In the David Lean film, Lawrence of Arabia was asked: “What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?”


He replies: “It’s clean.” That line of dialogue has stayed with me many years, but I have no idea what it means. I always looked at it as sandy, but perhaps he was talking about its psychic space.


My reactions:

The desert is spacious.

The desert is desolate and lonely.

The desert can scare the hell out of me.

The desert can astound me with its abstract and sensual forms.



Just as I have struggled with words to describe the desert or understand Lawrence’s cryptic line, I have found it difficult to name this section. “Mirage” is too trite. “Dream” isn’t really specific. “Chimera” which popped to mind is really a mythical cross between several unrelated animals, although it also means an unrealized hope.


These images create a visual version of inarticulate speech. Bands of light and sand, changing winds, mythical rivers, feminine shapes, all these shapes come to mind as one views the images.


The more one studies the more one finds – and then loses.




This grouping is a little easier to define. Wind and weather create grooves and carvings among the dunes creating space and pattern in the landscape.




At last, a group I can more easily write about. These depict the space, form, changing light and ever-changing geography of the dune fields and the surreal nature of Death Valley’s racetrack.


The Locations:


I find Death Valley to be a location fraught with unique mystery and anxiety. Many of the images in these three portfolios are captured there, none of them comfortably. It seems that there are family emergencies that happen while I am there as if the journey itself is bad luck. The isolation and lack of access to cell service only adds to the anxiety. The long bumpy trek up to the Racetrack, with its lunar landscape and moving stones, the exotic singing Eureka Dunes, and the intimidating vastness and harshness of the area creates moods that I have a hard time tolerating.


White Sands, New Mexico has a more beautiful and welcome feel to me. It has its own challenges. The dune field is massive and it is easy to get very lost because of the height of the dunes and the lack of landmarks. It is also hard to see others or be seen. I was caught alone in a sandstorm at least a half-mile from my car and completely out of the sight of others. I struggled to make my way out of the field, yet couldn’t stop making more images, turning constantly to the sun setting over the windblown landscape even as the sand stung my legs and settled in my hair and teeth.


Lawrence also was named an “extraordinary man” in the film. He bristled at this phrase at first saying “I know I am not ordinary” and then agreeing angrily: “All right! I'm extraordinary! What of it?”


Someone who can feel comfort in a desert wilderness is extraordinary. Perhaps clean.


Copyright © 2016, Sam Krisch. All rights reserved.