Spotlight: Desert Voices
The stark beauty of rural desert towns ravaged by heat, wind, and sand is on display at West Hollywood’s De Re Gallery. The show, Desert Voices, running through August 8, combines images by two artists who have both shot large-scale projects in such towns. Pamela Littky spent three years exploring and shooting in the Death Valley towns of Baker, California and Beatty, Nevada over three years, and her work is rife with gritty and vibrant scenes of the region’s inhabitants. She had never visited the region before beginning the project and found it through a water tank sign reading “Baker, CA, The Gateway to Death Valley” that she spotted driving between Los Angeles and Los Vegas. Stefanie Schneider‘s 29 Palms, CA series of films and photos captures her own fascination with western desert regions including the Morongo Valley and Pioneer Town and what she calls “the possibilities to build your own dream” in these areas. Her portraits contain characters who live in a trailer community, women dressed in brightly colored clothing who contribute to the project’s otherworldly quality. Here, the two photographers discuss the creative process that inspires their shoots and the subjects they capture on film.
By Elizabeth Varnell
What time of year did you shoot? When I first started the project, it was early summer and extremely hot. You couldn’t get out of the car until at least 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. because it was way too oppressive. Over the three years spent shooting, it was either winter or fall when I’d go out there, which was more manageable.
Your subjects are often shot inside unless the sun has gone down. It was pretty evenly split as far as exterior and interior portraits. However, I was intrigued by the personal spaces. People there mostly live in mobile homes and I love the inherent intimacy within the small space. Many of these are collected in a monograph called Vacancy.
What camera did you use to shoot these? I shot medium format on a Mamiya RZ67 film camera.
What sort of post-production work did you do on these images? Almost everything is done in camera, as far as post-production. There is just a little cleaning up here and there.
Do you dress and art direct the characters in your shots? I do. The concept, location, sets, and costumes are carefully planned. For The Girl Behind the White Picket Fence, we actually built all the sets from scratch. The large trailer was bought in Utah, the picket fence was built, the roses were planted, and the costumes and props were found in secondhand stores over a large period of time. We wrote the script, prepared, shot and edited the whole project over a period of four years.
Talk about the costumes in your images. I’m drawn to sexy, strong, vulnerable, intense women who have their own voice. The fashion and bright colors are not only a drastic contrast to the desert background, but also underline the women’s power and characters. Nothing is by chance. However, I invite serendipity to play and I know the results that I want.
How does the sun and reflection play into your images? Light is most important to any visual artist and I would rather work with natural light. The crisp, clear air of the high desert is ideal.
What sort of camera do you use and what post-production work do you do on the images? All the work is done before the moment I push the shutter, as I work completely with analog. I use expired Polaroid analog film for my films and photography. I also use any camera that is compatible with the film. I’m always looking for old cameras in garage sales and flea markets. The post-production is done in my Berlin Labudio. We first produce a 4×5 negative from the Polaroid, and print the final C-Print in my Labudio’s analog darkroom. The resulting finished prints are as close to the original Polaroid as possible.
Pictured: Stefanie Schneider, Memories of Love, 2013
Photo courtesy of Stefanie Schneider