sandpipers, pelicans, black-necked stilts, great herons, crows, and more. For decades, my photography focused on portraiture, weddings, events, images for editorial use, and some rather offbeat conceptual pieces. Directing people, manipulating light, and choosing locations were all under my control when working with people. Animals and birds were not on my radar, and they’re not known for taking direction very well. However, COVID forced me to look at the world—and my work—from a totally different perspective. Not only did my subject matter change, but so did the way I made photos and processed and presented my work. For almost two years, birds (and a few horses) became my main models because they were accessible, abundant and worked for free.
Most mornings, my pursuit of local flora and fauna took me to one of many spectacular beaches, such as Santa Barbara’s Shoreline Park, East Beach, Leadbetter Beach, Thousand Steps Beach, Mesa Lane Beach, and Arroyo Burro Beach, which is known as Hendry's Beach by the locals. Hendry's is blessed with splendid towering cliffs, a serene, meandering coastline and the happiest of dogs, as canines can run leash-free on the beach’s west side. These same dogs often relentlessly chased my models, ruining my chances of getting the shots I hoped for. I spent a lot of time walking and wading into the surf, attempting to cozy up to elegant egrets, skittish plovers, and awkward pelicans, while not spooking the cormorants and long-billed curlews.
Photographing gulls, black-necked stilts and night herons quickly became a way to fill the time, enjoy the great outdoors and in the end, create something meaningful, which was unexpected. Patience and more patience is required when working with wildlife. So is sheer determination and persistence, which I believe some birds actually appreciated. There were days when a single snowy egret would let me hang around in close proximity for what seemed like hours. Sure, a low-tide feeding frenzy distracted it from my presence, but still, it was very tolerant of me. The night herons never came out of the trees, and the plovers, scurrying about in packs, had no time for my nonsense. They were always in a hurry, running to and fro but no place in particular.
Initially, the images found their way to Facebook and Instagram, basically acting as documentation as to how I was spending my days during lockdown. I didn’t know what else to do with them. I liked the images, but the “straight” shots, I felt, though often lovely, lacked a certain excitement and/or “freshness.” When photographing a bird, the background, thanks to depth of field, mostly disappears and adds little if anything to the image (though a sharp bird against some great bokeh, which is the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light, can be a fabulous look). And equally, focusing on the background can make the bird look like an afterthought, as it can get lost in the scene.
If I was a painter, I pondered, I could create both the bird and the background of my dreams, as opposed to settling for either a great landscape shot or a nice bird pic. My first attempts at fusing the two elements resulted in compilations of 4 to 5 images placed next to each other in various opacities, some overlapping. These compilations, which resembled little storybooks, eventually morphed into single images with a more illustrative feel to them. Brush strokes are apparent as is varying opacities throughout the image. Each final image is created from multiple photographs—layers of photos sandwiched together utilizing a variety of Photoshop tools. Some images are surreal, featuring bug-eyed birds under cotton ball skies, and some are humorous, such as the gull running along the shoreline with a starfish (yes, it really happened!). One image reminds me of Edvard Munch’s classic painting, “The Scream”, only in my version, it’s a gull on a rock that has lost its mind (or was I projecting)?
After more than a year in relative isolation photographing, sorting, processing and manipulating thousands of photographs, I created several related bodies of work including, “By the Seaside,” “Mosaics,” “Mornings in Summerland,” and “Life in the Sonoran Desert.” The later series, “Mosaics”, features portraits of wildlife receding into the environment. Currently, I am adding other fauna from other regions to the series, such as an antelope jack rabbit and a rattlesnake from right here in Tucson. These re-imagined images, like most wildlife photographs, are meant to amuse, inform, and help raise awareness of the natural world and promote its conservation. Much of the wildlife is threatened by climate change, oil spills, fishing nets and of course, we humans. The wildlife in most of these images is partially transparent—merging with environments that are also threatened or eroding—signifying the fact that nature and wildlife are wholly intertwined and vital for each other's survival and, without conservation, both could quickly and easily disappear into thin air.
Custom sizes available upon request.