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Scenes from the Black Rock Desert

It was late afternoon and a ferocious wind blew. Dust devils swirled and danced before dispersing their sand and alkali debris over the dry lake bed. The bellows on my camera twitched in rhythm with the wind, and minute particles of dust seped into every crack and crevice. Large columns of dust obscured the volcanic rock outcropping, and as I made a photograph I knew I would have to return.

The process of making these photographs has become for me a journey of rediscovery. Having spent over a decade traveling into the Black Rock Desert, I have come to realize that this arid, often inhospitable, and unforgiving landscape possesses a character both spiritual and sublime. As most visitors soon discover, it is a land of contradictions that often defy description. The sound of quiet can be deafening. When the winds blow and the dust storms grow, even the most experienced traveler can become disoriented. Distances are deceiving as human scale becomes obscured and unpredictable. The smell of sage and hot-spring sulfur are woven together. The dirt roads are laden with silken dus; combined with water, they turn into quagmires of grease-like mud. The rocks are sharp and rough, yet in the soft evening light the distant hills appear covered with velvet. At any moment, there may not be one person within ten square miles, yet every step reveals human history. Mirages are common here, and nothing really is what is seems.


As the sun set on a moonless night, creating a balance between land and sky, the winds died down. I slipped into the dark, mirror-like water of the springs, and felt the hot, slippery mud ooze between my toes. The tall, green reeds at the pool's edge obscured the horizon, and time, like a photograph, froze. The stillness made it hard to imagine the violent geologic forces that had shaped this range.


After a few hours, my skin was wrinkled and I surrendered to the cool night air. Gathering my lawn chair, clothes, towel, and camera gear, I prepared to leave. A coyote howled, miles away. I located the Big Dipper and the North Star and noticed the crisp, ragged horizon line of the entranceof High Rock Canyon. In the lasting warmth, I realized once again how special, how human, how spiritual the Black Rock Desert can be.


Scenes from the Black Rock Desert was created to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of The Black Rock Press, founded in 1964 by Kenneth and Patricia Carpenter. The portfolio was designed and produced by John Balkwill. Assisting on the project were Robert E. Blesse and Lynn Schmidt. The sheets were printed letterpress by hand from metal type on a Vandercook Universal I proofing press. The text and captions were handset in Monotype Dante, the titling in Albertus. The paper used for the printing and mounting of the photographs was Gradations, a pH neutral paper produced by the James River Corporation.


The photographs in the portfolio were made by Peter Goin using a Horseman 4 x 5 field camera with black and white Tri-X film. All the photographs were archivally processed on Agfa Portriga-Rapid double weight fiber paper and selenium toned in a diluted solution for four minutes.


Scenes from the Black Rock Desert is a limited edition portfolio and will not be reprinted.  There are fewer than four portfolios remaining for purchase.  Please contact Peter Goin directly for pricing information and availability.

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