About Big Bend

April 5th, 2007

D20 3313 About Big Bend

I’m on my way home from Big Bend. Sitting in a Flying J in Joplin, MO, having breakfast. Ran the furnace in the camper because it may got pretty cold here last night. It’s snowing in Ohio. Big adjustment from almost 100F yesterday in the desert.

Before I left for Big Bend my friend and fellow photographer, Tim Black, told me he had been there and didn’t think much of it. Of course, I had to go see for myself anyway. But I think Tim was at least partly right. I found some photos. Found some good places to shoot. But there are a lot of places in the desert southwest where I’d rather go. I don’t think I’ll be back to Big Bend. Everyone who was along for the shoot pretty much shared that opinion of the place.

And it seems strange. Maybe we were missing something. We kept running into people who told us it was their 4th trip back to the place. Our response was always, “Why?” They loved it there. Some said that people either love Big Bend or hate it. I don’t fall into either category. I don’t love it and I don’t hate it. I’m pretty much indifferent to it.

It’s a big place. It’s a harsh, cruel place. The sun is relentless. There is no “golden hour.” The sun beats down until it finally drops below the mountains. Remembering my belief that there is not “good” light and “bad” light, only easy light and challenging light…well the light is always a challenge at Big Bend. I found myself either working with the effects of the hard sunlight, or hiding the models from it in the shade. It was always a problem to be dealt with, not the gift of beauty that the sun sometimes provides.

On top of the natural setting is the culture of the people in the place. We only found one restaurant that served good food (not counting the park lodge restaurant with did a great breakfast buffet and even let us sneak in late one morning). Other places had interesting character, and characters, but the food was marginal. The restaurant at our motel offered nasty food and surly service.

In one local eating place we found a couple interesting local characters. One was a welder who pronounced that he loved Big Bend because he could escape all the hustle of modern life and work on “Terlingua time.” The fact that he was wearing a bluetooth earpiece while saying that somewhat belied the statement. I was reminded of a photo essay by my old friend and mentor, Bruce Humphrey, from back in our newspaper photographer days. The essay Bruce shot was entitled, “Incongruity.” A portrait of this fellow would have fit in well.

The other man in the restaurant that morning was the cook. He was moving slow and barely able to move one arm. He had rolled his truck a couple days earlier. We had seen the truck being gathered up by a tow truck the morning after. He had been checked out by the local EMTs who told him he probably had a few broken ribs and possibly a broken collar bone. He had not been to a doctor. The nearest doctor is in Alpine, 80 miles away…and his truck was a wreck.

The welder pronounced that to be the way it is in Big Bend. “Don’t fuck up,” he said, because there isn’t any help if you do.

Until a few years ago the school in the Terlingua area only went to the 8th grade. If a student wanted to go to high school they had to go that 80 miles to Alpine. That has changed, and other things are slowly changing. Who’s to say which of the changes are good and which are costing this unique, remote corner of the country the very things which have defined it.

Some are drawn to this community and this harsh desert. I’m not one of them. But I’m glad to have visited and to have had two very talented figure models there to help me make photos. I don’t think I’ll be back, though.

This is Niecy Moss on our first day of shooting. She’s in some partial shade from that cruel sun.

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Photos and comments by Dave Levingston. This is the place to see my most recent work which may include nudes, dance, landscape, nature and whatever other kinds of photos I feel like taking.

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