I’ve been coming to the desert for my whole life. People have all kinds of reactions when they step foot into a deep canyon or stand on the edge of a 300-foot cliff. At first they are intrigued, looking around, agape by the beauty, and then it hits them, and they pull back, suddenly afraid of how small and impermanent they feel. But slowly they work out of the shock, realize what’s around them, see the beauty, and understand the power of this landscape and their existence.
When Leslie Hughes asked to be part of Impermanence, I had my reservations. First of all, she had never been in the Utah desert, never been backpacking and had never even heard about slot canyons! She is gorgeous, and was enthusiastic about the project, but her inexperience made me nervous. After some thought, I realized that this is exactly what the project is about: Getting people out of their comfort zones, with and/or without clothes.
Her innocence would captivate me as we began shooting the third installment of Impermanence, a desert nude series. Her growth through the three days we spent in the slot canyons was profound, and by the end of it, she was trudging ahead of me, exploring every nook and cranny and scaling the walls like a pro!
During the course of this series, I took three women into the southern Utah desert: a model, a performing artist and an actress – all of whom had never truly experienced the raw power of the Southern Utah desert. This series starts with the curiosity we all have when we first see this vast landscape for the first time, and ends with the raw power we feel when we accept and embrace the unforgiving elements.
Leslie was the last of the three, and her transformation might have been the most apparent. Partly because of her inexperience, but also because we were shooting in the most remote and difficult area of the three. We had to backpack in for several miles and camp out for three nights, working off the ambient light of the canyon as the sun arced overhead.
When we first started, she stepped on every stone gingerly, with unsure feet, and by the end of the trip, she was leading the way, exploring every nook and cranny. Our first shoot lead us through armpit-deep, freezing cold water and our last location was positioned on a sandstone turret under a massive arch. Leslie started the shoot with an “Alice in Wonderland” type of gaze, and by the end of it, she was spreading her arms wide, embracing and holding onto everything the desert had to offer!
“Impermanence” is about the relationship of landscape and people. We are only here for a blip of time, our beauty comes and goes, and we only see and experience a fraction of what’s out there. Our beauty, just like that of the Colorado plateau is impermanent.
This was the final shoot of the “Impermanence” desert nude series, which took place above, within and below the Colorado Plateau. Each woman brought something special to the series and without them, this transformative series wouldn’t be the same.
A big special thanks to Leslie Hughes, Katie Alderson and Grace Neilson for all their hard work and courage!
For the full desert nude series, please click here.