The Oceano Dunes have been preserved on film most famously by such photographers as Edward, Brett, and Cole Weston and Ansel Adams. I have long admired their work, so, inevitably, I found it difficult not to think about their famous images as I wandered around those same dunes in early January, finding myself pausing, often, to survey the many footsteps and patterns meandering in, throughout, around, and over the banks and ridges of sand that rippled and undulated through the curves and dips of the dunes like the waves along the waters of the nearby sea.
As I examined the lines and turns and the silent conversations between the light and shadows of the dunes, I kept thinking of the raked patterns found in the white graveled sands of Zen Gardens. Those patterns— born from the intention of the creative, contemplative minds of those individuals who rake them— are meant to represent the ripples of water, to reflect the movement and the shifting of nature, and even, in a sense, its silences. There I stood— in the midst of patterns formed by the whims of wind, formed by the fickle transience of time, the very kinds of patterns that invite us to find our own ways to design ever-shifting harmonies and disharmonies of shapes on paper, on canvas, in photos, in words, in music, and in gardens.
In the midst of such beauty, I must confess that I felt utterly inconsequential, standing there with my camera attached to a tripod, wondering what purpose any image that I could create might serve. Why, after all, bother to capture such beauty, beauty that would alter and shift yet again as soon as the winds once again blew through the dunes? Indeed, the true beauty of the dunes finds its expression in the ever-shifting patterns of time and its erosive forces, in and through its constant reminders of impermanence. How does one capture such realities? I suppose that one simply does not.
But the typical photographer is stubborn, arrogant, and wishes to make something that is not his own … his own. So, as I eventually clicked away in folly, on three different visits, with three very different light and weather conditions (two early evenings just before, during, and right after sunset and one cloudy afternoon), I looked for a way to express its silences (for such things are always on my mind when I have a camera).
As I did so, I realized in some sense that I was shaping and forming these patterns by framing them in the borders of a square, thus sectioning them off into individual expressions. And in those very simple moments, I felt like a gardener shaping his own creation.
And, as I left on that third day, I realized that these images, too, shall someday be reclaimed by the inevitable elements of time …