I visited Death Valley several times in the 1970s and became interested in photographing its sand dunes by the middle of that decade. But it was new subject matter for me, and one that confused me. I didn’t quite know how to approach the dunes, how to photograph them in a way that made them feel “right” to me. What I really was seeking was to have some amount of dunes at the base of a photograph with a spectacular sky full of exploding clouds above it.
Well, you don’t always get what you wish for. I didn’t get the good clouds. So, I eventually started looking at the dunes themselves and made a photograph in 1976 that I titled Dune Ridges at Sunrise, which proved to be a whole new direction for my photography. It was very design-oriented—quite abstract, in fact. People who knew my photography up until then would remark, “Is this the same Bruce Barnbaum that I’ve known?” Questions like that threw me for a loop, and I became a bit reluctant to show the print. That all ended in 1979 when Ray McSavaney, John Sexton, and I took our workshop students (on our old Owens Valley Photography Workshop program) to the home of Brett Weston to visit with him and have him show us some of his own work. Virtually all of it was abstract, and seeing his extraordinary work gave me the passport to do my own abstract work. It was a liberating experience.