In October of 1997, I got a call from an art director at a large New York advertising agency asking if I had any stock images of sandstorms. I replied that I didn’t usually feel like taking a camera out of its case under such circumstances; he countered that he could maybe make it worth the risk. I told him I had just bought a new truck and had intended to go camping, so I would change route plans and seek out sand dunes instead. I put 4,000 miles on the truck the first four weeks I owned it. I made one trip each to Little Sahara, UT and White Sands, NM, and three trips to Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes from my home in Santa Fe.
I used my Mamiya RZ, wrapping it in a large plastic bag and rubber-banded tightly around the lens barrel. A #25 red filter helped enhance contrast and I decided on plus-three development.
It struck me, watching puffs of sand blowing off the crests of the dunes, that the white gypsum sand behaved much differently than our accustomed silicon sand grains, and they looked more like puffs of steam than blowing sand. This different sand didn't really give me the drama I needed.
I noticed a piece of cardboard stuck in the sand near by me, and I thought I might enhance the natural effect by scooping up a bunch of sand and tossing it into the wind in front of my lens. I particularly liked this frame with the sand in the wind looking almost alive!
A different image, made on my third trip to Great Sand Dunes, was ultimately selected for the project – to be used as a double-page spread in the New York Times. Separations were made and we were ready to print when the client abruptly changed directions. At least I got a nice image out of the experience.
Sandstorm, Curling Sand, White Sands, Nat’l Monument, NM 1997