Finding Inspiration from the Land

As a photographer, it’s in my job description to artfully render my surroundings no matter where I am. But some places inspire my best work and hold a connection for me that I can’t explain.

For Arizona Highways magazine, I once asked our photographers to seek out their favorite locations. Poring over these images was one of the most interesting photo edits I’ve ever worked on. Knowing the photographers and their stock files as I do, I could have predicted some of their choices. Obviously, a large body of work from one location suggests a powerful connection between land and landscapist.

But other submissions caught me off-guard. Some photographers had secret devotions to little-known, off-the-beaten-path locales that few of us had seen. Not only were their images surprising, but finding a photographer willing to share secret spots with us was equally unexpected. It’s akin to a trout fisherman giving away the location of his favorite stream where the lunkers hang out.

As I edited the stacks of photographs, I tangled with this chicken-and-egg conundrum: Do special places in our lives evoke stronger responses, or do they become special to us because of our experiences there? Which came first, the inspiring land or the successful photo shoot?

On this question, I lean to the former. Certain landscapes stir my sentient spirit. I’m drawn to places that are tranquil, where I can relax and see the world with clarity. Wrapped in remoteness, I breathe easy and my heightened awareness leads me to quiet recesses where light and shadow come to rest. In these places, the work seems effortless.

Conversely, some places demand a steeper learning curve. Visiting a location for the first time can result in a bit of wandering before I begin to really see it. I have to work harder for good photographs, revisiting these spots again and again before they give up their best images.

We all have our favorite places where we’re absorbed by the natural surroundings. For me, that locus is Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge along our border with Mexico. Not heroic, as are the buttes and canyons of the Colorado Plateau, this swath of Sonoran Desert is subtle by comparison. In the immense space of the Cabeza, things once important are diminished by scale.

Perhaps it’s the oblique nature of this place that makes it so acute for me.

[tags]Peter Ensenberger, Arizona Highways, landscape photography[/tags]

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