A dragon-like head in the random forms of stone, water, and light.
In October I traveled to Las Vegas for a friend's wedding. In early November, after the extensive festivities, I returned to Colorado via Utah. Certainly Zion National Park is known for its towering red sandstone cliffs, excellent hiking, and the grandeur of its main canyon. Those features are without a doubt beautiful, and I was fortunate to witness them accented by the gold of the cottonwoods' autumn foliage, but there was something else waiting to be discovered in that canyon. I wandered in the early morning, hunting for some hidden gem, an obscure spot that only wanted to present itself to me. This was that spot. I see a serpent's head, or maybe a strange turtle or salamander's. What do you see in this reflection? What are the stones of Zion whispering to you?
Icicles and liquid jewelry.
Winters in the Rocky Mountains. This is my first, and I'm certain it won't be my last. Even as the state of California remains parched to a record-breaking degree, there hasn't been any lack of precipitation here. This winter water, always a miraculous dancer with infinite faces, has accomplished in its ice crystallization a shapeshifting feat that brings grinning and wide open wonder to the human mind. What poetry that a person whose body is destroyed by the formation of ice crystals within it can still experience such powerful, gratifying beauty in pondering that very same force. Behold. Where do you expereince beauty? What makes it beautiful?- RBL
The distance that our planet covers during one trip around the sun is very roughly estimated to be about 585 million miles. You and I have traveled the universe at least that much in the past year. So have all of the trees and flowers, ants and whales, scorpions and snakes on Earth. (Assuming they're at least one year old)
Before we find ourselves too deeply entrenched in 2014, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite images from 2013. At first I thought I'd included too many, but when you think about all there is to see on a 585,000,000 mile journey, this is a decidedly narrow selection!
A sincere thank you to all who have enjoyed the Lehman Images site in its very first year of existence. I look forward to continuing to share my viewpoint of our amazing world and I hope you'll join me in celebrating the beauty in every moment and every place. Please let me know what you like, what you dislike, and how I can improve this site as we move forward. I'm glad you're here!
To a wonderful 2014 and beyond!
-R. Ben Lehman
A friend and former housemate of mine mentioned that his favorite place in Las Vegas was the nightclub atop the Rio Hotel and Casino. When I had the chance to check it out for myself, I was a little bit dazzled. Whether you think of Las Vegas as a glittering jewel of human achievement in the desert or a transitory scrap of tinsel waiting to be buried under the sands of time, it certainly is a proper spectacle.
My time there was filled with joy and laughter (weddings are good for that), but also thoughts of the massive burden such a place saddles onto the environment. Look beyond the obvious factors like profligate consumption of electricity and water. Think of the fuel needed not only to transport and assemble the materials for hundreds of enormous buildings in the parched middle of nowhere, but the fuel consumed by millions upon millions of people flying and driving there. Imagine the resources necessary to catch, process, preserve, transport, store, and then prepare just the seafood people thoughtlessly gobble in the Nevada desert...
Vegas and its vivacious vulgarity doesn't show any signs of slowing down, so I accept it with conscious awareness as it is for the present: A glitzy, gaudy, twinkling oasis of opulence best taken a sip at a time. OK, maybe a gulp every now and then ; )
Below: Vegas' surroundings hint at what Sin City used to look like.
I threw on my snowshoes and headed for the hills last night - the sky was pristine and I knew the moon would creep up as the night wore on. Clouds came and went, picking up the faint orange glow from my region's coal mines and their illuminated conveyor systems. Throw in a bottle of the local hard apple cider and I had myself a halfway decent party! (Until I tripped on the tripod, pitching my camera face first into the snow while simultaneously dropping the bottle of cider just perfectly so that it hit the metal of my snowshoe and shattered the neck, pouring 3/4 of the precious liquid onto the ground and guarding the remainder behind a jagged edge of fresh-cut glass!) All in all, 9:45pm December 23 to 4:00am December 24 was a great romp in the high country and produced a number of great shots. One you'll find below. To see more, check out the Colorado gallery. I hope you enjoy your December 25, whatever this time of the year means to you.
My father recently rode back to Colorado from Louisiana with me. We made gumbo for friends using local ingredients, soaked in some nearby hot springs even as the air temperature was 20 below freezing, and had the requisite Thanksgiving arguments about politics and philosophy... all very enjoyable. When it was time for him to return home, the scheme involved taking the train from Grand Junction to Denver and then catching a flight. "Excellent," I thought - "We can check out the National Monument above Grand Junction."
Neither of us was prepared for the sublime beauty that we encountered that morning, and I know that what my camera captured was but a pale approximation of the grandeur on display by mother nature.
The Grand Valley was filled with a cold mist that all but obscured the goings on of the city below. Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain on Earth, rose distantly in icy blue majesty. What what really struck me however was the brilliance of the sandstone cliffs bathed in morning sunshine that, along with their natural steepness, rendered them immune to the cover of snow which buried everything else.
Colorado National Monument apparently enjoyed fewer than 500,000 visitors in 2012 while the Grand Canyon played host to 4.4 million. Perhaps if more folks made the pilgrimage up Rimrock Drive in December, this other gem of the Colorado Plateau would develop a greater following.
Are the trees more colorful on the other side?
I have been waiting patiently for these trees to change since first arriving in May, and I was finally rewarded after work Friday! The road up and over Kebler Pass on the western slope is unpaved and after our recent snow and rain, parts of it were covered in several inches of wonderfully gloppy mud. That's what Jeeps are built for, and so another fellow and I piled in, turned up the radio, and headed for the hills to catch some evening light. What is normally a lovely drive became absolutely stunning as we gained altitude and the temperature dropped. Oak and evergreens gave way to the Aspens that Colorado is famous for, pouring over the contours of the slopes and contrasting with the new white snow. What a backyard!
I've been processing these images in Adobe Lightroom 5 and have been very pleased with the ease of use combined with the formidable power of the application for both editing and managing/organizing. I rarely ever need to open another image editing program unless I'm adding some text or doing something that doesn't look natural. (Since my favorite subjects are natural, that doesn't happen often!)
The leaves are changing, as are the times. We all march forward together!
The eroding ancient magma dome may cause dizziness to those unaccustomed to such natural grandeur.
I used to live here.
Yosemite National Park holds a very very special place in my heart. I was fortunate enough to live and work there as an outdoor educator and National Park Service volunteer a couple of years ago and can personally attest that it is an absolute playground for photographers of every stripe. From the leaves to the lichens, the granite and the gorges, Half Dome to Hetch Hetchy, waterfalls and wildlife - every day was an adventure. My thoughts turned to the Sierra Nevada recently as the legendary Rim Fire
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rim_Fire ) raged through my beloved former haunt. Friends and coworkers flooded Facebook with tales of flame and ash, yet I was in a whole different mountain range. It felt strangely similar to the summer of 2005 when my hometown of New Orleans was drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while I squirmed in my seat watching the events unfold via the news media from my desk at National Geographic's Explorers Hall. The Crescent City has made wonderful headway in recovering from the disaster and the Gulf Coast has learned much about how to handle the storms that are sure to come. I hope that the stewards of the Sierra learn similar lessons in how to cope with a rapidly changing climate ... the Rim Fire had many causes, but one contributor to its intensity was the California drought which dried the already abundant undergrowth.
The musical group Semisonic circa 1998 may have put it best: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." There will be new growth in the forest, but will these events spark new growth in our culture - growth that leads us to a place of being a more responsible participant in the web of life?
One goal I strive towards with my work is to inspire wonder and a personal connection to the natural world. A sense of kinship with the non-human can kindle a sense of responsibility for the non-human. I believe that the Earth does not belong to us, rather that we belong to the Earth. I encourage viewers not to be content with enjoying natural beauty solely via the lens and vision of another, but to nourish your own relationship with the non-human. The lessons to be learned via observation and contemplation are staggering!
Half Dome is exceptional for sure, but it is still one tiny speck of a vast and beautifully complex planet, itself a mere speck in the Milky Way Galaxy, in turn a speck in the vastness of something much larger yet ...
Where do you go when you want to regain perspective? I'd love to hear your thoughts on place and relationship. - Ben
When it rains, it pours!
I am surprised, delighted, and thoroughly honored to have been offered a chance to raft the Grand Canyon as part of a team of amazing and inspiring folks with Rios to Rivers, an Aspen-based nonprofit that is bringing students from Colorado and Chile together for the common goal of raising awareness and support for conservation of rivers, especially those threatening some of the most pristine wildernesses in Patagonian Chile. A group of high schoolers, some from Carbondale and some from Cochrane in remote Patagonia, will have a chance to experience first-hand what a large scale damming project can do to a river ecosystem and the environment upstream.
The last time I was at the Grand Canyon was 2008 when a great friend from the Peace Corps and I did a four day backpacking trip down to the Colorado and back. The word spectacular is grossly inadequate to describe the experience. This trip will be three times longer and cover nearly 300 miles from Lee's ferry all the way to Lake Mead. I'm thrilled to be a part of this amazing exchange and hope that I can use my lenses to do a sliver of justice both to the location and to the special people with whom I'll be sharing it.
See you all on the flip side! -RBL
I learned it as a Boy Scout years ago. I learned it again as a Trip Leader for Georgetown's Outdoor Education Program. Again it appeared when I worked with the Park Service in Alaska and in New Zealand with the Department of Conservation. Throughout my life I've absorbed the tenets of the Leave No Trace ethic. Last Friday I was reminded of how it applies to photography as well as exploring the natural world...
LNT Principle Number One:
Plan ahead and prepare
The author kindly sends out waves of appreciation to the first LNT principle, as the images below would have been impossible without it.
Turns out, film cameras don't work without film, and digital cameras don't work without
Three hours it took us to ascend from the trailhead to the rocky pinnacle that oversees the whole of the North Fork Valley. Aspens galore. Wildflowers tended to by a diligent air force of pollinators. Compounding views of the flowers, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Needle Rock, and Landsend Peak...all harbingers of what was to come.
Sweating, panting, and delighted to arrive, we dragged ourselves onto the highest stone block, gravity aiding in the sweet downward release of burdensome gear. I opened my pack, withdrew the camera bag, and set about attaching tripod - adjusting lens - composing the first shot.
<<NO CARD IN CAMERA>>
Somewhere my jealous and greedy iMac was chucking contentedly to itself, mouth full of SD memory. I cursed the Apple Gods, for their excellent engineering had distracted me with a gorgeous 27 inch screen while hiding the SD card slot in the back. Oh, the treachery! I had been rendered powerless!
Hadn't I learned a thing or two from all my time in the backcountry? Was there not a chance that the camera's mojo could be restored, my dignity reinstated? Was not the first tenet of Leave No Trace to Plan Ahead and Prepare? It was. And was I not prepared, even if Apple had distracted from my planning ahead? Perhaps... I picked up the black nylon camera bag, visualizing the hidden treasure I hoped it concealed. Pocket one. Pocket two. Pocket three. Things were looking grim. Unzip pocket four. Hmm. Rip open velcro flap, poke into pocket five.
Cue triumphant hero music.
Yes, the view was obscured by haze. Yes, the card I found hiding in there after initial stowage three years ago was a measly 2GB no-name POS. Though it couldn't handle more than a couple of seconds of full HD video, it would take some pictures and it would record some motion, and by golly it gave this story a happy ending after all. Friends, I say this to you: Leave No Trace, Plan Ahead and Prepare, and whatever you do, PACK EXTRA MEMORY!
Happy trails to you,
The semi-flooded flats south of I-80 lend an unusual beauty to the geometry of barbed wire and high voltage transmission lines.
I used to go everywhere with a tiny pocket-sized camera. Now I take my larger Canon with me. The above image is justification for this habit... After an early morning rise to beat the oppressive Utah heat with its shimmering mirages and blowing dust, I was eager to continue on my highway journey to the Rocky Mountains. Only 20 minutes down the road from the rest stop there was a composition coming together to the south. A section of barren land had filled with water as a result of recent storms. There was a smoky haze in the air, lending a soft quality to the distance between me and the mountains near Salt Lake City. So far, so good. Then the power lines appeared. They marched into the distance both above and below the water it seemed, rigid straight geometric lines contrasting with the blue organic ridges. I parked and took a stroll with the camera and tripod. The edge of the flooded area was spongy and saturated so I was soon ankle deep in gobbity muck, but the shot was out there, a feeling every photographer recognizes, rendering all normal sense of regard for footwear and other bits of clothing out of the question. Several test shots later, with a tripod sunk in gunk, the last element came together in the form of a barbed wire fence, an icon of the American west. Wavy and straight, water and sky, pointed and soft, black and blue - this image provides a richly textured playground for the wandering eye. Reflecting upon that leg of the journey, it turned out to be one of my favorites perhaps because of how close I was to turning back to the Jeep a few minutes early.
The symmetry here really appeals to me, as does the juxtaposition of contrasting shapes and textures. How might you have composed this differently? Leave a comment and we can play with ideas!
The easiest gold to enjoy in Las Vegas, Nevada is in the sky.
It's said that every cloud has a silver lining, i.e. there's an upside to everything if we just look for it. I agree. In this life it is critical to be aware of what we spend our mental energy focusing on, as we tend to see what we look for whether that be tragedy or miracle.
On my way back to Colorado from California recently, I was grumbling to myself at the sprawling suburban waste that was once lovely American desert. Las Vegas is many things, but a peaceful sanctuary it is decidedly not ... except for when we look for a peaceful sanctuary there. In the parking lot of a shopping center I noticed some unusual light in the western sky. A wildfire over the mountains was pouring dark smoke into the sky, causing a haze to catch the shadows produced by the setting sun on billowy cumulus clouds. Wow. The capital of conspicuous overconsumption was still in the Nevada desert, and the Nevada desert is still a beautiful place, full of magic when we just keep our senses open.
I hope the folks preparing for a night out on the town got a bit of extra luck from that rare golden lining...
Are there any golden linings in your life right now? I'd like to hear about them.