"Take only photographs, leave only footprints." Hamish Fulton

Whte Sand National Park, New Mexico

Rare are the moments when light seems to settle and gently caress the material world. Chance or opportunity - an encounter between the photographer and his subjet.

White desert

I turn onto the road – a long 25 km straight. The heat, the sun, and the traffic have been hard on this road, which leads to Alamogordo, in the US state of New Mexico. The asphalt has turned white, and wide tracks have formed under the passages of so many vehicles.

The sky is azure blue, and on the horizon I can see several of the small tornadoes which are lifting the sand from the White Sands National Monument, forming high white columns.

Alamogordo, the home of car salesmen. Desert Sun Motor, Jack Key Motor Company, Richardson Motor, Joe Vann's Auto Sales, etc... They all display the same slogan - "0% Interest – Pay Next Year!" They could have added - "I Love Living On Credit!"

I take a room at Motel 6, and head off to relax for an hour at the Motel swimming pool. Now I can clearly see the columns of white sand which are rising into the sky above White Sands National Monument. Little by little, the clouds of sand veil the sun.

By the time I reach White Sands Park at the end of the afternoon, the sunlight is filtered by the sand and dust in the air, although the tornadoes have disappeared. A surreal landscape stretches out before me. The dunes and the sky blend together like an immense white backdrop, and I feel as if I'm wading through cotton. The light is blinding.

All around me, the dunes stretch out as far as I can see, each one seeming whiter than the next. In places, sword-shaped Yucca trees huddle together between the dunes, or stand isolated on their flanks. I grab a handful of sand – it's fine like flour.

I move on, not without difficulty, across this white desert, and as I walk around a dune, I discover a Yucca standing straight as a die. This is where I'll take my photographs.

The clouds, which are not really clouds, are now beginning to take on beautiful silvery tints as the sun sinks towards the horizon. I set up the Pentax 6x7 on its tripod.

The sandy dust high in the sky is being stirred around by the winds. Large openings form and then close, painting the sky like a superb living water-colour. Only a few minutes now before the sun disappears beyond the horizon – I hurry, eager to capture this unique tableau. At my feet, the sand is also taking on a beautiful rosy color.

Twilight has come to White Sands National Monument, and the desert creatures are beginning to wake up - all these myriad creatures who will have to survive another day in the midst of this white hell.

July 1995
Translated by Pete Kimberley