/04 Traces

Ian Baguskas


This series of photographs, that I call Traces, is a record of how human activity has left subtle, yet distinctively modern, markings on a primitive desert landscape.

The way in which I found this landscape was somewhat of an accident. Looking to photograph life in the desert, I took a trip to Southern California's Badlands. Well actually, I had another project in mind, but realized, after I got there, it was the wrong season to find what I was looking for. It was a big disappointment, but I wasn't about to head home.

I located a small town in about as remote a place as I could find hoping there would be something that would peak my interest. On my way there, as I'm driving through the desert looking for anything that would catch my attention, I found an off-road vehicle park teaming with motorbikes and quads. It was an impressive and somewhat intimidating sight. I took some pictures, but it was getting late and had to check in at the motel.

The next day I came back to photograph the riders. I walked around, but wasn't getting inspired, plus the light was really bright and overhead. I decided to do some scouting, so I drove around looking for the best locations in the park, which was huge. Once the sun started to go down, I came back to try to photograph some riders, but only one group was left. It was Sunday, so people went home early.

Monday came and I decided to get up early and head over to the park before the sun came up to get some shots of the hills that the drivers jumped and rode down. It was so quiet compared to the sounds of the revving engines from the previous days. The light was soft and the colors pastel as the sun hadn't risen yet. I felt as if I was on another planet. Nothing in my view reminded me of the time we live in besides a small road in the far distance and of course the tire prints on the ground. The ground itself, I learned, is made of finely crushed seashells from an ancient seabed that existed millions of years ago.

The sun finally rose and the second it did, the temperature drastically changed and the colors and the shadows followed. I continued to explore my surroundings hoping not to get in front of an oncoming motorbike, though it was still quiet and peaceful. I wandered further and further from my rental car finding more and more hills covered with tracks and grooves, imagining someone doing this jump or racing down that hill. The terrain full of action.

Further along I found a former campsite where a small fire was made. I came across other artifacts, like a blue carpet, which must have come from the interior of some off-road truck, a white shag rug as well, a half buried pink plastic grenade and some worn out cans. Close by, outside of the park, I found troughs of land dug out to reveal what I later learned were chloride pools.

There were trails of evidence, but no one was here. I enjoyed that time, finding relics of the past and imagining people hundreds of years from now finding these same objects and traces. That day and the days that followed, no one ever came. It was, after all, the weekday at the off-road park. Eventually the heat wore me out and I left before the weekend riders would arrive again, satisfied with the lonely landscapes that I found.