ART + SCIENCE: Richard Laugharn
Following Desert Plants is the title of the long-term project by Arizona-based photographer Richard Laugharn. At an early age, both his father and uncle exposed Laugharn to photography. As a young man, photography was a good fit with his shy, observant outlook and interest in the natural world.
Laugharn investigates place and time by photographing individual desert plants over extended periods of time with distinct attention to detail. He documents each plant’s scientific name, physical location, and the number of visits he makes to specific locations. Returning time and again to remote areas of Southwest Arizona, Northwest Sonora, and Southeastern California, he continues to revisit and photograph nearly 100 plants.
Laugharn finds inspiration from these studied locations and their natural and cultural histories and is grateful for to have “a serious engagement with some aspect of the real world.” As art often follows life, Laugharn continues his desert trips, guided by patience, intuition, and a sense of place he calls home.
Richard Laugharn was born in New York City and grew up in California. He has lived in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert for 30 years. Richard holds a BA in Art from Cal State Long Beach and earned an MFA in Photography from Arizona State University in 1993. He was a co-author of Among Unknown Tribes, Rediscovering the Photographs of Explorer Carl Lumholtz (University of Texas Press). His work is represented by Etherton Gallery in Tucson and is held in several collections including the Center for Creative Photography and the Nelson Atkins Museum.
Following Desert Plants
Since I was a boy, I have felt a compulsion to honor, with repeated visits, the wildest places I could find. These places needed to be close enough to my home to have a relationship with, yet far enough away that I would have arrived into a world beyond our making. The implicit message of much of today’s landscape photography is that there are no places beyond the reach of human activity, or that humans and their actions are themselves natural in the broadest sense. While I would not disagree, I remain drawn to the uniquely human task of contemplating the non-human world.
After traversing the desert for years with my camera, I came upon the idea of photographing individual desert plants over time. By visiting certain plants regularly, I hope to bear witness to my subject’s roots, and my own, in place and time. In making this work, I have drawn inspiration from landscape tradition, botanical illustration and scientific investigation. I am currently photographing about 100 individual plants, including a variety of cacti, trees and other desert perennials. Although the subject matter is consistently botanical, strategies for rendering these plants vary, suggestive of the many threads of experience one may follow over this hot ground.
Along with facilitating recurring travel, my residence in this desert affords a kind of kinship with these plants, rewarding the time spent peering through a lens or the effort involved in learning how they function as part of a larger whole. As with many long-term ventures, I have begun to tell this story without knowing the end. Some of the plants on my list have died, others will certainly outlive me. Some will suggest a narrative over time, others will remain reticent. For my part, I intend to continue along this path for as many years as I am able. This project takes me to remote areas of southwest Arizona, northwest Sonora and southeastern California, in answer to some sort of longing, yes, but also with the idea of strengthening an attachment to the desert country that I, and many others, have come to regard as home.
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