ne of the most dramatic landscapes in Oregon is located
just 90 miles from my home in Bend, Oregon. It is the
Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National
Monument, near Mitchell. In sharp contrast to what you
see in ‘Landscapes of the Heart,’ Saber
Toothed Tigers and ancient ancestors of rhinoceros once
roamed tropical forests here.
As a photogenic location, few can match the Painted
Hills. In May of 1989, my friend Ric Ergenbright and
I wanted to time a photo trip to coincide with the clearing
of spring storm clouds over the hills. We watched the
weather carefully and when we saw what appeared to be
the appropriate conditions, we drove east from Bend.
We got a late start and upon arriving, started moving
up the ridge and photographing immediately. The wind
was blowing hard and we were relegated to using our
medium format, rather than large format cameras. If
much wind is blowing, the leather bellows on large format
cameras act as a sail and make it nearly impossible
to produce sharp images.
We got the clouds we were looking for and as they swirled
overhead, a constantly changing combination of shadows
and sunlight spread across the hills. The potential
for compositions was endless. Just as I would complete
one image, another would appear close by. After 45 minutes
of non-stop action, the direct sun dropped off the hills,
so we moved down the ridge to prepare for sunset. We
photographed the brightly colored clouds to the west.
I completed my sunset photographs and happened to look
back behind me toward the east. I gasped at the beauty
of the scene. I stood speechless for a moment as I viewed
the incredible clouds that appear in ‘Landscapes
of the Heart.’
Then, I quickly loaded another roll of film in my Pentax
6x7 and sprinted back up the ridge scanning for a composition
that would bring all these stunning elements together.
There wasn’t time to think or speak, only time
to react. I found and photographed the composition of
‘Landscapes of the Heart’ and then tried
one more composition before the light dropped.
As we slowly moved back down the ridge, we both felt
humbled and blessed by the extraordinary sequence of
events we had just been a part of.