One day in 2003, while driving U.S. 50 in Nevada, I came across a shoe tree at a rest stop by the side of the road. It was a cottonwood with hundreds of pairs of shoes thrown upon the branches. First I photographed it; then I started looking through the car for a pair of my shoes I could add. I stopped for a moment to think about why I wanted to, and decided it was simply because so many others had before me. Ultimately, that wasn’t a good enough reason, so I left with all of my shoes and a few photographs.
The years between 2003 and 2007 since I made this image, the thought of the place has often returned to me. Something has always bothered me about the desire I felt to add my shoes to the collection. It is not something I would normally think to do. In fact, the idea repulses me. I consider it a defacement, yet I still wanted to do it.
As I thought about it more, I began to see similarities to other places visited by people previous to me. Whether it was along a roadside or on mountain trail, I began to notice more where people had stopped to make a mark of some kind and then others had added to the original in some way.
My usual approach to landscape photography is to exclude any evidence of man in the image I am composing. I have found that whenever evidence does appear, even if it is just a soda can or carving in the trunk of a tree, one’s eye goes directly to that place. The image becomes more about the mark than place, form or color. We seem to want to know more about the human presence, when it exists, than anything else.
More on this tomorrow.