How to tell time in the desert

Lee Brumbaugh’s Time in Nevada looks at human and natural landscapes

A scene from “Geologic Time.”

A scene from “Geologic Time.”

Deep canyons eroded by time, petroglyphs, abandoned trucks, decayed buildings, a bone tree and people painted green. An odd combination? Not for Lee Brumbaugh. In his photographic exposé Time in Nevada, all these objects represent a way of looking at the world, at time and at Nevada’s history.

Inspired by Paul Strand’s project, Time in New England, Brumbaugh sees this exhibit as having a dual purpose—helping him to examine his own directions in photography, and promoting the public’s understanding and interest in Nevada’s landscape and history.

Hailing from South Carolina, Brumbaugh has always been interested in cultural processes and preservation, and it shows in his photography. He has studied photography at Middlebury College, Washington State University and UC Berkeley, and is currently the curator of photography for the Nevada Historical Society.

Time in Nevada is split into five groupings, exploring “Geologic Time,” “Native American Time,” “European-American Time,” “Disaster Time” and “Ceremonial Time.” The first features pictures from Cathedral Gorge. These show the natural process of erosion in an intense display of texture and shadow. “Native American Time” gets up close and personal with a number of Native American petroglyphs throughout Nevada, and explains the types of rock art most prevalent in Nevada.

Time is a line for European-Americans, according to Brumbaugh, and this comes through vividly in his focus on Nevada ghost towns. Of particular note is a photo described as “Shovel and interior wall of hoist house, Silver Top Mine, Tonopah, 2000.” The shovel, support post and wall paneling create a vertical aspect to the photo that is disrupted by a diagonal line of shadow. There are no curves, no circular aspect to this photo—the settlers’ linear concept of time is depicted perfectly in the items they have left behind.

“Disaster Time” explores the anxiety that has accompanied humans’ development and expansion into areas of frequent natural disaster. The stark images of the charcoal rings left by burned sagebrush on the white ash, and the intricate lines of erosion left by cattle trails, make this portion of the exhibit a testament to the arid fragility of the Nevada landscape.

The final portion of the exhibit, “Ceremonial Time,” departs drastically from the black and white still life frames of the previous photos. Bringing the Burning Man Festival into focus, Brumbaugh uses color, larger print size and timed exposure photography to highlight the active nature of the annual event.

Brumbaugh feels that this series of photos takes a new direction, different in style than the others in the exhibit, but more in keeping with the photos’ subject matter and sense of time.