Desert... This Place called Empty by Jory Vander Galien

Desert... This Place called Empty by Jory Vander Galien

I mostly photograph the wide-open desert without an obstructed view. I photograph the natural within the wide-open desert without being distracted by something in the way. The desert is in many ways considered nothingness or empty or otherwise, a wasteland. My ongoing theme and possibly never-ending project; “Desert... This Place called Empty” has place names such as “Diablo Canyon,” “The Devils Playground” or “Death Valley” and so on and so forth.

Books and poems and songs including countless Bible references all use the desert in terms of trials and seasons of desperation, depression but also refinement. This sweeping terrain of so-called great desolation has an unseen character and beauty recognized by a few admirers who look beyond the uninhabitable vacancy where the landscape is kissed by the sky. The desert is alive if one is willing to observe and contemplate and pay special attention to its surroundings.

The quietness is deafening. Then, if you take in the aromatic fragrance of the high desert especially during a monsoonal thunderstorm, you just may never again smell anything more sweet and exclusive again. The scent of sage and juniper pierce the air with such a penetrating scent that it is enough to just die and go to heaven.

I mainly choose to photograph the desert, in part because in many ways I identify with it. The desert often gets overlooked by the mighty mountains and their great snowcapped peaks and windy rocky coastlines with waves crashing like thunder and of course that once in a lifetime sunset... just like the last kid picked for the kickball team at recess.

The desert struggles to survive, it has to labor harder than any other place, like the kid who was told he cannot do this or that or will never come out on top. The desert will persevere and carry on as it always has and exhibit itself in divine reverence against all odds. The desert for me is an allegory to my own life and success. It is bold and courageous and relentless and never feeble.

Currently, “Desert... This Place Called Empty” is broken down into 9 subcategories which are subject to change at any time. Categories such as “Trees” and “Canyons” and “Flats”. Even the title itself is subject to change. The name of the project however is not really all that important right now as opposed to the meaning of the body of work and most importantly making great work that I like and value enough to share and present to galleries and shows and collectors.

(I want to add that if you want others to like and respect your work, you have to like it first because, in my experience, why should others like your work if you do not like your own work. That is one of the best lessons I learned in art school).

Each classification of the desert I photograph has a unique quality. Are those trees really alive? Where it's flat, time seems infinite and that rock outcropping, what force or uplift caused that be in that very spot? This project seeks out the beauty engulfed in this massive landscape. A landscape so vast that time itself feels irrelevant within it's space.

Standing alone in the middle of the wide-open desert, I feel insignificant and forgotten by the history of the rocks around me. If only the rocks could tell the stories of the history they have seen. Over time it is my goal to present a few of these project categories and also keep you all updated on this project as it develops more over the coming years still.

Today I am presenting “Rocks Formations, Mesas, Dunes and Mountains”. When we travel through the desert, these are the monuments that stand stoic and proud. They are landmarks and borders and state lines and boundaries. They are sacred and worshipped and transcendental. They create their own weather with nowhere to hide and little warning.

They are ever-changing as erosion sets in but it is still that same rock that same mountain and that same masa that has seen a millennium of history. They encourage extreme sports like climbing and biking and hang gliding and maybe most extreme yet, base jumping with a wingsuit and the not so extreme like hiking backpacking and camping. They inspire many forms of art such as poetry, painting and of course photography.

I want to capture and show you how alive the desert is with these attributes. I believe in the Mighty hand of God and His creation and to have the chance to photograph this great landscape is an absolute honor and privilege I get to take advantage of as part of my yearly salary. These monuments in the desert can overtake the frame very easily but I choose to take a step back and lower the horizon to take on the infinite sky in whatever weather is presented when I am shooting.

The lower horizons and larger skies for me is the “awe” factor. It is what allows me to convey the subject and the immeasurable time scale it resides in without being distracted by something else in the frame of view. “Rocks Formations, Mesas, Dunes and Mountains” are the towers of strength providing the iconic beauty of the desert.

My beloved Grandpa introduced me to the world of National Geographic when I was a child. I do not think he knew it but looking through those familiar yellow covered magazines, he had provided me with a portal to the world. These articles and photographs were able to transport me and allowed me to dream of places very different from my rural Wisconsin reality.

As I grew older, through my interest in photography and my travels around the country, I became familiar with the photography of Ansel Adams. His work took me places in my mind I knew I wanted to see, and to be quite frank, still desire to see. These works were more than just photographs to me; they inspired me to dream and to one day develop my own style of photography.

While I pursued occupations that allowed me to develop a great work ethic back in Wisconsin, photography was always in the back of my mind. I knew something was missing in my life. In 2005, my bride encouraged me to go back to school and follow my dreamóphotography. I knew photography was not a hobby; thus, we moved to Albuquerque, NM. where I graduated with my Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree for Studio Art-Photography at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

Before I started my studies at UNM, I knew I had a particular interest in landscape photography. The American West, especially the Southwest, will continually have a lasting impression and will forever be etched in my mind. As a photographer, I feel very fortunate to just step out my front door and be inspired with endless possibilities so unique to the Southwest.

My work is purely subjective, in fact, I would not want to interfere with any personal thoughts as to how viewers perceive my work. Saying this, if I am able to transport you from your world into the world of the photograph before you, then I know I have done my job effectively. I photograph landscapes with a personal concept of isolation as part of our journey in life.

Whether we seek this experience or not, we all undergo it. This period of time allows an individual with an opportunity to self-examine one's life. Time also plays a vital role in my photography because I believe that time is a concept that pertains to our livesóour time in this everlasting landscape is ephemeral. The beauty in all this takes place when we are able to understand that these processes are an integral part of our life journey.

Jory Vander Galien Photographer
Jory Vander Galien Photographer