By daylight, the remnants of a cold war radio tower (and later, federal prison) don’t seem so ominous. High up on a hill, this lookout point for Sputniks can be seen from miles away. The dry air in the outskirts of Death Valley preserves the buildings quite nicely. It’s actually all the visitors who come here who have ravaged this complex.
If people had been stealing the copper wiring from the guard housing a dozen years ago when the prison was still active, they might have spent time in the inmate housing, which Eric and I skipped for this trip. Walking through this neighborhood was starting to get eerie now that the sun was below the horizon.
The trees look as lifeless as the houses. Instead of going for details of the houses, I included the trees in these shots to add another element of decay.
I shoot often during the full moon, but the light painting is something I don’t have much experience with. My collaborator on this excursion, Eric Rife, has a large array of flashes, lights, and colored gels which were fun to use, yet challenging to implement. It’s like dodging and burning very early in the process- it takes a lot of trial and error, and even then it’s not repeatable from shot to shot.
This night was a true collaboration, in the sense that we helped each other get satisfying shots. Eric lit the interiors with multiple flash pops while I painted the outside and trees with a high powered flashlight. I thought about doing some interior shots, but there’s only so much broken glass and rat poop I can handle in one night. While exploring one of the bedrooms, Eric pointed out the biggest black widow spider I’d ever seen, and I promptly left that house through the nearest large hole in the wall that was closer than the front door.
This was also the point where we met a few drunk Mexican dudes who saw the flashes and came to check it out. They were nice enough, telling us where to find the graffiti they just finished, but we didn’t want to run into them again out here in this desolation. There are no rules where there are no people.
I like the greenish yellow color on that near wall, but we tried a few variations.
The radio tower at the top of the hill served as a constant reminder that this was an unnatural location for such a quaint neighborhood.
Hearing some more voices in the near distance, accompanied by some motorcycle revving, we decided this might be a good time to pack up and move on. There are some pretty power towers on the way back to the Boron Motel, just past the 20 Mule Team Cafe. If you’re patient enough, you just might catch a car coming to town as a truck leaves.
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All Images Copyright © Michael Klayman 2014, All Rights Reserved. Please ask for permission before downloading or linking to them.