Fireworks and Smoke


It’s warming up ©2019 Michael E. Gordon

A challenging reality on the desert is heat. If each year it did not occur like clockwork, it would be rather difficult to pry me from this habitat. I’m the shrubfly on the lone stool in the distant stand of creosote; they have to kick me out when its time to close up for the season.

May 2019 was unseasonable on the California desert. Temperatures remained low and precipitation remained high enough to keep things cooler and greener than would be normal for this time of year. Early June temperatures were not quite yet deadly, so I decided to make one last chase: Smoke Trees (Psorothamnus spinosus). The beautiful Smoke tree can be found in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico deserts in dry, low elevation (<1500′) sandy washes. For much of the year they are nondescript and scrappy looking compact trees. In late spring – following a bountiful winter – they can explode with brilliant blue fireworks. After the heat has fried the flowers, they revert to their common appearance: like whisps of smoke rising delicately from a desert wash.

While the photographs may be enjoyable to view, they omit a few important sensory details: the baking heat (if it wasn’t cathartic we wouldn’t spa nor sauna); dry desert winds moving through the wash; and the cacophony of millions of bees (video) and other happy winged insects who gather this bounty (see the attached close-up). This is a living desert.


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Aerial Photography

William GarnettI’ve been a National Geographic reader since I was a youngster, and I’ve always been terribly fascinated by the aerial photographs found within its pages. I never did learn how to fly (nor have I tried), and although I took up mountaineering and rock climbing, the view and feel just isn’t quite the same.

Although aerial photography is considerably easier to execute today than in the earlier days of the medium (better and more well-suited photographic equipment; alternative flight forms [ultralight’s, for instance], it is still a form of photography practiced largely by private pilots, assignment photographers (those whose flights are generally paid for), and the wealthy. It’s reasonably impractical for most other photographers who are pursuing ‘personal work’ to hire flights – it’s just too prohibitively expensive.

Herein is a very short list of aerial photographers whose work greatly inspires me:

Bradford Washburn: mountain climber, explorer, cartographer, pilot, photographer, honorary doctor, museum director – wow! An amazing and accomplished man. His aerial work was done with 5×7″ and 8×10″ large format cameras! See some of his work here . Learn about him here. Books by or about him and his photography.

William Garnett: an amazing eye for the abstract. Another private pilot. Learn about him here. Books. His work in Aerial Photographs is positively sublime.

Alex MacLean: has an excellent eye for form, design, and color. Yet another private pilot (seeing any trends?). His website. Books.


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