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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You’re invited! Stargazing in the Mojave National Preserve – Sept. 24, 2011

click to download flyer

You are welcomed to join the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers, myself, and others September 24 in the amazing Mojave National Preserve for food, frolic, and most importantly to enjoy the Preserve’s deep night sky. Camping is FREE all weekend at the group campsite. We will meet at the Black Canyon Group Campground located across the road from the Hole-in-the-Wall visitor center. The program will begin at 6pm. Please bring food, layered clothing, and camping gear.

Late September is a great time to explore the Preserve: Warm days and cool nights. Wildlife activity increases in fall as our date should coincide with fall bird migration. Late-season blooms, including the beautiful yellow hues of Rabbitbrush come into season.

This year the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy (MNPC), Old Town Astronomers, and NPCA will provide beverages and snacks. NPCA will discuss the value of our ever diminishing night sky and natural quiet, and what is threatening those resources. The Old Town Astronomers will provide telescopes and world-class interpretation of the cosmos.

Bring friends, bring dogs on leashes, and feel free to invite others to join. If you haven’t experienced the Preserve’s pristine night skies, they are not to be missed. NASA’s Jane Houston Jones has reported that fall is a great time to see the Milky Way galaxy. Please RSVP to David Lamfrom of NPCA if you plan to attend. It is not requisite for attendance, but does allow for enough snacks, wine, etc. for everyone.

On Sunday morning, I’ll be leading a hike to a special location within the Preserve. Be sure to find me on Saturday night if you’d like to join me on this outing! See you September 24 under the night skies!

*Please note: Mojave National Preserve does not have services, so be sure to bring food and to gas-up before arriving. Fenner is located one exit east of Essex Road on I-40, and has food and gas, but is expensive.

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

Save a Desert Tortoise – Buy this Book

Tortoises Through the Lens – it’s not just a photography class, but a movement to change the continuous struggle that tortoises must go through because of human interference. Rachel Wilson, TTTL Student

Until you’ve met and made the acquaintance of a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), you’ll never know just how incredible are these creatures. I met this tortoise (at left) on April 3 in Joshua Tree National Park, and as I sat beside and talked to him/her – all the while snapping photographs – I felt the same joy I feel each time I am lucky to have one of these chance encounters. Here before me is a distinct and unusual species that has roamed North America for 50 million years or longer, and has existed in its current form – before the Mojave was a Desert – for roughly 18 million years. Beyond humility and respect, I can think of few other ways to behave and honor the presence of this incredible creature. To see these fellows succeeding and feasting on greens warms my heart. Yet their lives are far from without challenges….

Icons of the Mojave Desert, they were once ubiquitous, and many southern Californian’s unwittingly diminished their numbers by taking them home and keeping them as pets. I had one during the earliest years of my life, and it troubles me to think that my family (and the family from whom we adopted the tortoise) helped to possibly push this species towards the danger zone. Urban/suburban sprawl pushed development and housing directly into their Mojave and Colorado desert habitats, and by 1990 landed them on the Threatened list of the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, without human intervention and corrective actions, Gopherus agassizii will eventually land on the Endangered Species List and their lives will hang in the balance.

Enter my good friend David Lamfrom, the California Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. In 2008, David created a wonderful program entitled Tortoises Through the Lens; “a community-based action project created to provide thirteen California high school students with an opportunity to explore and experience the Mojave Desert.” For two years, David and his long-time partner (and great wildlife photographer) Rana Knighten, led these thirteen teenagers on trips into the Mojave. They would not only be given cameras and learn how to photograph under David’s tutelage, but they’d also learn how to commune with nature and tortoises and would document their encounters through their photographs. In late 2010, the results were published in a beautiful book entitled Tortoises Through the Lens – an important collection of images and words. This 50-page book details their natural history; the serious threats they face; and what the future has in store for them. Beautifully designed and printed by Sunbelt Publications – and only a mere $14.95 – this book should be added to your collection. Most importantly, proceeds go directly towards tortoise conservation. David Lamfrom is one of those true desert tortoise heroes; I ask that you please support the tortoises and his work with your purchase. Thank you!

Please purchase directly from Sunbelt Publications.

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

Star Party at the Mojave National Preserve: Oct 30, 2010

Mojave National Preserve Star Party flyerJoin the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy, Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers, National Parks Conservation Association, and friendly stargazers from all over in celebration of the Mojave National Preserve’s extraordinary nightscape! This event, hosted by the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy– the Preserve’s friends group, provides access and opportunity to learn about how and where to enjoy this 1.6 million acre wonderland of desert mountains, sand dunes, bighorn sheep and desert tortoise. We will discuss why this Preserve is worth protecting and what actions can be taken! This event will be held at the Hole-in-the-Wall group campsite in Southeast Mojave National Preserve (about four hours drive from Los Angeles). Free camping is provided, dinner is potluck (so bring a dish!), and the Old Town Astronomers will provide interpretation of the night skies and provide access to high-powered telescopes. The event starts at 7pm and we’ll stargaze well into the night! Feel free to bring friends and family. No fee is being charged, but the Conservancy is looking for new members to share with, and to care for Mojave National Preserve.

For more information, please download the .pdf. I’ll be there enjoying the festivities and I hope to see you there, too!

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

Tortoises Through the Lens

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) recently commissioned me to curate, print, and frame a wonderful exhibition entitled Tortoises Through the Lens. A community based conservation action project, Tortoises Through the Lens, works to educate and empower local high school students to learn about conservation through photography in the Mojave Desert. To raise awareness about the charismatic desert tortoise and to highlight the threats they are facing, the project is also publishing a Desert Tortoise Conservation photobook, which will be available in August 2010. By purchasing this inexpensive book, you are helping to save this important species, as all proceeds will be used to further desert tortoise conservation efforts.

From May 2 through August 7, 2010, the NPCA will feature a Tortoises Through the Lens photography exhibition that displays landscape, wildlife, and macro photography at the Desert Light Art Gallery inside the Historic Kelso Depot at Mojave National Preserve. The photos on display were taken by local high school students who explored the Mojave desert through the 18-month long Tortoises Through the Lens Community Action Project. Exhibit hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

I am honored and excited to have worked with this exhibition and to help advance awareness and conservation for this imperiled and important species. I’m also thankful and grateful to my friend David Lamfrom of the NPCA, who requested my expertise in putting together this exhibition.

I hope you all get a chance to see and support this exhibition. Thanks for helping desert tortoises and the Mojave Desert!

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

The California Desert Protection Act of 2010

On December 21, 2009, California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced The California Desert Protection Act of 2010. This is a significant piece of legislation, and will go a long way toward protecting our deserts from overuse and over-development. The legislation will create two new National Monuments, create new and expand existing federal Wilderness, and ultimately harness the development on our desert by renewable energy developers. I’m certainly pro-renewable energy, but believe there are much better places to install massive solar panel arrays than undeveloped (and wild) desert. And as usual, this legislation is creating massive polarization among the involved parties: those who see this as nothing but good, vs. those who see this is a “government land grab” and a “lockup” of our public lands. The hyperbole and conjecture are already running rampant in the opposition party.

Please support this important legislation!

For more information:
Legislation Text;
Proposed national monuments seek to protect desert beauty. The Desert Sun;
Campaign for the California Desert.

How can you support this Act? Mike Cipra, California Desert Program Manager of the National Parks Conservation Association recommends:
Right now, the best way that folks can support the act is to write to their Congressperson and let him or her know how important desert conservation is—for animals, for recreation, for photography, for scenic vistas, for ecosystems, for clean air, for plants, for us to take our loved ones and explore. And ultimately, please ask directly for the Congressperson to support Senator Feinstein’s proposal. This is a critical time for people to express their support.

“I don’t know who my congressperson is!” Easy! Click here to identify them and write them an email.

The attached photo is of an Ironwood tree at sunset (Olneya tesota) on December 31, 2009. In the distance are two of Southern California’s highest summits: Mt. San Jacinto (left, 10,804′) and Mt. San Gorgonio (right, 11,502′).

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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Great News for Joshua Tree National Park!

a hiker views the Joshua Tree National Park landscape of Rattlesnake Canyon

Joshua Tree National Park

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s rejection of a plan — 20 years in the making — that sought to turn a former iron ore mine near Joshua Tree National Park into the “largest landfill in the United States,” according to the decision.

Tuesday’s ruling was a setback for proponents of the controversial Eagle Mountain Landfill, who say it would bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the Coachella Valley and the surrounding region.

But landfill opponents called Tuesday’s ruling a “landmark victory” for the animals who call the national park home and the more than 1.3 million people who visit the park every year.

The appellate court’s 2-1 decision upheld a 2005 district court decision that overturned the land exchange needed for the 4,654-acre Eagle Mountain Landfill, which was proposed for a former iron ore mine near Joshua Tree National Park.

“Thank God this thing is over; it’s been going on for more than 20 years,” said Eagle Mountain resident Donna Charpied, who lives two miles from the proposed site with her husband, Larry. “It’s time for the government to stop with this nonsense.”

Read the rest of this story at The Desert Sun website.

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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