Soda Mountains: Shame on Bechtel, BLM, and the Obama Administration

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On February 12, 2016 the Obama Administration demonstrated great leadership and foresight with its designation of three new National Monuments in the California desert (Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, Castle Peaks). A mere eight weeks later, on April 5, 2016 – this same Administration lost its mind and approved a hotly-contested solar project on previously undeveloped California desert wildlands.

The Soda Mountain Solar Project has been contested from the get-go: By scientists, biologists, current and former National Park Superintendents, public stakeholders, and numerous other organizations and individuals who provided a plethora of logical and scientific reasons (via written comment submissions and during public meetings) why this project should not move forward at this location. First and foremost: the proposed project boundary is a mere 1/3 mile from the boundary of the Mojave National Preserve. Allow me to say it again just in case you didn’t catch it: Our federal government approved an industrial project a mere one-third of a mile from one of our third-largest National Park unit. Among numerous other significant impacts, this project would severely threaten the lives and migration patterns of bighorn sheep who reside and move through the Soda Mountains.

Please have a look at the photo heading this post. Proponents of this project claim that they have mitigated visual impacts of the project from within the Mojave National Preserve by removing from development lands north of Interstate 15. My photograph illustrates either the Bureau of Land Management‘s (BLM) disingenuousness or that it knows much less about the land we have entrusted it to manage than does this landscape photographer. That’s a two way view: the Kelso Dunes, Providence Mountains, and Granite Mountains of the Mojave National Preserve can all be seen in the background. If one places themselves in these locations inside the Preserve post-development, solar panels will fill in the background. Are these the views we want and expect from inside a unit of our National Park system?

During public and private meetings over the last few years, Bechtel was urged to take this project elsewhere where it could not destroy previously undeveloped desert and seriously threaten wildlife. Guess which finger they held up in reply?

During public and private meetings over the last few years, the BLM and Department of Interior were asked to not permit this project to move forward where it would destroy previously undeveloped desert and seriously threaten wildlife – there are better and more sensible options. Guess which finger they held up in reply?

This solar proposal has no power purchase agreement and the City of Los Angeles has stated that they will not purchase power from this project due to its environmental impacts.As Chris Clarke points out in this KCET article, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and San Bernardino County are doing a better job at protecting the California desert than the Bureau of Land Management (an agency entrusted by the public to protect our public lands in the public interest. Note public interest, not corporate).

The Center for Biological Diversity  suggests that “a recent report identifies nearly 1.5 million rooftops throughout Los Angeles County that could be used as solar power generators that would create 19,000 megawatts from rooftop solar. The total rooftop solar potential for the city of Los Angeles is more than 5,500 megawatts (more than 15 times what the Soda Mountain solar project would generate), which could power the city on most days since the highest-ever peak in Los Angeles was 6,177 megawatts.”

Dear President Obama: Why would you protect but then sign-off on the destruction of my beautiful Mojave Desert in the span of only eight weeks? Visitors come from around the world to tour and enjoy these vast and unspoiled landscapes.

Given that this project ignores and defies directives set forth in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (six years in planning) and given the massive science against and opposition to this project, I am left wondering who took the bribe? 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Read more on the following pages:

Stay tuned for forthcoming protests and lawsuits.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For information and photographs, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

The Greatest Gift

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In this sunlit desolation of rock and thorn, where the sun beats down through an unending march of days and the desert silence which broods among the boulders and Ocotillos is broken only by the harpings of the wind, we can spread freely the net of our minds to gather those priceless, fundamental stirrings of the infinite which are most easily come by when one is close to nature. Marshal South

I recently celebrated my birthday in Death Valley National Park. Reasoning that all my clients are wonderful people and a joy to be around (this is no lie) – especially considered in the context of photography and Death Valley –  I chose to schedule photo tour clients on my birthday. While some opt for more civilized days or nights on the town with a fine dinner, friends, and a show, my time spent quietly in nature amidst the sun-burnished desert holly, half-billion year old canyons, and ancient night sky are among the simplest of joys – they make me happy. I don’t need any wrapped presents or candles or cake – these are the gifts I want and love.

I’m always a little hesitant to share my “methods” with my clients. I meet most of them at their lodging, where they’ve often spent a comfortable night under a roof with the possibility of evening television entertainment. They are often surprised when they learn that I forgo lodging and sleep under the stars. Not camped in a tent – literally, on the ground and under the stars (never in “developed” campgrounds). It is not a budgetary constraint – it is a choice. Sometimes the kit foxes visit me at night (sometimes walking around on and smelling my sleeping bag – “lie down, kit!”). Often I hear my coyote friends nearby reveling in their hunt. I have no fears about sleeping beautifully this way – much worse (and louder) things can happen in any city on any given night. There is no quiet like the quiet of my preferred Death Valley sleeping sites.

My “method” ceased being a choice long ago – after a great many years of doing it this way, sleeping under a tent canopy or roof feels wrong when there are planets, meteors, and a raging night sky to lull me to sleep. Rest assured, I’ve had plenty of middle-of-the-night rain drills which send my scurrying like a wood rat. My ancestors slept like this; it feels right to follow in their steps and try to understand a little of their existence and their communion with nature. It cannot be so terribly different from my own experiences.

One of Lynda’s goals was to experience and photograph the Milky Way. Any day or month of the year, I get to experience this brilliant flaming Galaxy over the Death Valley night sky. And while I don’t care so much about making photographs of  it – I observe it nightly in real-time H.D. with my own eyes – I don’t take it for granted. Never for a second.

In a world which often seems to be speeding (and spiraling) out of control, I feel eternally thankful and blessed for these gifts. The gift of sight lets me see nightly that infinite galaxy overhead. The gift of sound allows me to hear gentle desert winds rake across the hairs of my outer ear. And the gift of simply being allows me to take pleasure in the simplest joys which were enjoyed by my ancestors (and which are frequently lost on modern man).

Thank you for a most wonderful birthday in Death Valley, Lynda and Jim!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For information and photographs, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

Upcoming Exhibitions: Autumn 2015

AUtU2015 I will be exhibiting at a few upcoming California desert art festivals (Coachella Valley) and would love to meet and share my work with you!

First up is the Rancho Mirage Art Affaire taking place on November 7-8 in beautiful Rancho Mirage. One week later, November 14, will be my first Art Under the Umbrellas show of the season (it runs about eight Saturdays each winter). This wonderful little event takes place in beautiful Old Town La Quinta with a spectacular mountain desert backdrop. I’ll be exhibiting again at Art Under the Umbrellas on Saturday, November 28 (Thanksgiving weekend). I’m looking forward to these shows and hope you will consider joining me for great music, outstanding scenery, and superb art.

And in case you missed it, my NatureLA:Off the Beaten Path (Yosemite) exhibition runs until November 15 at the G2 Gallery in Los Angeles.

Upcoming exhibitions are always listed on my website – please stay tuned!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook and Google+.

Photograph: Phoenix Rising

The incredible vaulted ceiling of St. Giles Cathedral. Edinburgh, Scotland.

The incredible vaulted ceiling of St. Giles Cathedral. Edinburgh, Scotland.

I am not religious but I’ll walk into virtually any old cathedral. I love the wonderful ancient aromas of copal and/or frankincense and love to marvel at architecture built with incredible love, skill, and attention to detail. During my recent travel to Scotland, I was drawn again into the beautiful St. Giles Cathedral (my first time was ten years previous) and quietly pondered its architecture and the scores of people who sought spiritual relief throughout its history. St. Giles is incredibly old; the present church dates from the late 14th century, although it was extensively restored in the 19th century.

Should you make your way to Edinburgh, Scotland, I recommend exploring this cathedral (inside and out) – it’s right near the Edinburgh Castle. Photographers who like details will find both the interior and exterior pregnant with opportunity (am I allowed to use the word “pregnant” in concert with “cathedral”?), and they’ll be pleased to discover a policy which permits vital tripod use (for a mere £2).

See a larger version of the photograph here or by clicking on the image above (click LARGER VIEW under the caption).

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook and Google+.

High Peaks and Low Valleys

Moss and flowering plants adorn the 19th century steps of the Old Royal High School, also known as the New Parliament House. Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Moss and flowering plants adorn the 19th century steps of the Old Royal High School, also known as the New Parliament House. Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Before I began typing this entry, I counted the meager number of blog posts that I made in 2015. It’s staggeringly pathetic considering that the year is now three-quarters finished. While some consider blogs dead (in lieu of Facebook and other similar social media), I still consider it my main means of communicating more detailed thoughts (despite not having done so in recent months). On one hand, my photography, business, and adventures have experienced a remarkable 2015 – it’s been exciting. On the other hand, I’ve experienced one of the most difficult years of my adult life. My nine-year-old lumbar spine problems and chronic pain reared its horrid ugliness again, and my father passed away on July 28 after several difficult months of illness and hospitalization. It’s hard to celebrate the highs with such low lows.

I was very close to my father. I took him to most of his medical appointments, oversaw his care, and was with him in his final days and with him when he took his very last breath. I lost my mother 16 years ago and forgot what it really felt like to lose a parent. I had no idea that I would be hit again as hard as I have been.

In late September 2015 we took home some of dad’s ashes to his birthplace of Edinburgh, Scotland (an incredibly beautiful and charming UNESCO World Heritage site – this from a guy who dislikes cities). The journey was beautiful and emotional. Regardless of any trip’s purpose, I always carry a camera and tripod (shouldn’t an artist always have their tools?). Although the purpose of the trip was to celebrate dad’s life and be with family, I was still able to spend many hours alone wandering through Edinburgh making photographs of its narrow closes and wynds and dimly lit corridors. Many of my favorites are dark, mysterious, brooding – perhaps the mood of Edinburgh or perhaps more reflective of the state of mind of the maker.

The Green Steps is one of my favorites (see it LARGER). It’s dark and perhaps a bit brooding. But I prefer “light at the end of the tunnel” or perhaps the route of ascendance that my father took (or hovered above) as he made his way to a more verdant, happier, and brighter place.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook and Google+.

On Exhibition: Nature LA: Off the Beaten Path

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I’m excited to announce my upcoming exhibition at the G2 Gallery in Los Angeles: Nature LA: Off The Beaten Path. The opening reception takes place Saturday, October 3rd from 6:3o-9:oo pm and is concurrent with the opening of G2’s Off The Beaten Path: Views from Yosemite autumn exhibition (featuring Alan Ross, Art Wolfe, Clyde Butcher, Michael Frye, and approximately 30 additional photographers!). Both exhibitions hang through November 15.

My exhibit will feature fourteen (14) medium to large prints of retrospective photographs made throughout Yosemite country over the last decade or so (The Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, High Country, and beyond). I am especially thrilled with gallery director’s selections, all of which are obscure, abstract, or simply unrecognizable as Yosemite (“off the beaten path“). Four of the fourteen images are seen at left.

I hope you will consider joining us at the opening reception on October 3 at the G2 Gallery in Los Angeles for a beautiful night of Yosemite off the beaten path. A $10 admission fee benefits the work of The Yosemite Conservancy. I hope to see you there!

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You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Get the Shot (or not)

MercurialI am rather particular about semantics and the manner in which I speak about my own art. You will never hear me define my photographs as “shots”, nor will you will ever hear me proudly declare how “I got the shot” while expressing the ideas or mechanics behind a photograph. Quite contrarily, a professional photographer known for his bold (and refuted) sales claims seems to really enjoy using both. A new generation of landscape/nature photographers has fallen under his influence and they also seem to love using these terms of conquest. The contemplative, perceptual, passive act of moving deliberately and slowly through a landscape in search of creation seems to have been superseded by epic-everything, moving quickly and far (extra points for defying death), and getting “the shot”. I have heard a number of stories from workshop students relating how they covered in previous workshops thousands of tiring miles in one week chasing epic weather and light over epic locations. My own workshops and personal photographic style run completely counter: One location, slow movement, connecting with the land, and a big emphasis on perception and vision. In other words, photographs exist everywhere and can be made at any time and under any conditions. You and your ability to see are your only limitations.

The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” — Ernst Haas

A bigger issue with “the shot” is the implication that there is only one photograph to be made from any particular location (I have been asked by students and tour clients “where is the shot?”). By limiting yourself only to your preconceived ideas (or mine) and/or photographing what has already been photographed, you cheat yourself out of a world rife with images.

Make art, photographs, or images. War against the shot.

I’ll be presenting and teaching at the 12th Annual Moab Photo Symposium, May 1-3, 2015. Register now for this wonderful experience while seats last. 

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.