Twelve for 2020

Twenty-twenty might not be a year to look back on, especially for those whose lives suffered in the wake of economic setbacks, storms of fire or weather, and the unknowns and uncertainties of the insidious and unrelenting Covid pandemic. Communities, families, and friends suffered as misinformed and misguided (or worse) politics cut and infected deep wounds that may be more difficult to heal than the lingering effects of a virus. Still, hopeful moments rose above the noise as social injustices glared under focal spotlights and many sought connections with the natural world – these disparate things having in common entrapment, by history, by half-news, by the malnourishment of social feed, and, too often, by mandate. Would our masks help us see or simply add to our blindness?

I pursued my occasional photography in this turbid year with this conflict often in mind. My time in the landscape, whether as a scientist, chronicler, or photographer, provides escape, enlightenment, and rejuvenation. I remain hopeful and moving forward, letting the complex elements of light, space, and climate speak for themselves, sometimes to me, sometimes at me, and many times beyond me.

Choosing Twelve for 2020 goes beyond self-reflection, however. Or, at least, it can be reflection of a different sort. “Best of…” reviews are common, and many photographers compile year-end collections to create calendars and highlight portfolio imagery. Hearing a suggestion on a podcast that selecting your best images from the year can be a good way to critically review one’s growth or direction as a photographer, I decided to heed the advice. The podcast host suggested ten images, I picked twelve as a calendar exercise (though roughly chronological, they aren’t month-by-month). The self-critique comes from culling favorites down to a relatively small collection. It takes some thought and analysis of subjective data points to get down to twelve; the last few cuts are especially difficult and provocative. Internal arguments abound. It is, however, rather fun and I think I learned something (see above).

12 for 2020 Collection

You’ll find below twelve images from the landscape of western Nevada and eastern California, the area I am fortunate to call my home. Thank you for spending some time with TrailOption this year, and I know we can look forward to more.

Forest within. Taken in a snowstorm in the forests above Hope Valley, California. I don’t do much black-and-white. This was taken before the storm of the pandemic, but it has come to illustrate so much about it.
Last light. Captured in the iconic Alabama Hills in the growing shadow of Mount Whitney, in the days when the strange thing called Covid-19 had just started to make headlines. I had the pleasure of sharing this final ‘road trip’ with some good friends; we will gather and wander again.
Patterned ground. The Mesquite Dunes of Death Valley get loads of photographic attention, but small patterns between the dunes are revelations, like butterflies before the storm, of the processes that become the drama of the great vistas. I search for clues in the patterns, but the mystery of patterned ground remains. This is what I do.
Self reflection. Light in the afterstorm of Heartstone Hills near our home in western Nevada. This is my 2020.
Into and gone. One day in March I drove through storms at the edge of the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave Desert. The news was getting worrisome and uncertainty seemed to permeate so many thoughts. There was only one way to go.
Pinto mesa. I am very fortunate to ‘work’ in the landscapes of the Great Basin, where self-isolation is almost a way of life. The Black Rock Desert holds the light for me when I need the rejuvenation of open space and silence.
Summer dark. The fire season alters the light and lives of so many in western North America. There is the promise of beauty in the smoke-filled skies of the Carson Range at sunset – the backdrop to our home.
Nowhere curve. Captured near Monitor Pass, California. I do like roads; they are always hopeful if traveled in a good direction.
Fallen. A simple morning scene in a forest grove somewhere above Mono Lake, California. My wife and I have camped and traveled together much more this year; a pleasure to find these stories with her.
Dendritic heart. Taken in a riparian corridor of the eastern Sierra Nevada. This grove pulled me from my worries of an evening in late autumn. I took dozens of photographs of the aspens. It was only in later review that the heart popped out at me, sending a message that I must have known was there.
Promised harvest. Pinenuts have provided subsistence for millennia across the western and central Great Basin. Their productivity continues as insurance against the dark days of winter. The seeds abound.
Winter stand. Sometimes my photographic journeys are not productive. I often think the light is wrong, my mind is wandering, or I just don’t see. Wandering and chatting with my brother, I set my camera directly on the frozen pond, the long lens scudding on the thin ice. The image was unexpected, balanced, and strong. Taken just the other day on the shores of Washoe Lake, Nevada, we should cherish the unexpected. This winter stand will be colorful in spring, the water and wetland alive; we can be too.

I hope you have enjoyed the 2020 collection. I would, of course, be happy with the validation of you ‘liking’ the same ones from my varied galleries, but, in the end, these are about my year and, honestly, about me. I see quite a lot about my worries and conflicts in 2020, but I also see the beauty that as yet remains hidden in the landscape of 2021.

12 for 2020 Collection

I wish good things in 2021 for all of us. Keep going.

Please respect the natural and cultural resources of our public lands. #naturefirst #keepgoing

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