Once upon a time, in the mid to late ’90s, I ventured out to the desert with my friends to make pictures.
I called the series Pioneer Women: Be your Own Promised Land and after three years of exploring this theme, I presented them in a show at ROY in 1998.
I had always been attracted to the desert landscape, and particularly Joshua Tree Monument and its surroundings. Before I ever went there, I had visions of it in my mind and I “saw” myself taking pictures there, of myself nude in the midst of the barren desert surrounded by Joshua Trees. In the desert all pretences are stripped away, and what is left is the essential. Perhaps I instinctually knew that its open spaces would be a balm for me, and that the journeys I would make there would serve as a catalyst for my artistic rebirth. (Historically, people have been wandering in the desert having visions and confronting the darkness in their souls for like, a really long time)
The desert was everything I’d envisioned and more, but the peace it would bring to my troubled spirit was an unexpected boon. The vastness of the landscape, the open space quieted my mind, while my visual senses were lulled by the endless horizon of Joshua trees sculptural against the widest sky.
I began to get fascinated by the idea of ‘the West’ ~ A state of mind that represents the spirit of pioneering, of questing for a better life. Having arrived with no place else to go, we look inward, to the land of the imagination and the hopeful desire to better ourselves as well as our situations.
”Remember that the more you feel yourself to be in terra incognita, the more certain you can be that the recovery process is working.
You are your own promised land, your own new frontier” ~ Julia Cameron
We set out into Joshua Tree Monument at sunset to take pictures. Looking intently through my lens, dazzled by their beauty and the breath-taking quality of light, I barely noticed the cold, the wind, the many Volkswagon buses full of rock climbers slowing down to gawk at us in our decidedly non-Patagonia desert wear . I went into a sort of trance state, focused only on the women and the rapidly changing light, aware of its fleeting nature, all the effort and preparation I made to get us all there, and prayed that I might be given grace.
That and each subsequent journey all contained similar elements – working with time/against time, the desire to capture something true and timeless, and trying to manage my own debilitating perfectionism. Each trip punctuated and exacerbated my growth process. The support, caring, and understanding I got from the women who made the journeys with me greatly helped me begin to be gentler with myself. Little by little, I began to trust the process – or as my hero Rilke said “to live my questions”
These women are some of my closest friends and I have been a witness to their singular journeys, their struggles and humanity, and they meet these challenges with a strength I admire. I feel honored by the honesty which they offered to me. I feel that I was rewarded by these moments, these images, where we can rest outside of time and aging, and remember our shared joys and pains
I think I started this journey as a quest for Beauty, my own reflected in others, and I ended up searching for strength, within and without…and I became my own Promised Land