Leica M4 Voigtlander 21mm f4 Ilford FP4+
My lovely wife and I visited Monument Valley in 2012. It was out our 5th visit to Arizona, but our first to this part of that fantastic State.
Naturally, I had spent hours researching the area prior to the holiday seeking best viewpoints for photographs. Just as naturally, when we arrived it was all forgotten as we enjoyed The View Hotel, the Navajo food and the atmosphere of just being there.
One of the photographs that I remembered was a view of the Mittens by Ansell Adams. Now, I am under no illusion about my status as a landscape photographer and make no attempt to compare any of my efforts with The Great Man. I've broken a fingernail or two trying to reach for the bottom rung of the ladder, but have yet to get my feet there. However, the image in mind was of two rocks in the foreground tilted towards each other, each scored with parallel erosion lines drawing the viewer’s eye to the Mittens in the distance. I thought if I could locate the rocks and just stand where he stood – maybe even find the imagined marks where he placed his tripod – it would be a source of inspiration.
Such ambitions rarely realise themselves. In the vastness of the rock-strewn landscape around me, as we arrived I discounted any chance of being able to find the rocks, although the Mittens were pretty easy to see.
Imagine my surprise when I strolled along the entrance road to the Hotel the following day and found the “tilted rocks” just a few yards away from the road edge and the car park.
I walked around them a few times, not sure that these were the same ones. But there they were, tilted, erosion lines there for all to see, pointing to the Mittens in the distance, but with a few visitors’ initials added for no good reason. Still not believing things could be that easy, I walked back and fore a few more times while I convinced myself that I was standing where The Great Man had stood many years before. I was in no doubt.
Whilst it wasn’t the best time for photography, I was there and so were the tilted rocks and the Mittens. I took the M4 from the bag, checked the light meter, popped the 21mm Voigtlander on and set about the task of recording my version of the scene.
The light in Monument Valley was, to say the least, everywhere. I took shadow readings, I took highlight readings. It seemed that any surface I was looking at reflected light in vast quantities. The sky was clear of any cloud – at least where I would have wanted them – and was a featureless blue. Great for the vacation, not so for photography. Too much light (not a problem I was used to, coming from Scotland); where could I put it all?
I took several shots. I framed both tilted rocks and one Mitten. Both Mittens and one tilted rock. One Mitten and one tilted rock. Then the other tilted rock and the other Mitten. I went close to the tilted rocks. I walked back from the tilted rocks. I did it all in landscape format, then repeated it in vertical format. Then I noticed there was a queue forming…
Others had seen me photographing the scene and were standing alongside me and behind me – I thought waiting patiently. As I hesitated and looked around, some thought this was a sign that I’d finished and leapt onto the tilted rocks to pose for the “I’m smiling in Monument Valley” photograph. I wondered whether to educate the other visitors in the significance of the rocks and the role of The Great Man in the American heritage in general. I think, to be honest, I would have been wasting my time. The mood broken, I left and as I walked away I took a snap of the people around the scene.
When we departed the following day, I noticed there were no people around the rocks. I wondered if I went there again and started to take a few shots, would I draw another queue of people? However, I didn’t try it and we drove off, my wife soaking up the passing scenery in silence, leaving me with my thoughts of Mr Adams and a couple of tilted rocks in a desert...