Saturday, April 12, 2014

Naming wildflowers in the desert

Casanave, Wave Machine, Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2013

(A guest post by Bobby Bashir)

When my boyfriend Chris suggested we drive down to Arizona to look at the wildflowers I said why not and we began planning it right away.  I don't know why I hadn't thought of it first.  But Chris does whims very well, that's one thing (there are others) I love about him.  It was February after all and in a few weeks we knew the first yellow blooms of brittlebush would dot the high deserts and mountains east of Phoenix, sending all who hiked up there into transports of joy or at least disbelief.  We exchanged a brief kiss to seal the deal and decided that's something we wanted to be a part of.

Bashir, Near Apache Junction, Arizona

I called Omar - could he cover for me at the restaurant?  No problem.  Next I had to tune up the old van with new belts and brakes for the 10 hour drive ahead, then freshen up the living space in back and I don't just mean redecorate although that too - we had found some royal blue Ralph Lauren floral patterns and I had a few notions about how to use them.  Then we put in new supports, not springs exactly but what you could call a distant relative of the spring, under the saggy bed, cleaned the espresso machine and test-ran our slow-cook oven - my big contribution from a trip last year to Bodega Bay - on a bulging chicken tamale I confected for the purpose.  It worked.  By Saturday everything was ready and we headed out.

I let Chris drive and we followed the old pony express trail known as Interstate 10 till we got to the Arizona border.  He's tireless behind the wheel, I really admire him for that.  Too talkative maybe, depending on your mood and whether you want to hear the same crazy stories again, true they're a little different each time, a new inflection here, a new character there, but it gave me time to figure out where we might want to go once we reached what they call the East Valley around Scottsdale and Mesa.  It was then I noticed that Art Intersection in Gilbert was about to open a show of alt-photography called Light Sensitive 2014.  I scanned the entries online and recognized several names.  Hey, we could drop in, it's just down the road from Mesa.  Chris was a fan of my lumen prints so he thought it'd be fun to check it out too.

Darkness was falling when we found the gallery.  The opening was in progress upstairs, lights blazed and you could see figures moving about at the windows, but I for one was pretty tired and hungry (I'd taken over the wheel after crossing the Colorado River) so we said let's eat before we go up.  On the ground floor was a place called the Euro Cafe that looked active.  We got a table and I ordered the spanaki balls (spinach, rice, mozzarrela and provolone), an overwhelming portion that I shouldn't have gone for, medically speaking, while Chris had the pork molise, grilled pork wrapped in bacon topped with an apricot & cherry sauce, alongside horseradish mashed potatoes.  We staggered out, leaning and bumping into each other, well fed but already nostalgic for the delicate wonders of California seafood.  Could we survive in Arizona?
Bashir, Art Intersection by daylight, Gilbert, Arizona
Bashir, At the opening

Yes, as it turned out.  The gallery was more spacious and attractive than we'd thought, and the pictures handsomely lit and hung.  The attendees, probably locals from their weathered tans, seemed unexpectedly alert and knowledgeable about the niche interests of 19th century hand-crafted analog photographic art, if we properly judged their somber nods and whispers.  We circulated.  There was considerable mystery on the walls and, often, beauty as well.  You had gum bichromates, bromoils, ziatypes, tintypes, argyrotypes, platinum palladium prints, a few chemigrams and pinholes and even a lumen if I'm not mistaken.  Have I missed anything?  No mordançages this year, sorry Brittany.  Chris's favorite was Martha Casanave's low-angle pinhole with very selective hand coloring called Wave Machine, which recalls the dreamy theatricality of her great book, Explorations Along An Imaginary Coastline, still available from Amazon and which everyone should rush out and get.  The critics haven't yet come close to doing justice to Martha's work; she awaits her ideal interpreter.  But I predict her day will come.

My own salute goes to Douglas Collins' strange, and strangely funny, untitled piece, a chemigram.  Don't ask me what it 'means,' but I'm told there's no story behind it, no allusions.  It is what it is as they say.  Later Chris and I, up in the Tonto National Forest north of Apache Junction, spent a whole evening talking about it, reaching no agreement whatsoever, and then going off in tangents from it after our third bottle of wine.  That's what alt-photo art can do to you.

Collins, untitled, 2013

Bashir, A creosote bush

So this post has become more about the art in Gilbert than the wildflowers we came all this way to see.  Let me show you some pictures to prove how wrong you are.  Did you know that cacti have flowers?  I like to taste their flowers too, I keep them in my shirt pocket and nibble on them as I ramble and roam.  There were also lupines (mementos of home!) just coming up, and desert marigolds, and here and there a creosote bush, lots of yellow, yes, you have to wait later in the season for more of the blues and whites like peppergrass, one of my personal treats.  Chris thinks I'm nuts.  Let him say that.  Another time I'll tell you about his problems.

Luckily we didn't meet up with any scorpions but that's not what you think of when you're having fun. 

Bashir, Somewhere in the Superstition Mountains

Bashir, Near Pinnacle Peak

Bobby Bashir
Seaside, California