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Desert Center

Many moons ago (aka a month and half ago), a small crew of us trekked out to Desert Center, California to capture some fashion/editorial shots of our model, Matt. For those that don’t know Desert Center is not really much of a town these days, and is officially classified as a “census designated place” according to the great scholars at Wikipedia. The once small, but active town was founded in 1921 by Steven Ragsdale and was home a small community of residents throughout the years. The café, which was known for its slogan “No Drunks or Dogs. We prefer Dogs,” was open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, until it closed for good in the early 2000s. The population was about 200 in 2010, but I’m sure it is nowhere close to that now. A post office and nearby truck stop appear to be the only structures that aren’t totally abandoned. There is a lot of really interesting history here, which I won’t include in this post, but it’s well worth researching.

Horrible traffic and construction (a real shocker in Los Angeles) meant that the three hour drive took just over four, so we arrived right at sunset and raced to get some images set up and shot before we totally lost the light. We managed to get some good stuff, and then proceeded to do what every photographer has to be able to do when things don’t work out exactly as hoped, we adapted. I think this forces you to be more creative. You can’t do exactly what you envisioned so you have to find something else in the moment using what’s around you. Oftentimes the shoots that I’m most happy with come out of something planned going not quite to plan. We shot in the center until the stars were fully out. Stars in the desert on a clear night are a truly magical thing.

Despite being totally exhausted we decided to drive back by way of the Salton Sea, which is only sort of on the way. Our wonderfully humored model was fantastic and enthusiastic about continuing the adventure. However, a series of GPS misadventures led us to the wrong side of the sea and we couldn’t access it. After being led down a road that eventually turned into a dirt trail, we found ourselves in the middle of a bell pepper field with the Salton Sea nowhere in sight. So, what do you do in this situation? You shoot some long exposure shots in the field with the stars and hope that GPS hasn’t caused you to inadvertently trespass (strong possibility that it did).

On the left side of the field the “road” turned into a deep sand path. For some reason we decided that perhaps this might get us to a view of the sea. So, we walked even further down this dirt trail of sinking sand, sand flies attacking all the way. It felt like we walked forever (but I can only imagine it was less than a mile) before admitting defeat and returning to the car. There were moments here where I felt like I was a character at the beginning of a horror film and I was sure when we returned to the field that our car would just have disappeared. My imagination, luckily, was wrong and we sleepily returned to Los Angeles at 3am, just 4 hours later than expected. Oops.

Below are some of my favorite images from the adventure. All were shot on a Nikon D810 with a 24-70 2.8. The initial images use an alien bee 800 and a beauty dish. I was hoping to capture the disconnect between past and present, a subject that continues to fascinate me.


©Barcsay Photography
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