DOGS CHASING MY CAR IN THE DESERT
The desert is not empty. However, it is vacant enough to bestow a certain
weight to whatever is present. This is an extraordinary place, the unobstructed
view to the horizon, the quality of the light, and that smell after it
rains. Add this to a heightened awareness of your own presence and the
desert can take on an existential quality.
And its quiet. Once, having climbed to the top of a very large hill
to photograph, I was startled by the sound of the wind moving under the
wings of a bird as it flew by. Hundreds of feet below and half a mile
away a dog spotted me and started barking like it had just caught me climbing
the back fence. No one sneaks up on a dog in the desert. A dog can hear
your car coming for several miles and will see you coming almost as far
away. By the time you arrive he has developed a level of anticipation.
From 1995 to 1998 I was working on a series of photographs of isolated
houses in the desert at the east end of the Morongo Valley in Southern California.
As I meandered through the desert, a dog would occasionally chase my car.
Sometime in 1996 I began to bring along a 35mm camera equipped with a
motor drive and loaded with a fast and grainy black-and-white film. The
process was simple; when I saw a dog coming toward the car I would pre-focus
the camera and set the exposure. With one hand on the steering wheel,
I would hold the camera out the window and expose anywhere from a few
frames to a complete roll of film. Ill admit that I was not above
turning around and taking a second pass in front of a house with an enthusiastic
Contemplating a dog chasing a car invites any number of metaphors and
juxtapositions: culture and nature, the domestic and the wild, love and
hate, joy and fear, the heroic and the idiotic. It could be viewed as
a visceral and kinetic dance. Here we have two vectors and velocities,
that of a dog and that of a car and, seeing that a camera will never capture
reality and that a dog will never catch a car, evidence of devotion to
a hopeless enterprise.
John Divola, 2004