Imagining and then Making Paradise Visible: Wonders from Utah and the Role of Chaos by Luciano Demasi

Sometimes I think that what I have seen in Utah is unreal. Hidden valleys, flowers in the desert under the silent watch of the Milky Way, millions of years of planet’s geological history blended in a unique irreplaceable and delicate paradise: did I imagine this beautiful and overwhelming universe? Did everything I experienced actually take place? Chaos decided that I had to visit these wonders. It also decided to destroy my digital camera in an accident 3 years ago. The negative event was actually going to bring a positive force in my life. It started my infrared journey. The photos I share with you are children of my love for nature, photography, and the fantastic invisible infrared world. Utah is a place to be discovered. Any dirt road leads to views and to places which cannot be forgotten even beyond this lifetime.

IT was 3 years ago when I decided with my friend Greg to rent a car and explore Utah. Each little town was literally a treasure. Colorful rocks, archeological sites, scenic drives, and rewarding trails were waiting for us. Some danger was also there. Deserts need to be respected. We all have to follow what Chaos is going to serve us, and in the process, we must not forget that nature has magical beauty but also an incredible power…
I and Greg spent the nights in several locations alternating camping and hotel. I will never forget getting up very early and seeing the river turning around between the rocks like an immense snake, the rainbow far away, the red colors everywhere, the shadows fighting and losing the battle against the lights of the new day… I also remember the long endless drive in the desert, where one could not see a single tree or home in tens of miles. Nobody had been driving the road for long time. …What happens if something goes wrong?” This is what I was asking myself. At that moment I felt what loneliness and risk really meant. But the fear was just an illusion. We were going to be safe in the hands of Chaos. The night at the desert, exploring its creatures hiding in the darkness, was one of the best moments any person could have in his/her life. The exploration continued the following day with the storm and
lightning painting the horizon. I had already experienced much more than what I could have pictured with my imagination. After years I can still “see” in front of me the images and the entire sequence of places. Every single moment cannot be described by a few words and even the pictures do not actually record the breeze, the sound of birds, and the trees moving while caressed by the wind.

This first trip made me realize that following the social guides on “what to see in Utah” is pointless. Everyone should just take the car and stop when the light is special or when the moment simply dictates to admire what was shaped by nature in an enormous amount of time. When you walk in such an environment you feel almost guilty by just moving a rock by accident. Maybe it was there for an uncountable number of years. Moving it would be altering the artistic work nature did for us. You have the strong feeling of being part of something greater than anything ever seen before. Yes, this is Utah. Go there, explore, find your secret places. Respect them. Fight for their preservation.

Preservation is, indeed, the key concept. I have seen the “effects” of reckless hikers not paying enough respect to nature (it is sufficient to have 1 person over 10,000 people to do irreparable damage and, thus, compromise the treasures). That is the reason why I decided to not disclose the exact locations of any place I visit. I do not want to be the reason, with my photos, why unique environments are spoiled by a large number of visitors who go to a “must see place” I contributed to create. Social media could amplify and accelerate the number of tourists in certain locations, destroying forever what required millions of years of patient work by wind, rain, earthquakes…
My experience with the “Utah infrared journeys” is now shared with you… Have a pleasant trip!

The night was very windy. The option was to just return to “our” Utah home and rest to get ready for the next explorations or have faith that Chaos would have solved the problems for us.

“Our” Utah home (infrared photo, 590nm filter)

We decided to leave our night, and what was going to happen, to Chaos. We did not care about the strong wind and we proceeded in the darkness. After some time we reached an upper elevation which had a natural stone wall.
It was simply perfect. The wall was protecting us: the wind was gone only in that area, “our” area. That is what we needed: Chaos decided that a magical night had to take place. Looking at the Milky Way made me feel a tiny organism in the universe.
My philosophy when I take photos is not to “design” my composition. Many photographers go to a place during the day, decide composition, take GPS coordinates, mark the terrain etc. I think that photographs should be photos of our soul and how we imagined/perceived the unrepeatable scene in front of our eyes.
Photos are parts of our memory and not an engineering product. They should be a fossil of what we felt in that unique instant of the time-space reality. Thus, I decided to walk in the night, sure that Chaos was going to deliver something more precious than what I could have imagined. I did not know what I was going to pursue. At one point I noticed in the darkness an interesting rock formation. When I reached the location white desert flowers magically “appeared” in the sand. At that moment I realized that Chaos brought me to a fragile landscape and that the particular point in the spacetime continuum had to be frozen forever with a photo.

Talking with the Universe (visible spectrum photo, hot mirror filter)

I was driving with my friend Greg. The road was going uphill, and after a few seconds, this scene appeared. I did not know where to direct my attention. Should I have wondered with my mind and imagined what was at the end of the road? Should I have just looked at the magnificent sky or at the red rocks? And what about the white hills? I could not leave that scene without an infrared photo. Clearly, reality was not just what was “obviously” presented in front of my eyes. I “had” to record as much as I could from that moment, denitely one of the most memorable instants of the life any person could imagine to have.

Exploring Utah should be done without planning, making Chaos dictate what scene to see. Who knows what is next; who knows what beauty is waiting to be discovered.
It was later afternoon. Rain and wind were abundant. The light conditions were, to say the least, simply horrible. We almost decided to return back where we came from. But we decided to pursue the adventure anyway. Maybe the storm could have given us a break later. Maybe Chaos was going to bring something unique. It always does it, if you are willing to listen and your mind is clear. Following this act of “faith”, we drove for about an hour. We then reached a place with rock formations that appeared like man-made structures designed to meditate on nature and universe, and collect its force. I explored the land. A view suddenly captured my attention: it appeared different than everything we had seen before. I patiently waited for 1 hour until the clouds could give room to some light, enough to bring life to the rocks and release the inner energy the universe was delivering. I “had” to take the infrared image of The Mystic Temple.

We knew that a big day was going to arrive when we decided to explore a solitary and pristine location of Utah. And, indeed, what I experienced was overwhelming by any standard. Any mind could not process such vastness, solitude, and peace. After a couple of hours of this journey, I took a look far away and I spotted a large tree dominating an immense ocean of conical rocks. I and Greg decided to separate, take different paths, and let Chaos show the way. I took my two Canon 6D cameras, filters, lenses, and tripod, and backpack with a minimum survival kit. Physically it was very challenging, but I ‘needed” to see the location I had previously identified from distance. The light was simply perfect. The breeze was massaging the face while I was walking toward my destination. I was excited. After several minutes of patient effort, I arrived. I was alone, really alone. Miles and miles of views with not a single person present. Only me, the wind, and a tormented sky: nothing else was there (and would not have been needed…). I then took 30 minutes of complete meditation looking at the clouds passing by, evolving, and painting unseen shapes. In that moment I thought that if there had to be a place where my ashes had in the future to be, the bed of The Ancient Trees was surely that place. I imagined being powder flying with the wind, disassemble myself into particles, embrace every single rock, be part of this multi-million-year work of nature and Chaos. I had to freeze in my mind that time and create a copy of what I was seeing with my eyes, mind, and entire body. Thus, I placed my tripod on the rocks and I experimented with some of the filters. I wanted to “see”
this unique place under different perspectives. Reality is not only what we perceive. Reality is something of superior essence. It can be shown that the foliage becomes more bright with the 550nm filter. Also, the soil can get interesting tonalities. Clouds become more dramatic and have better contrast in the dark sky. With the 590nm filter (see Figure 9) there is a clear and strong separation of the ground/terrain and trees, giving them a central role in the scene. But if one really likes the contrast between plants and everything else and a black sky with extremely white clouds, then the 850nm filter provides that result. A dream which was happening in front of my eyes… and beyond them. But my camera was able to record and keep it forever for me and for all of you.

The beauty of The Ancient Trees can also be brought to our perception by combining different images obtained at different wavelengths. Obtaining the combination of visible and infrared photographs requires a patient postprocessing work. But in the end, the result brings the best of both portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. In particular, it has the dramatic infrared sky and the bright colorful trees typical of the 590nm lter. The ground, which was appearing in front of my eyes with an incredible red color, is maintained in its “original condition” (i.e, hot mirror lter was adopted when its image was recorded). This is why I love infrared photography. It is just beauty to its maximum power, especially if one is willing to work in the postprocessing phases of the photos and unleash the creativity.

I had been walking for hours, without feeling tired. Occasionally I held my breath to just feel the pure silence surrounding me. I had the impression that nobody had been there for hundreds of years. I felt guilty that my footprints would have interrupted the drawing Chaos had been making in this location for an endless amount of time.
I saw its beautiful branches from distance. They were not covered with leaves. The tree was apparently dead, but it was perfectly blending itself with the surroundings. Its essence was still there, intact and alive.

The Beauty After Death (infrared photo, 590nm)

At one point there was a Dominator. Creatures demanded its support. He was ruling the land. His magnificent shapes were examples of beauty and harmony. But everything had to arrive to an end. The animals, which used to have shelter and his protection, had to find other companions. He still dominates with its everlasting energy the other dimensions, you can feel its presence. I tried to capture that energy with an infrared photo.

The Lost Empire (infrared photo, 590nm)

He did not give up. The Dominator was his emperor, he was his reason to be. The empire fell, and its ruler is no longer there, but his everlasting energy kept the loyal soldier alive. He will never give up the land. The wind bent him, but it was not able to win his loyalty. The soldier will forever be the guardian of The Lost Empire. I had to respect his authority. I had to listen the story of his Lord. He was telling me the secrets of the towers hiding the desert life.

The Loyal Soldier (infrared photo, 590nm)

Protected by solid walls, another kingdom can be found in the area. In an unexpected terrain of unique rock formations, there is Him, the Desert King. This was the highest gift Chaos gave to me. Chaos made me go there in the first place, and at the right time, when there was a thin layer of clouds covering the sun just enough to create a diffuse light, filling the entire scene and a tormented sky. Desert King was watching me and I had to bow to his authority. His spirit and power are always with me, even if hundreds of miles are between us at this very same moment. Memories of that intensity and magnitude cannot be deleted. But I am concerned. I have seen a known photographer of my city posting a Milky Way photo of the Desert King. The photographer disclosed on the media the location of the kingdom. I decided to write to the photographer. Unfortunately, I was not able to make him realize how much damage a photo can do if a place becomes a “must see location”. I hope that the Desert King’s fortress will be strong enough to protect his land during the invasions. I will always do my best to preserve this sacred place. I hope I will have the opportunity, one day…

The Desert King (infrared photo, 590nm)

It was late morning. We wanted to explore something different. After some time we reached a “promising” canyon. The rocks were populated by silent trees. I could “see” a large variety of infrared scenes: everything was worth, by itself, the entire trip to Utah. Thank you, Chaos, for having brought to my attention this Silent Canyon. My soul is thankful.

The Silent Canyon (infrared photo, 590nm)

If you intend to live a dream, Utah is the perfect land. Do not go online to search for places, suggestions, and somebody else’s secret locations. Just rent a car, drive and stop whenever the place is appealing to you. Let Chaos dictate the weather, light conditions, clouds in the sky. Respect the power of nature, do not forget that we are all guests in her lands. Let the spirit experience the emotions that are already waiting for you. What I have presented in this article is only a tiny fraction of what is there. And if you cannot travel, I hope that my images helped you to dream. Close the eyes and think about Utah. Embrace beauty and the love for Chaos.

3 Responses

  1. Gorgeous work! Loved every one of them. I used to enjoy doing infrared photos until digital took over. I always thought the camera had to be modified for IR? Are you saying you did these with your stock 6D’s and IR filters?


  2. Barry,
    Glad you loved my images. All the photos have been taken with a modified camera and infrared or hot mirror filters. I have a full spectrum modified camera (dedicated to infrared photography) and a second “normal” camera…
    If you do not modify the camera, highly enough, you need tripod and most of the good photos cannot be taken…

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