Chip Carroon • On the Move During the Shutdown

We are all facing an uncertain future in the present environment, and we all have to meet those difficulties in different ways. Chip Carroon tells us how he dealt with the pandemic just before total lockdown

The worldwide health crisis caused by the corona virus has created unbelievable disruptions for everyone. Of course, many people have suffered severe health consequences. Many more have been greatly restricted in their activities in an effort by governmental authorities to restrain the spread of the disease. Governments have reasoned that it is unreliable, or in some cases impossible, for the average person to exercise great diligence with the use of personal protective equipment and procedures to avoid contracting or spreading the disease, so legal restrictions on movement have been used.

I live in an area with a lower prevalence of the disease, and governmental restrictions have not been mandatory. In this area, as everywhere, suggestions have been made regarding practices to minimize one’s risk of getting the virus. I probably have been concerned about those risks more than the average person. However, as a very methodical and disciplined person, I decided that there was a different way to proceed.

Before the crisis, rather by accident, I had obtained some of the critical equipment and supplies that were later shown to be necessary in dealing with the problem. I had earlier purchased an organic vapor construction respirator that I occasionally used for photography in sandstorms. I had purchased a moderate quantity of disposable rubber gloves that I used for maintenance situations. Also, I had a moderate amount of hand sanitizer that I used during my frequent international travels. All of these were of use during my trips to the supermarket where there were many other people in close proximity. My thought was that it would probably be safer to just minimize my trips to town and the accompanying crowds and to head out to extremely remote locations to take pictures.

I have been working with several regional and international organizations to assist with their work promoting the appreciation and conservation of natural lands. Landscape photography is needed in their educational and promotional materials. I thought that I could continue this very worthwhile pursuit during the period of restricted economic activity by continuing to follow the same safety protocols that I had already been using around my home.

Since I could not travel by air, I embarked on numerous driving trips during the difficult period between early March to early May 2020. My idea was to work on projects for several organizations at remote or very remote locations in southeastern California, Nevada and Utah. If you really want to get away, there are some good opportunities here owing to the low population density of the region.

One organization wanted landscape images of diverse remote locations to use in an online slideshow to potentially entertain and inform interested members during their time of restricted activities at home. The idea was to provide a promotional diversion for those who could not personally experience attractive natural spaces during the shutdown. Another organization needed images of unusual landforms for use in an upcoming publication. I was happy to be able to safely conduct some of this work during an otherwise difficult time.

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My procedure was to stock my vehicle with all of the food and water I needed for an extended time, carry all of my personal protective equipment, and to travel to remote locations with very little contact with other people. Under the circumstances, being a hermit on the road was a safe pursuit. Furthermore, I have found that some of my best imagery has been in distant lands that were not frequented by the masses anyway. So, maybe I was on the right track.

My intended subjects were natural erosional features, geologic phenomena, interesting vegetation and various water bodies. The remote areas that I traversed, rather by definition, provided some good views of natural landscapes. I intended to visit a diverse selection of locations including less popular places in two national parks before they were completely closed to visitation. I also wanted to travel to a national monument, a national landmark, national forests, wildernesses and a private reserve that is in the process of being converted into a park. My subjects were varied, but I was able to follow the plan for imagery of remote natural landscapes in a variety of environments.

The weather was variable and troublesome at times. We, as photographers, are subject to the critical influences of atmospheric conditions during our work. Such conditions can make or break the chances for some good images. Sometimes you simply need to allocate more time for the photography, of course. However, I was out there in the wide open spaces and I had to figure it out. I had an unseasonal snowstorm in southeastern Nevada and changed my sequence of stops to deal with it. Accidentally, that carried me through an area of fresh snowfall on desert vegetation that was quite attractive. I went through some heavy rainfall in southeastern California that led to flash flood conditions in this normally arid land. Luckily, I was not in the middle of the heavy flow at the time it came through. I was under a huge overhang in southern Utah as the ice from an earlier storm was melting and came crashing down around me. Again, I happened to not be in the direct path of the fall, and I lived to tell the tale. The advantages of being in remote locations have tradeoffs with some risks, but the risks, at least, were not those from an unseen malevolent disease.

My photographic techniques included the use of wide-angle lenses to capture an impactful foreground with a broad view of the surroundings behind. Though this is hardly the only way to approach the depiction of landscapes, it is a common idea among many photographers. The problem is usually not the choice of equipment nor the general approach, but rather the discovery of impressive compositions in notable places at good times of day under favorable weather conditions. It is difficult to have all of those attributes at the same time. Though not always the case, time and time again I say that it is not the equipment that gets the prize-winning picture. It is the thinking, planning and time spent by the photographer to be in a good place at a good time.

The other common technique that I employ is the use of aerial photography to offer images with foregrounds that were previously impossible. I like to think that no other people have had their tripods anywhere close to where I took my shot. This is one way of approaching that issue. Some people suggest that aerial imagery will not enable foregrounds in the pictures, but this is not a necessary consequence. At some times you can conduct the work in ways in which close foregrounds may not be essential, and yet in other cases, you can frame the image just as you would from the surface. One arrangement I frequently use is to take the picture from a position closely above tree tops or rock outcrops since this enables an interesting foreground and yet allows an expansive, unexpected view of distant spaces.

We are all facing an uncertain future in the present environment, and we all have to meet those difficulties in different ways. I am not suggesting that my path has been any better or worse than others, but I am confident that my choices in my situation were as safe or safer than others in the local population, and I am pleased that I was able to assist with the efforts of worthy organizations to help preserve the very landscapes that we all want to visit and photograph.

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    An interesting story, particularly about having a respirator in storage for what I assume are sandstorms in foreign deserts? In any case, I live on the East Coast and, except for a week-long trip to San Francisco/Yosemite/Big Sur about 35 years ago, I’ve never visited the West Coast. So I have no idea where the landscapes shown in this story were taken. All at the same location? Please inform me.

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      Most of the pictures in my story were taken in the State of Nevada. One of the images was taken in southern Utah. However, all of the images, as mentioned, were taken in remote or extremely remote areas of the southwestern USA. The reason that most were taken in Nevada is because the nonprofit organizations for whom I was working needed images from that state, primarily.

      Commenting briefly: The cover image is from a geologically young volcanic field in central Nevada. The hoodoo is from Grand Staircase Escalante N.M., Utah. The Joshua Tree snow is not from the national park, which is in California, but from similar lands in southern Nevada. The images of a small and large lake are from remote central and northern Nevada areas. The red rocks are from southern Nevada which has the same sandstones as nearby southern Utah.

      I hope you will have a chance to visit this area sometime. Chip Carroon

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