Gazing into Death Valley with Jordan Sullivan


the divine nothing
mountains move slow as eternity
circling the borders of an age before language
drifting silence filling a heart as full as a universe
visions of lost time
wandering light
there and not there
a shadow memory of past lives
uncertain fragments
the beauty of nowhere and nothing
so close to real absence
and wind
lost in the mirage of a void
no ghosts of anything here
no death
only disappearance

- Jordan Sullivan


Jordan Sullivan is a photographer and writer based in Los Angeles, California. His photographs of the Mojave Desert's Death Valley capture the feeling of the desert, and his Death Valley Light Series conveys a sense of the sublime.

RFP You took these photos in the Mojave Desert’s Death Valley. What drew you to the Mojave and what was it like?

Jordan Sullivan I've always been drawn to open spaces, particularly the desert. The sea, the forest, the desert they are all indifferent to us, but the indifference of the desert is something else, specifically in the Mojave. It's almost comforting to feel so insignificant. I was at a fairly low and selfish point in my life when I first went there. Death Valley is actually the lowest point in North America, so maybe, at first, I wanted to find out what sort of pictures might come from that juxtaposition of place and emotion. I was definitely attempting to confront this void inside myself by reconnecting to the natural world, or at least to something larger than myself.

Are the colors of the sky in Death Valley as surreal as they appear in the photos?

JS These pictures are more about the surreal feeling time and space in the desert rather than what it what it actually looks like. The images sort of play with our sense of perception within landscapes. At the same time these colors sort of mimic those you see behind your eyes when you look at the sun or a flash of bright light. The Mojave is very bright. It's like the ocean in that way — vast stretches of are mostly white during the day.

Was the sense of absence you write about in the poem a feeling you encountered while in the Mojave? Did you write it while you were there?

JS Yes, absence is everywhere all the time, and I felt it so much in Death Valley, but the absence I felt was in me — the desert is full of life. Again, I wanted so badly to feel connected to the natural world, and the poem, which was written later, was an attempt to reconcile those feelings.  

What was your favorite time of day to photograph?

JS Magic hour.

Rubber Factory exhibited your work, The Sun At Night, earlier this year, which featured photographs printed on unique silks. What was the context of this body of work?

JS These photographs were shot at night in a small section of Death Valley. The installation was a recreation of the feeling of moving through a landscape at night. The images were printed on translucent silk so the viewer could see through them. The images were hung from the ceiling, so people could walk around them. They were sculptures in a sense, but they also had this ghostly presence. They moved as people passed by them. It was almost impossible not to touch at least some of the pieces. The installation, like the acre of desert it was shot in, had its own unique life. I think that's what I'm always trying to make - something that has the potential to take on a life of its own.

interview by Fernanda Penfold

Fernanda Penfold