Landscape Photography Inspiration

Black and White Desert Photography

Landscape photographer Jory Vander Galien gives a poetic insight into his inspiring black and white desert photography passion project. This article first featured in Issue 41 of Light & Landscape Magazine.

Desert… This Place called Empty

I like to photograph the wide-open, unobstructed vistas of the desert. The desert is in many ways considered nothingness, an empty wasteland. Desert… This Place called Empty is my ongoing project.

Roadside rock formation, Utah.

This sweeping terrain of great desolation has an unseen character and beauty recognized by just a few admirers who look beyond the uninhabitable vacancy where the landscape is kissed by the sky. The desert is very much alive if one is willing to observe, contemplate and pay special attention.

Paracas Reserva, Peru - black and white photography.

The quietness is deafening. Sage and juniper pierce the air with a penetrating scent, as does the aromatic fragrance of the high desert during a monsoonal thunderstorm. You may never again smell anything as sweet and exclusive again. It is enough to just die and go to heaven.

Mountainous skyline in the desert - black and white photography.

Photographing the Desert – Black & White

I mainly choose to photograph the desert, in part as I identify with it in many ways. The desert often gets overshadowed: by the mighty mountains and their snowcapped peaks, by the windswept rocky coastlines with their crashing waves, by the once awe-inspiring golden hour sunrises and sunsets. The desert is like the last kid picked for the kickball team at recess.

A strom over Cedar Mesa, Utah - black and white desrt photography.

The desert struggles to survive, it has to labor harder than any other place, like the kid who was told he cannot do this or that or will never come out on top. The desert will persevere and carry on as it always has and exhibit itself in divine reverence against all odds. The desert for me is an allegory to my own life and success. It is bold and courageous and relentless and never feeble.

Temple of the Sun, Utah.

Each aspect of the desert has a unique quality. Are those trees really alive? Where it’s flat, time seems infinite and that rock outcropping, what force or uplift caused that be in that very spot? This project seeks out the beauty inherent to this massive landscape, a landscape so vast that time itself feels irrelevant.

Factory Butte, Utah.

Standing alone in the middle of the wide-open desert, I feel insignificant and forgotten by the ancient rocks by which I am surrounded. If only the rocks could convey what they have born witness to.

Alabama hills.

Rock Formations, Mesas, Dunes and Mountains.

When we travel through the desert, these are the monuments that stand stoic and proud. They are landmarks and borders and boundaries. They are sacred, worshipped and transcendental. They create their own weather with nowhere to hide and little warning.

Lee's Ferry, Arizona.

They are ever-changing as erosion sets in but it is still that same rock that same mountain and that same masa that has seen a millennium of history. They encourage extreme sports like climbing and biking and hang gliding and maybe most extreme yet, base jumping with a wingsuit and the not so extreme like hiking backpacking and camping. They inspire many forms of art such as poetry, painting and, of course black and white desert photography.

Bisti Badlands Wilderness area.

I want to capture and show you how alive the desert is with these attributes. I believe in the Mighty hand of God and His creation and to have the chance to photograph this great landscape is an absolute honor and privilege. These monuments in the desert can overtake the frame very easily but I choose to take a step back and lower the horizon to take on the infinite sky in whatever weather is presented when I am shooting black and white desrt photography.

Bryce Canyon.

The lower horizons and larger skies for me is the awe factor. It is what allows me to convey the subject and the immeasurable time scale it resides in without being distracted by something else in the frame of view. Rocks Formations, Mesas, Dunes and Mountains are the towers of strength providing the iconic beauty of the desert.

Bio – Jory Vander Galien

My beloved Grandpa introduced me to the world of National Geographic when I was a child. I do not think he knew it but looking through those familiar yellow covered magazines, he had provided me with a portal to the world. These articles and photographs were able to transport me and allowed me to dream of places very different from my rural Wisconsin reality.

As I grew older, through my interest in photography and my travels around the country, I became familiar with the photography of Ansel Adams. His work took me places in my mind I knew I wanted to see, and to be quite frank, still desire to see. These works were more than just photographs to me; they inspired me to dream and to one day develop my own style of photography.

While I pursued occupations that allowed me to develop a great work ethic back in Wisconsin, photography was always in the back of my mind. I knew something was missing in my life. In 2005, my bride encouraged me to go back to school and follow my dreamóphotography. I knew photography was not a hobby; thus, we moved to Albuquerque, NM. where I graduated with my Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree for Studio Art – Photography at the University of New Mexico.

Before I started my studies, I knew I had a particular interest in landscape photography. The American West, especially the Southwest, will continually have a lasting impression and will forever be etched in my mind. As a photographer, I feel very fortunate to just step out my front door and be inspired with endless possibilities so unique to the Southwest.

My work is purely subjective, in fact, I would not want to interfere with any personal thoughts as to how viewers perceive my work. Saying this, if I am able to transport you from your world into the world of the photograph before you, then I know I have done my job effectively. I photograph landscapes with a personal concept of isolation as part of our journey in life.

Whether we seek this experience or not, we all undergo it. This period of time allows an individual with an opportunity to self-examine one’s life. Time also plays a vital role in my photography because I believe that time is a concept that pertains to our livesóour time in this everlasting landscape is ephemeral. The beauty in all this takes place when we are able to understand that these processes are an integral part of our life journey

Bio photo of landscape photographer Jory Vander Galien.