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We had spent the night at Stove Pipe Wells Village near the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley so that I could be out on the dunes for early morning light. I awoke well before sunrise on a chill late December morning, packed my view camera pack with water, snacks, and tripod, put on a down parka, and drove east on Hwy 190 the few miles to the dunes, barely visible in the pre-dawn light.
I parked my car along the highway and walked north a half mile or so up and over a couple of dunes until I reached what I felt would be a good arrangement of dunes. The area I settled on would allow both middle distance abstract images with no sky as well as more expansive views that would include the distant mountains.
I set up my 4x5 camera on the tripod and added the 300mm lens, equivalent to an 80mm lens on 35mm format. I placed a yellow #12 filter on the front of the lens to deepen shadows in the final print and intentionally made no exposure compensation for the yellow filter. Now, I was ready to make some exposures. The first couple, looking northeast, included the Grapevine and Funeral Mountains in the distance. Then I made a few exposures with no sky in the image, focusing on the dunes with their deep shadowed ripples, accentuated by the low angle morning light. I pointed the camera east into the rising sun and shaded the lens with the slide of the film holder.
This image was the last of eight negatives I made in a span of less than 40 minutes. It’s the most abstract and I believe the most intriguing one I made on the dunes that morning.
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Dimitri Vasileiou • Editor