The Artist as Activist

To my readers: I apologize for the raging quiet that has permeated this blog for a number of months. Booming business, my father’s failing health, and a plethora of other commitments and obligations fight for my time and this blog suffers for it. I hope to be be able to increase my posting frequency in the coming months.

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Sheep Mountain Wilderness and Proposed Wilderness Additions. Photo © Michael E. Gordon

Say Hello! to the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument! Photo ©2010 Michael E. Gordon

My being and spirituality has always been directly tied to nature and wildlands. I was born in Los Angeles (a distinctly different city nearly 50 years ago) and first experienced and fell in love with the local San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and Sierra Nevada mountains as a very young boy. While many of the memories of those early experiences are no longer with me, the experiences themselves have indelibly shaped and defined the person I was to become. I studied the obligatory classics of my preferred genre: John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner. If it was not my experiences that would shape me, the words of these writers certainly would have. Their books became my bibles, and the only thing I cared about (and still care about) was spending as much time as possible in wild nature: In my happy place, away from people, away from civilization (or “syphilization” as Abbey called it). I distinctly recall my mother back then telling this teenager that he had no business complaining about anything if he wasn’t willing to vote or put his money where his mouth was. It was she who was responsible for creating the activist I was to become. I was registered to vote by the age of eighteen and by my early twenties had a fat three-ring binder containing hundreds of copies of letters written to and replies received from Presidents, Senators, and Congresspersons about all the issues that concerned me and our planet.

In the decades since, I have walked, hiked, and climbed thousands of miles in California. I have summitted hundreds of its mountains (including many of the state’s highest); have been a volunteer patrol ranger on the San Bernardino National Forest (for which I received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2008); have served on the Board of Directors for the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association; and am currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy. Since 2007 my photographs have been instrumental in the campaigns of The Wilderness Society, Campaign for America’s WildernessNational Parks Conservation Association, Pew Charitable Trusts, among others. Throughout my life I have fought for the preservation of wildlands and for doing what is right for the land. The latter is a position which Aldo Leopold argued for nearly 75 years ago. His ideas were brilliant and before their time yet few listened. 75 years later, wildlands have shrunk right along with our glaciers and much of our country is on the brink of ecological collapse.

In his piece on Politicizing Art, my good friend and workshop partner Guy Tal writes about disassociating his own political convictions from his photographic work and explains why he chooses not to be a public activist. Many artists choose a stance similar to his. Using my own photographs and art for activism and conservation seemed to me necessary and mandatory from the start. I have always believed that the most honorable purpose for my photographs would be their use in conservation and I desired following the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, and the Sierra Club tradition of using photographs and coffee table books to advance legislation and protection for wildlands.

In 2010, under contract of The Wilderness Society, I began photographing what at that time were termed “Solar Energy Zones” on the California desert. I was only then beginning to understand the possible and forever damage that could occur on my beloved Mojave Desert. My heart was crushed as I photographed vast swaths of desert wildlands that were impossible to envision covered in thousands of solar panels, 500-foot tall thermal power towers, and eagle-killing wind turbines. I have since committed to photographing all threatened California desert wildlands, and am proud that my photographs have been used to help kill at least three proposed ill-sited development zones (Pisgah, Iron Mountain, Palen).

In recent months, I have attended numerous public and private stakeholder meetings opposing utility-scale renewable energy developments on undisturbed California desert. I always have large prints in tow. While it’s easy to dispute confusing language and policies (such as with the recently-released 8,000 page Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan), the right photographs are able to clearly and powerfully demonstrate exactly what is at stake. Last week, I was invited by the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association to lobby the Los Angeles City Council against entering a power purchase agreement from the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project. I had two 60″ panoramic prints in tow and their impact was undeniably felt. A few weeks prior I was invited to a private meeting with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to discuss the Silurian Valley solar proposal. Again, I had large and small prints in tow (both landscape and wildlife) and their impact was undeniable.

In 2010, under contract of The Wilderness Society and the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign, I created a catalog of images to help advance the then-proposed National Monument designation for the San Gabriel Mountains. I am very happy to report that President Obama is screwing up traffic in Los Angeles today (October 10, 2014) to announce our newest National Monument!

Should artists avoid politicizing their art? Should photography and politics never be mixed? My personal life, spirituality, and profession are all intermixed and dependent upon nature and wildlands. I will not peacefully and passively accept the development and destruction of my beloved lands any more than I’ll permit an act of violence against a loved one.  If not me, what other artist will stand up and fight? If the power of beautiful photography can convince others of the need for protection and conservation of our vital wildlands, I want to be on the front line and I want those photographs to be mine.

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 FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.

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STOP the Proposed Silurian Valley Wind/Solar Project!

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

Dear Readers and friends of the California Desert, I need your help opposing the proposed Silurian Valley Solar/Wind Project which is slated for development southeast of Death Valley National Park. The proposed project would be a 200 megawatt solar facility consisting of multiple arrays of photovoltaic panels, 44 miles of service roads, a project substation, an operation & maintenance facilities including an aerial generation transmission line and will impact 7,219 acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approximately 10 miles north of Baker, San Bernardino County, along State Highway 127. Silurian Valley remains in a nearly pristine state just outside Death Valley National Park, just north of Mojave National Preserve, and is directly adjacent to the Hollow Hills Wilderness and Kingston Range Wilderness areasthis is simply the wrong location for this project. In mid-2013, National Geographic released a special publication entitled ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Places‘ in which the Mojave Desert was named as one of the 100 most remarkable destinations:

“Far from the madding metropolitan crowds of Las Vegas and Los Angeles that surround it, the Mojave Desert offers the balm of silence and solitude. Canyons, giant mesas, mountains, towering dunes, and vast, dust-dry plains make up one of North America’s most elemental landscapes. It is a world little touched by humans, save for the odd crumbling mine or homestead, but one which nature adorns with the beauty of the Joshua tree and spring’s brief-lived wildflowers…”

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

Renewable energy projects should be smart from the start, but the  proposed Silurian Valley Solar/Wind Project is a poster child for inappropriately sited renewable energy projects which threatens scenic view-sheds and critical wildlife habitat in a presently undisturbed valley. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommends that BLM reject the proposal “because of its potential for substantial adverse effects on trust resources including desert tortoises, migratory birds, and golden eagles. The proposed project would introduce a substantial amount of human impact into an area that is currently undisturbed”. Solar panels belong in urban areas, on roof tops, canopies over parking lots, public parks, along freeways, train tracks, and other suitable locations within the areas where it is consumed – NOT on our public wildlands and NOT in Silurian Valley.

With your help we can help the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to understand the full range of impacts this project proposes for wildlife, viewshed, Death Valley National Park, and adjacent Wilderness Study Areas. Together we can ensure that the BLM does not blindly approve this harmful project (what’s wrong with “green” energy?).

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

I urge you to please submit your written comments by the May 28, 2014 deadline to:

Katrina Symons
BLM Barstow Field Manager
2601 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311
or by email at Silurian_Valley_Solar@blm.gov

Please share this post widely with others who care about our National Parks, protecting public lands and open space from industrialized corporate development, preserving desert wildlife and views, and with those who care about holding subsidized developers responsible for not harming our world-famous deserts (tourists travel from around the world to take in our vast and timeless desert views). PLEASE HELP STOP the Silurian Valley Solar/Wind Project!

Additional reading:

Basin and Range Watch Silurian Valley page (comprehensive details, maps, photos)

USDA Fish & Wildlife Service comments AGAINST the Proposal

* Silurian Valley Solar: Beautiful Bureaucracy at Work

* Mojave Desert Blog: Ode to Silurian Valley

* The Wilderness Society: California’s Silurian Valley

* L.A. Times article: The Wrong Sites for Solar

* Sacrificial Land: Will renewable energy devour the Mojave Desert? (High Country News)

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 FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.

STOP the Proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project!

Proposal zone from the tip of the proposed North Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

Proposal zone from the tip of the proposed North Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

Dear Readers and Friends of the California Desert, I urge your action against the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project, south of Death Valley National Park and proposed for development immediately adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve. Renewable energy projects should be smart from the start, but the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project is THE poster child for inappropriately sited renewable energy projects which threatens the Mojave National Preserve, bighorn sheep migration corridors, desert tortoise habitat, the endangered tui chub pup fish, and world-renowned scenic view-sheds. With your help we can help the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to understand the full range of impacts this project proposes for wildlife, viewshed, the Mojave National Preserve and adjacent Wilderness Study Areas. Together we will ensure that the BLM does not blindly approve this harmful project (what’s wrong with “green” energy?).

The Soda Mountain Solar Project is a proposed 350-megawatt photo-voltaic electric power generating plant proposed on 4,397 acres of public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) some six miles southwest of Baker, California and immediately adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve  (yes, immediately adjacent to a

Proposal zone from the southwestern tip of the proposed South Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

Proposal zone from the southwestern tip of the proposed South Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

National Park unit). The application by Soda Mountain Solar, LLC requests a right-of-way authorization to construct a solar field on 2,691 acres, a project substation, an access road, operations and maintenance buildings, and to realign approximately 3.3 miles of Rasor Road. The Sierra Club’s Desert Report recently featured a piece on this proposal which outlines this tragedy in the making. Author Sid Silliman explains that “[t]he consequences for the Mojave National Preserve are of special concern because the project threatens not only the particular resources and landscape that Congress mandated to be protected by the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, but the very integrity of this treasured unit of the National Park System.”

Overview at sunset of the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project. Photographed from the northern tip of the proposed 'North Array' along Blue Bell Mine access road. The Old Dad Mountains and Kelso Peak of the Mojave National Preserve can be seen at the far left edge of the frame, Interstate 15 runs horizontally through the frame (big rigs are visible), with existing transmission lines visible on the right side of the frame.

Overview at sunset of the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project.

I urge you to please submit your comments by March 3, 2014 to:

Jeffrey Childers, Project Manager
BLM California Desert District Office
22835 Calle San Juan de Los Lagos
Moreno Valley, CA 92553

jchilders@blm.gov

Please share this post freely with others who care about our National Parks, protecting desert wildlife and views, and with those who care about holding renewable energy developers responsible for not harming our world-famous deserts (tourists travel from around the world to take in our vast and timeless desert views). PLEASE HELP STOP the Soda Mountain Solar Project!

ADDITIONAL READING:

Soda Mountain Solar Energy Project (comprehensive overview) Basin and Range Watch

Soda Mountain Solar Project Facts National Parks Conservation Association

Don’t Let Clean Energy Projects Stain National Parks The Sacramento Bee

Will A Proposed Solar Power Plant Near Mojave National Preserve Defeat Good Planning?National Parks Traveler

Mojave Desert not ideal for massive solar project The Press Enterprise

Public troubled with 4K-acre solar project near Mojave Preserve The Civic Bee

Relocate the Mojave National Preserve’s planned Soda Mountain Solar Project: Guest Commentary San Bernardino Sun

Retired National Park Leaders Oppose Soda Mountain SolarKCET.ORG

Overwhelming Opposition to Soda Mountain Solar Project The Desert News Post

Here we go again: Soda Mountain Solar ProjectHi-Desert Star

Saving the Mojave from the solar threatLos Angeles Times

BLM advances solar project that will harm bighorn sheepHigh Country News

L.A. won’t buy power from Mojave Desert solar plant, after all Los Angeles Times

MOJAVE IS A MAGICAL PLACE. LET’S PROTECT MY FORMER HOME Park Advocate

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 FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.