There was a time when my photographs were printed onto huge scrolls of cheap, gray paper, a few thousand times over — seven days a week, 365 days a year, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. In the early morning hours, barrels of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink poured into a press machine that chugged along like a locomotive. It was a scene out of the gilded age — men wearing goggles and aprons pulling levers and adding oil to the innards of a mechanical beast. The newsprint, saturated with fresh ink, would then be cut, collated, folded, rolled and delivered to doorsteps — an incredible undertaking to let the townspeople of the small, purgatorial town of Barstow know what happened the day before.
In the spring of 2003, I arrived in the High Desert with whatever possessions I could stuff in my car, which included a relatively primitive digital camera and a reporter’s notebook. For two years, I explored a landscape where the remains of the old Wild West collided with a new one. One day I'd be photographing bullriders at a rodeo teeming with Americana machismo. The next day I'd be following a state trooper out to the charred remains of a meth lab that exploded on the outskirts of town. It was astounding how much access my Desert Dispatch (circulation 6,000) press pass afforded me. At 23 I was experiencing the world in a very special way.
I returned to the desert for a weekend in 2010 and then again in 2011 to revisit the landscape that enraptured me years earlier. (Seven images from those return trips are featured in this collection.)
I've thought about why I was drawn to the desert, and author Deanne Stillman captures it beautifully in her book, Desert Reckoning: "Looking across a desert panorama calms interior noise. The wide open space just shuts down the chatter. Then the important stuff comes through. There's a reason the old prophets went to the desert and not the jungle. No static in the scenery. The eye can rest and therefore, the heart."