El Camino Del Diablo

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El Camino Del Diablo captures images from the path running through a part of the Arizona desert into California. Mark Klett, photographer and Regents’ Professor of Art at ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts talks about the photographs.

Jose Cardenas: Photographer Mark Klett has spent decades capturing images of the desert region of the southwestern United States. His most recent series of images Camino Del Diablo, or Road of the Devil, offers images from the path running through part of the Arizona desert into California. Joining me is Mark Klett, photographer and regents professor of arts at ASU School of Art. Welcome.

Mark Klett: Nice to be here.

Jose Cardenas: You have been getting a lot of attention for this exhibition. You have part of it on exhibit in New York City. The Times wrote a fascinating piece about it. How did you come to put these pictures together and what was it that inspired you to do this?

Mark Klett: Well, somehow, I can't remember when, I ran across this text by Rafael Pompelli, a young mining engineer who came to Arizona in 1860. He spent a year in Arizona and chronicled that experience, published a book called Across America and Asia in 1870. He went to Asia after Arizona. I found it really fascinating the way he describes Arizona in the 1860s. That it was a lawless territory where the dregs of society came to because they were being kicked out of every other place, that they were killing each other because there was no law enforcement. The Mexicans were killing the whites because they were treated as peons, the Apaches were killing everybody else because their territory was being invaded. It was utter chaos. I thought about it at the time as an interesting story. I thought what would be interesting would be to try to travel the same road that he traveled, the Camino. That's when I saw parallels that became interesting.

Jose Cardenas: You did it on several occasions.

Mark Klett: Yes, I went there first in 1990s. At that time the Camino was really a dirt track. When I went back again a few years ago, I realized it really changed. The road had been widened a lot from the border patrol enforcement.

Jose Cardenas: Give us a sense of what part we're talking about.

Mark Klett: We're talking about the southwestern corner right along the border a little east of Yuma. This is an area that sort of bordered on the east side by the Cabeza Prieta, on the west side the part of the Barry Goldwater bombing range.

Jose Cardenas: We have pictures to run while we're talking here of what it looks like now. What were you trying to do? Were you trying to get a sense for what it might have been like when Pompelli was there? His experience was hair-raising.

Mark Klett: Yes. He escaped death several times. I think I was trying to just re-experience the place and using his Texas a guide. Most of my work in photography has dealt with using history as a guide to re-experience the present. So my thinking about him was, how --

Jose Cardenas: Excuse me. Looks like a pretty desolate --

Mark Klett: That's a picture of the upper tank -- where dozens of people died trying to get to that water. That's one of the only watering places in 130 miles in the desert. Very barren stretch. Also very beautiful. I think that's what's important.

Jose Cardenas: I think we capture the beauty in this picture of the nightline.

Mark Klett: The lights in the corner, that's the border patrol driving the Camino. They are actually dragging tires behind the vehicle to smooth the road out so they can watch for footprints.

Jose Cardenas: This is the route --

Mark Klett: This is a place that's crisscrossed on a regular basis by immigrants. Things are left, also by smugglers as well.

Jose Cardenas: Your own experience did you run into any dangerous situations? You have a picture of some bullets. Is that the gunnery range?

Mark Klett: This is part of the Goldwater bombing range. There are unexploded munitions there's in certain places. You have to get a permit to go there. You have to sign waivers and get a permit to go on the range. It's incredibly beautiful. This is just an example of the remnants. Here's a picture of the sun setting with red clouds in the background. In the foreground is a faint track because when you cross this part of the desert in a vehicle, then you leave tracks, it's going to stay there for decades, really.

Jose Cardenas: How much did you feel that you were experiencing what he was experiencing at the time when he was there over 100 years earlier?

Mark Klett: Our experiences are different because of the time period, but I think there's a parallel quality to it. In his time he was apprehensive about crossing the Camino because of the dangers of being attacked either by Mexicans who were trailing him trying to rob him or by Apaches who might be out there hiding. But I think in my experience, it's much safer today even though we have dangers. But I think there's still a sense of militarization, still a sense of danger if not only because of what's happening there with the bombing range or remnants or people who are crossing, it's also the climate. The climate is extreme. In the summertime it's 120 degrees. It kills people. So there is that sense that at the same time what I really appreciated about his work, even in spite of his misgiving about his experience, he loved the place. He talked about how beautiful it was. That's something that I think we can share. The quality of the light, the color, the beauty of the daytime, the clarity of the air. The cactus, the rocks. Things that just make it really compelling. It's one of the most spectacularly beautiful places after the Sonoran desert. That's something we can both share.

Jose Cardenas: You have an exhibition in New York, a larger one in Tucson. Tell us what you have in New York, what it shows, then Tucson.

Mark Klett: So in New York it's a little bit bigger show of this work. But we have the pictures in the gallery combined with some text from the book. I think it was really important for me --

Jose Cardenas: From Pompelli?

Mark Klett: From his text, yeah. It is really important for me to have viewers understand it's done in response to the earlier work. In Tucson we have very similar things at the Etherton gallery that there is text on the wall with the pictures. There's less of that, and that show also includes earlier work of mine in the desert. Some of that actually was done in Camino as well in the earlier days.

Jose Cardenas: How long will that exhibition be running?

Mark Klett: Through March 21st in Tucson.

Jose Cardenas: What do you hope Arizonans get out of it that maybe visitors wouldn't or Vice versa?

Mark Klett: Well, I think it's easy for us to get lost in the arguments about the border, about the fence. The border fence runs parallel to large parts of the Camino. It's easier for us to get lost in the politics and the heated arguments that happen there, but one thing we need to understand is the landscape itself we can still appreciate it. It's something Pompelli did in spite of the danger, something we can do. I'm interested that people really care about this place.

Jose Cardenas: I thank comes out very well in your pictures. Thank you so much, professor Klett, for joining us to talk about this.

Mark Klett: Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: That's our show for tonight from all of us at 8 and Horizonte, thank you for watching. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

Mark Klett:Photographer and Regents' Professor of Art, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University;

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