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Why I Revisit My Favorite Landscapes

Death Valley National Park is an incredibly diverse park. Returning there year after year, I developed an understanding of the environment which helped me to take more meaningful photos.

One of the prizes in this year’s American Landscape contest is a James Kay workshop shooting in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Kay is a long-time OP contributor and the May issue of the magazine he has written an article on the value of revisiting a location. When I was a young photographer I made check lists of the hot spots that draw photographers like a candle flame draws a moth. I had tattered books of David Muench’s photography and every page became a pilgrimage goal for me and every place I went made for another check mark on the list. As much as I wanted to go and photograph these places, I realized I wasn’t experiencing them.  Check box photography was yielding a portfolio of trophy shots but little understanding of the places themselves.

In the 1980s I went to Death Valley for the first time. I went through in a few days over Thanksgiving and I hit all of the places on my check-list. I might have filed it away as done except that I had the good fortune to have a friend who wanted to make it an annual expedition. And so began a decade of trips back to Death Valley that gave me a chance to explore some of the intricacies of the place. On each return trip I learned a little more, I saw the changes in the landscape and I slowly saw some of the broad interactions within the environment. On one trip I hit a tipping point and I made a number of photographs that still hang on my walls today. Suddenly had enough of an understanding of the place to know where to be to take advantage of the conditions at that time.

I still go to places on my check list and I still take photographs when I go, but as much as possible I like to return to a place and explore it more thoroughly. It’s easy to get obsessed with trophy hunting. A deeper understanding of a place ultimately yields your best photos.

-Christopher Robinson, Editor

Follow me on Twitter: @OPRobinson