Creating art in the desert and at the Dog, Langley photographer takes grand prize in Palm Springs

Send him to the desert or downtown with his camera and everything just clicks.

Send him to the desert or downtown with his camera and everything just clicks.

International photographer and local resident Rich Frishman has been awarded the grand prize in an international photographic competition and exhibition sponsored by the city of Palm Springs.

The “Earth Through A Lens” exhibition will feature “Imperial Sand Dunes,” a mammoth 2-by-8-foot giclée print by Frishman. The grand-prize image depicts hundreds of dune buggies racing across the scenic desert sand in southeastern California.

“I stumbled on the Thanksgiving Day week of events at the Imperial Sand Dunes, which

I learned is a preeminent destination for sand toy aficionados,” Frishman said.

“I went there knowing it is a beautiful spot when the dune buggies are not around, and I expected to see some rolling dunes and maybe some tracks. I didn’t expect to see hundreds of thousands of people in RVs towing AVs of some kind,” he added.

The surprise of so many people in so many dune buggies (also called off-highway vehicles, or OHVs) didn’t deter Frishman from shooting.

The sweeping panorama is actually composed of more than 200 separate images shot during a two-day period.

The winning print will hang in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in Palm Springs and at other galleries April 1 through April 30.

Only 30 images were selected for exhibition. Three of them, the limit an artist could submit, are by Frishman.

In addition to the grand-prize winner, his panoramic images “Bombay Beach” and “Garbage Dump; Essex, California” will be exhibited in galleries along Palm Canyon Drive, the heart of Palm Springs’ art and business district.

The Imperial Sand Dunes, which are situated in the Southeast corner of California in the Mojave Desert, are the largest mass of sand dunes in the state. Formed by windblown sands of ancient Lake Cahuilla, the rolling hills of the dunes extend for more than 40 miles in a band that is about five miles wide. Frishman said it’s one of the last places left where OHV enthusiasts can run roughshod over the land.

“Watching these big sandrails — which are basically dune buggies on steroids — I realized any one moment would give me an inadequate representation of what I was photographing,” Frishman said.

“I wanted to photograph what it feels like out there, with the sounds and people flying from all directions. In 1/1,000 of a second I can see no more than a dozen vehicles in my view. I wanted to capture the hundreds that were all around me.”

To tackle that dilemma, Frishman said he shot the background first and then started shooting individual congregations of activity or vehicles.

When he got back home, he spent more than a month on the computer sorting out thousands of shots, tiling the selected photos together and masking the frames so they blended properly.

“I put each vehicle where it actually had been. But they weren’t all there at the same time.”

Another example of Frishman’s photomosaic collage work is “The Dog House,” which hangs at the Brackenwood Gallery in Langley.

“The Dog House” is a 4-by-6-foot photomosaic composed of 217 separate prints shot over 18 months. Though the processes of the two pieces are similar, with the Dog House montage, Frishman took a slightly different approach.

In the sand-dunes photo, he wanted to show the scene in an articulated fashion, but the Dog House photo is purposefully disjointed.

Frishman shot the Langley tavern at different times during the day to show changes in light and activity. At the sand dunes he shot only between the hours of 1 and 4 p.m. when the light remained the same and before the shadows became noticeably longer.

“With the Dog House I wanted a more impressionistic result. The disarticulated method of it is part of the entertainment value of the piece,” Frishman said.

He spent about a month on that piece, too, only this time he was hovering over a board on which he mounted the photos to create a single piece of art. Whereas his presence in the dunes piece is barely noticeable, the Dog House montage is very personal and obviously manipulated.

Frishman said both pieces represent a process he began in college when he used contact sheets to line up photographs in sequence. The British artist David Hockney was an early influence.

The two other pieces that were accepted into the show are similar to the stitched-together style of the dunes photo, but the elements of time and activity do not play into those, Frishman said.

The “Earth Through A Lens” exhibition is to honor the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22. Frishman and his work will be recognized at an awards ceremony at the Hyatt Palm Springs that evening, and he said he is appreciative of the honor.

“It’s hard to know if something is resonating with anyone but yourself,” he said.

“Getting this positive feedback is very rewarding for me.”

The Langleyite’s photography regularly appears on the covers of Life, Time, Sports Illustrated and numerous other national magazines.

Frishman has garnered dozens of prestigious national awards over the past 30 years, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1983. He was selected as one of 125 of the world’s leading photojournalists to participate in the latest “Day in the Life” photo book by HarperCollins. His art is published extensively worldwide.

To view an online gallery of his desert landscapes, click here.

To see the gamut of Frishman’s work, click here.