the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

ATYPICAL

This is Arizona? Well, for several months a year, it can be. Trading our non-stop blue skies for a little seasonal sky drama affords some unique shooting, especially just after dawn.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

IF YOU LIKE UNPREDICTABILITY in the look at feel of a region, it’s hard to beat (or escape) the clock-like consistency of the American southwest. Here in Arizona and in many parts of the region, the TV weatherman’s gig is slightly easier than that of the town drunk. Sunny, Hot, Blue Skies, Dry. That’s it. Repeat as necessary for nearly the entire year, every year, forever. It’s one of God’s little jokes in that, for photographers, there are magnificent subjects to shoot out here under the western sky…..but, typically, the western sky ain’t one of them. Featureless, glaringly bright, and unremittingly azure, the visual pickings, overhead, are rather limited. There are golden sky periods at sunrise and sunset, but midday is like one big unforgiving strobe. Inside an oven.

Enter the annual season we call “the monsoon”. Hardly like the tropical megastorms that the name implies, monsoon in Arizona is merely a time of increased humidity (still dry as toast to people in other climes) and an increased amount of short, speedy rain dumps and attendant dust storms. The talcum-powder textured grit that the monsoon drives under our doorsills is a pain, as is the sudden onset of zero visibility when the gusts are really cranking and the comedy of errors that is the average ‘Zonie motorist on wet roads. It’s the bizarro world reverse of blizzard season in Minnesota, with a dash of weird added for good measure. However, it is the one time that Arizona skies are, for days or weeks at a stretch, a little more theatrical, and thus worthy of a shot or two. Mother nature dabbles in drama overhead for a short season, and suddenly all of our “normal” shoots become something out of an El Greco painting.

Early morning coffee runs, even in over-developed urban areas (i.e., everywhere in Arizona) can reward the patient with clouds that streak, darken, and swirl. Neutral colors deepen. Rich hues run all the way into foreboding. In season, objects framed against the freakish overcast take on new aspects…some inviting, some fearsome. Last Sunday morning I saw a sunrise that was struggling to break free of a mask of freakish cloud cover, popping through in several breaks, and providing a sinister background for a business building that normally wouldn’t merit a second look. Don’t ask me why, but the juxtaposition of the various elements just cried, jump out and shoot. And so I did.

Here in Arizona we boast about how many days out of the year we serve up pure sunshine. Sometimes, however, during our darkest days, we can serve up pure gold.

Thoughts?

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