Joshua Tree National Park is one of America's newest national parks having been expanded and elevated to a national park status by the Desert Protection Act of 1994. The 794,000-acre park embraces sweeping expanses of two American deserts--the Mojave and the Colorado. Soaring granite cliffs and spires, forests of unique Joshua trees, a rich and ancient archeological record, and a varied assemblage of native desert wildlife are among the park's many features.
Joshua trees, along with the giant Saguaro Cactus, are symbols of the unique southwestern deserts. These 'tree yuccas' are found only in North America in California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Joshua Trees (yucca brevifolia) belong to the Agave family. Their name derives from the Mormon pioneers moving through the landscape in the nineteenth century on their way to California. The Mormons believed that these yucca trees resembled the arms of Joshua beckoning them farther west. The Joshua tree supports a diverse range of desert wildlife and, while difficult to determine the age of a Joshua tree, it is known that the species can live for many hundreds of years. Since human settlement, the largest Joshua trees, reputed to be nearly 60 feet tall, have been harvested for firewood or fences. Today, these Joshua tree forests are protected and the woodlands are growing. The landscape is a spiritual site for aboriginal cultures and is becoming a mecca for rock climbers, meditative enthusiasts, artists, hikers, and other travelers.
This series of photographs documents spirit sites, revealing an on-going aesthetic investigation into a sense of place and ecological identity at Joshua Tree National Park. The western landscape has been consistently personalized for centuries by primitive markings known as pictographs and petroglyphs. These images are mysterious in their enigmatic narrative form and symbol, yet convey a sense of meaning and attachment to the land. Contemporary markings are stigmatized as graffiti, yet have a sympathetic relatinship to historical markings. The desire to mark on rocks within caves, and along pathways is universal, and continues to this day.
This series of chromogenic development photographs includes a unique method of combining the natural landscape image with a narrative, 'pictographic' visual element. The entire image is made at the site, and incorporates a variety of influences, materials, and ideas. For example, Indonesian shadow theatre is reflected in the use of backlit figures and sheets. References to early pictographs are duplicated, especially the symbol of the hand and the standing figure. This series was completed during my long-term artist-in-residence at Joshua Tree National Park.