White Pocket lies several 4WD miles off a really lousy track, House Rock Valley Road, but you forget the sandy ruts and bumps and frayed nerves when you get there. This small piece of the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs National Monument near the Arizona/Utah border has been described elsewhere as a phantasmagorical collection of colorful crossbedded cliffs, where the formations heave and drip like some kind of geological ice cream sundae melting in the sun, and after three visits there I can tell you the place is a photographic dessert.
Sandstone toppings swirl deliciously across the landscape in red, orange, and yellow (to name the principal shades), and you’re quickly mesmerized as you follow their paths over undulating rock formations, as surely as those rodents who followed the Piper. In no time your memory cards are maxed out, your senses sated, and there’s no room for anything except Alka-Seltzer. That’s the problem with rich desserts.
Yesterday I was looking through photos I’d taken at White Pocket in the autumn of 2012, day-dreaming a bit, and wondered What would I do without colors? Would visual treats lose their flavors in black and white? Since I’d downloaded Silver Efex Pro 2 the day before, I decided to find out.
If you shot film you may remember Kodak’s Panatomic-X—a fine-grained, ASA 32 marvel. When I harbored neophyte delusions aspirations to follow in Ansel Adams’ footsteps I reached for that box because it promised über sharp prints, but that dream waned as color films (Kodachrome in particular) became my preference. But now, with Silver Efex Pro 2, I can click on a tab and voilá, Panatomic-X is born again! Or, if I like, any of several other film choices, delivered digitally. There’s no chemistry to mix, prints to spot, or any other magic that’s ascribed to the darkroom experience. I like that.
And I like what I see on my monitor. With the precise controls built into processing software there’s no excuse for getting an interpretation wrong. The smallest areas can be worked until they’re perfect to your eyes—and you’re not breathing fumes in a cramped, safe-lit room, wasting expensive paper, or sloshing fixer on the floor. I think this experience is better than those old methods—and hasn’t the point always been about the result?
I avoided chalky, blocked-up highlights in this photo, which was taken an hour before sunset at the end of a lovely wander, but I purposefully allowed the shadows to go dark. Then, after I had it just-so, I sat back and savored its flavors.