Far away from the place where you are Posted On 11th April 2023 To Magazine & Stories
In 2011 I was living in San Francisco,CA making my way through a graduate program in Photography. Working on my thesis afforded me the opportunity to venture around the state of California. I traveled a lot. I went to the top of the state, the far corners, all over really. On one trip, I drove down to the Salton Sea, an almost forgotten place south of Palm Springs and the Coachella valley. It was a fascinating adventure. I remember driving through Bombay Beach, one of the small remaining towns around the sea that still exists in a semi-functional manner. Ten minutes into being there, I found myself wandering into an abandoned home curious about what had caused the absence of the previous inhabitants. It appeared as if the owners had suddenly gotten a call to evacuate and left without taking any of their possessions. It was really bizarre. And it seemed like the entire town was functioning on this level of abandonment. There were still people living in some homes but there was a strangeness that I hadn’t experienced before.
Salton Sea Beach
Later in the day I continued driving around the sea and found myself at Salton Sea Beach, another town appearing to be left in a somewhat apocalyptic state of existence. Here I found burnt out 1960’s campers and buildings barely standing. I made photographs for the entire day. It was a little slice of photographic heaven.
"Into The Wild"
Over the years, I have returned to the sea many times. I remain intrigued by this place out in the desert. The sea was once a destination for vacation and travel, and following that, it became a place where one could escape mainstream society. It is referenced in films as well as the famous novel “Into the Wild.” At the height of its greatness, it was compared to the French Riviera and now not so much. The water is heavily salinated and receding. It receives agricultural runoff from the new river in Mexico which is considered to be one of the most polluted. So to no surprise, the sea is quite toxic in its own right. There have been mass fish extinctions. When you walk the beaches you are most likely stepping down on years of dead fish bones. The smell can be overpowering in the summer months as the temperatures soar to 120 degrees fahrenheit during the day. More recently though the sea appears to be going through another phase. More agricultural growth has arrived as well as fracking and a potential for mining highly sought after minerals like lithium.
Previously I would visit the sea and make 4x5 color negative photographs. The color there is particularly fantastic and to witness a sunrise or sunset is truly something special. The reflective quality of the sea combined with the stillness create an almost otherworldly appearance. I continue to dream of the color that exists there. I have made many trips to the sea when given the opportunity, but it was not until March of 2020 that I decided to pursue a long term photographic project around the sea. And despite my love for color photography I decided early on that I would make this work with 4x5 black and white negatives and specifically ILFORD HP5+.
A Strong Partner
I have been shooting with ILFORD HP5+ as my go to black and white film stock since 2013. It is a beautiful and versatile film. I enjoy the film's tonal range as well as its adaptability. If I need to push or pull the film it holds up really well. Having found myself in various lighting conditions over the years it has remained a strong partner in my photographic processes. So, it was an easy choice to continue with HP5+ when pushing forward on my new body of work ‘Far away from the place where you are.’
Surrounding The Sea
The photographs made as a part of this series are at the very least an exploration of the area that surrounds the sea. I have ventured into many of the abandoned properties, I have chased fires, I have had strange encounters with residents, I have stumbled upon dead animals that seem oddly out of place in the desert, I have been confronted by the police, I have met people that have lived there for their entire lives and can’t imagine anything else, I have discovered landscapes that I never knew existed in California. It has and continues to be one of my favorite places to visit in the entire country.
I Often Return
The work is a response and reflection of myself and my desires to be alone. It is almost a cleansing experience every time I go. I often return renewed. I strive to make the 2-3 hour trip to the sea once a week but sometimes life happens or it is extremely windy (wind is not the friend of a shaky large format camera) but I have driven a lot of miles back and forth from Los Angeles since 2020. The journey has become a truly important element to my process.
The Last 20 Minutes
When starting with this project I made a conscious choice to photograph at a certain time of day. Quality of light has always been something of importance to my work. There are no photographs included in this series that were made during the harsh midday sun. I primarily work from the last 20 minutes of sunshine until the end of blue hour and the beginning of night. To me, there is something quite beautiful about how the desert landscape appears in the soft light of the end of the day. The desert is harsh and abrasive but I find this place to be a destination of solace and refuge.
Images ©David Egan
About The Author
David Egan is an American photographer raised in the Washington metropolitan area now residing in Los Angeles, California. He creates long-term bodies of work focusing on the changing American landscape. Egan is primarily known for his large format long exposure color night landscape work. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States.
Email – email@example.com
Website – www.egandavid.com
Instagram – @baronegan
Images all Untitled and made between 2020-2022.