Making the Photograph: The American Dream

The American Dream

The American Dream

The California desert is littered with the abandoned homes of prospectors, vagabonds, and dreamers. Some came to strike it rich; some came to escape the city; some came to get away from others. All became too familiar with the trials and tribulations of living on the desert – it ain’t easy. The money runs out, the water runs out, or the patience runs out, and what’s left long behind are the forgotten possessions and stories of those who tried but failed.

A few years back, during the midst of the summer monsoon on the Mojave Desert, I used the often useful WWW (indeed, there is more to it than just Facebook and Twitter) to watch radar and satellites to determine the locations of the fattest thunderheads. And then I went chasing.

Some have assumed that this photograph is a composite. No way! This was the scene as I found it; I have not digitally added or changed the clouds. The unusual lighting adds in some part to the suspicion, I suspect, as the entire foreground is in open shade, while the cloud structure receives full sun. This beautiful Cumulonimbus cloud structure was fortuitously “parked” behind the abandoned structure and building in volume, and the addition of the Joshua trees on the left side made me excited (the desert equivalent of an old oak tree in the yard!). I used my 4×5″ large format view camera, black and white film, and an orange filter. The final look of this photograph came at the printing stage, where I turned the sky black for maximum impact and imparted the overall look and feel I was after.

Just in time for the holidays: purchase a beautiful 8″ Mini-Print (made with pure carbon pigment inks on archival cotton rag, mounted/matted to 11×14″) for only $50. Larger prints are also available.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website

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5 thoughts on “Making the Photograph: The American Dream

  1. Spectacular image Michael. I really love the contrast of the cloud and the sky. May I ask, when you did the burning, was that in a traditional darkroom or digitally? Doesn’t matter either way to me, just curious. I miss the late nights working in a wet darkroom during college and have considered trying to get back into it.

  2. I’ve always loved this image, Michael. For those that do have difficulty in understanding the light here, it really isn’t that uncommon in the southwest and western deserts. Monsoonal clouds will block the sun from the ground, yet not from other clouds, just as Michael described. One simply has to know of the scene of interest and be patient in waiting for the right conditions, which Michael did.

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