Mikael Kennedy – Days in the desert

Baxter Culture

Mikael Kennedy is a New York City based photographer. Ever since he was a kid, Mikael has been making the pilgrimage West. His attachment to all the elements of what the West has to offer can be seen and felt through his imagery. From the coast to the desert landscape he tells a story through his lens that shows the true feeling of the open road. Mikael is a world renowned photographer and has had his work featured in galleries and many major publications. He also publishes books featuring the different locations he has explored. The images and excerpt below are from the time he and his wife spent a month in the beautiful Joshua Tree. To see more images from this trip and to see more of his work, follow this link for his latest book Days in the Desert.


I first came to California when I was 16, we drove through Death Valley up the coast into Santa Cruz and then back out north through the redwoods. Every time I set foot in California I think the same thing: this is paradise. I often think about the great migration west of European immigrants, after they’d set up colonies on the East Coast and they chased the sun across the land before them.  I think of what it must have been like to cross this country completely unknown to them, one that must have seemed like it stretched on forever, back when it was just Country. Looking past the troubled history of the building of this nation, I think of the human perspective, of the individual who crossed the plains, pushed their way through the rockies, who battled off disease, and starvation, who fought with each other, who watched their friends and family perish, and in those last moments, as they they crested a hill and watched the coastline of California spill out before them, what must they have thought? I can imagine them thinking they had reached heaven, what other word could be used to describe what they saw other than paradise, after everything they’d just been through.

I was born and raised in Vermont, a land of abundant water. Lush green hills and forests to wander through in the summer months, the signs of spring you hear gently through the valleys as the snow melts and streams begin to flow again feeding into rivers, washing away the cold, a promise that warmth is on it’s way. The first thing I ask anyone when I meet them is, “Where are you from?” And while I do mean what culture did you grow up, I mostly mean “what climate”. There is very little I think that defines a person more than the climate they are from, lives are shaped that way, habits, entire cultures, our history is driven by the climates we live in. So the first time I crossed the Mojave, 2 summers ago with my wife, the brutality and the power of the desert left an impression on me, on us. As the 107 degree days slowed down into cool nights we found ourselves in awe, the stillness of the air, the color in the sky. We knew we wanted to return, actually we never wanted to leave, but there was a schedule ahead of us that  we were bound to for better or worse.
We had decided last year to do a retreat when the winter came round to NYC once again. We would save up, pack up and find someplace to settle for a month to work and live, if it worked we would keep trying to do it once a year. Pick a new place and go live for a month. It seemed better than a vacation, we weren’t stepping away from our lives for a short break, we were drawing out lives out in a different context. We chose Joshua Tree as the first of what we imagined to become many retreats. For 28 days we rose with the sun, watched it rise over the mesa, the first hint being it glinting off the windows of the other houses miles away. We would spend the days working on our own project, my wife recording songs for a new album while I did what I love most, drive. I just drove, and looked, and stopped to take a picture, and drove some more.  As the days wound down we meet again driving into the National Park climb to the top of the those strange piles of boulders and rocks that cover the landscape to watch the light fade and end the day.
28 days in the desert, for 28 days this was the routine. To simply sit in a world that was foreign to us, in a landscape we had both passed through briefly, one that was so wildly different from the ones we come from and to see what it did to us, what it does to us.

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