FRONTIERS: THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST

by Jeremiah Chamberlin; photography by Anthony Georgieff

"This is the most beautiful place on earth," writes Edward Abbey in the opening of his iconic book Desert Solitaire (1968), which chronicles the six months he spent working as a seasonal ranger at Arches National Park in southeast Utah.

Imperial Sand Dunes, California.jpg

"There are many such places," he continues. "Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary… For myself I'll take Moab, Utah. I don't mean the town itself, of course, but the country which surrounds it – the canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky – all that which lies beyond the end of the roads."

Half a century after Abbey wrote these words, Anthony Georgieff has returned to the American Southwest, a place that not only captured Abbey's imagination but has also served as a cultural touchstone for – and the construction of – American identity for centuries: the site of westward expansion, a place of frontiers and new beginnings, the state of California dreaming. It is a landscape of profound beauty, characterized by its staggering scale and expansiveness. Few places in the world evoke a greater sense of the sublime, both in terms of geologic time and celestial space. "The desert is a vast world," Abbey says, "an oceanic world, as deep in its way and complex and various as the sea."

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

 

Few sites are also as iconic in the American mythos – Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Arches. They live in our minds in John Ford's westerns, in Ansel Adam's photographs. So there is a nostalgic familiarity in Georgieff's shots of Horseshoe Bend and Mesa Arch, of seeing the long, straight highways in Utah or the Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite. With his black-and-white photography, in particular, it seems as if the viewer has stumbled across a long-lost trove of stills from some Great American Film of the American Cultural Imagination.

Yet what makes Georgieff's work so unique is his ability to both deliver those iconic touchstones and to somehow make them new, to put myth and reality in conversation. He does it with light, by bringing us light where we might not expect to see it – cast atop a barren hillside of scrub land in the moment before a rainstorm descends, resting on a sliver of mesquite dunes, filtering between hoodoos in the desert. In doing so, Georgieff manages to defamiliarize the landscape, making the strange familiar and the familiar strange. It is the tension between these elements, between what we think we know and what's revealed, that makes this artist's work so profound.

RocketX Over Brawley, California

RocketX Over Brawley, California

 

Georgieff's photographs of the American Southwest also use light to make us reconsider time. After all, monuments are iconic in their lastingness, their timelessness. Yet here the light is always fleeting, caught between moments, passing across the landscape like the shadow of an eclipse, illuminating the underbelly of a stone archway or catching the glow of departing headlights. Here, too, the photographer manages to both work with and against those images we think we know, asking us to reconsider them as both infinite and ephemeral, persistent and transitory. This is the power of myth, after all: always present and already gone.

 

Jeremiah Chamberlin teaches at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He is also the editor-in-chief of Fiction Writers Review and a contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine.

 

Mesa Arch, Utah

Mesa Arch, Utah

 

Mystery Circles, Bonnie Claire, Nevada

Mystery Circles, Bonnie Claire, Nevada

 

 Monument Valley, Utah

Monument Valley, Utah

 

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

 

 Deadhorse Point, Utah

Deadhorse Point, Utah

 

 

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

BUY ART, GIVE FUTURE TO A CHILD
The charity exhibition Buy Art, Give Future To a Child is a chance to buy top photography from some of Bulgaria's finest authors and to help disadvantaged children to realise their talents and potential.

IF THE NEW YORKER WERE A SOFIANER...
The New Yorker is an institution; a magazine bought and read by generations for its captivating and meticulously researched, fact-checked and proofread texts, the dry witticism of its cartoons and the illustrated covers that offer a visual commentary on bot

SINEMORETS 2023: THE FAMED VILLAGE SEEN THROUGH ARTISTS' EYES
Sinemorets, which name means "blue," is one of the most picturesque parts of the Bulgarian Black Sea cove: a rare combination of pristine beaches, impressive cliffs, a river and thick oak forests.

AN AMERICAN IN BG
We had visited Bulgaria briefly and loved the rich history of the country, the traditional culture still honored and close to the surface, the welcoming people we met, the Balkan cuisine and the wines of the countryside.

COMMUNIST BULGARIA GOES TO HUNGARY
Through vivid and at times poignant images Communist Bulgaria shows what has remained of this country's Communist material heritage.

MUMMERS & MORE
Yambol, in southeastern Bulgaria, has been a hub for various folk traditions for many centuries. Nowadays, alongside Pernik in western Bulgaria, it is thought of as one of Bulgaria's capitals of Kukeri, or mummers.

UNKNOWN GREECE, PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION BY ANTHONY GEORGIEFF
Yet Greece is a lot more than the well-travelled destinations such as Cassandra and Kavala.

FRONTIERS BRINGS THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST TO BULGARIA
The exhibition was organised with the support of the American Embassy in Sofia. Ambassador Eric Rubin opened the event, together with Amelia Gesheva, the deputy minister of culture.
JEWISH BULGARIA EXHIBITION IN SOFIA
The exhibition covers some of the mesmerising and atmospheric remains of Jewish heritage in Bulgaria: from the mosaics of a 2nd century synagogue in Plovdiv, to abandoned and crumbling synagogues and cemeteries, the only reminders of the Jewish presence in
MUMMERS, CATS AND CANARIES
For over 10 years Yambol, the city in southeastern Bulgaria, has been the host of a major street festival attended by dozens of groups of mummers from all over Bulgaria.

TIHOMIR STOYANOV
Photography has of course changed beyond recognition since the digital revolution.

YOU'LL TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
The open road is unpredictable, it could take you anywhere and a return ticket is not guaranteed.