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Desert Sights And Sounds

<p>"Wrong Place, Right Time"</p>
Mikayla Whitmore

"Wrong Place, Right Time"

Let’s be honest. Many of us think there’s plenty of nothing in the desert.

The desert is a curiosity; something we drive through or fly over on the way to somewhere else.

But if you heard or saw it the way our guests today do, you might change your mind.

Mikayla Whitmore is a photojournalist by trade – she works for Greenspun Media, publishers of Las Vegas Weekly and The Las Vegas Sun. Fred Bell is on the technical crew of the Blue Man Group. 

Whitmore and Bell also spend time in the desert. Whitmore takes photographs. Bell records sounds. 

For both, the desert is both a creative destination and a respite from a crazy world. 

"Baby It's You"/Mikayla Whitmore

Discussion Highlights:

Why is the desert compelling?

Whitmore: When you look at the series for myself, it’s a personal journey but… I feel like everybody is watching what’s happening but no one is really listening to each other. As I’m out in the desert taking these images, I’m trying to highlight the beliefs of the western ideology and just the abandonment in the desert.”

“At the end of the day doing these travels, I could get lost. I could run into trouble. I could build something myself. So, you have complete freedom to reflect and complete isolation from actually what’s happening.”

How does it make you re-see or re-think things?

Whitmore: It gives me a time to reflect and just go out and explore. For myself, I can get anxiety when I’m in crowds or when I’m in larger cities. Currently, getting overwhelmed by social media or all the news, everything that’s coming at us in this current day and age. So, I run to the desert as a place to escape and get a sense of scale and re-ground myself.

On the blurry image:

Whitmore: Most of the images I displayed are objects that I just came across and then documented in a specific manner. There are few that I manipulated in camera. So [Wrong Place, Right Time], I used a prism and I was looking at the landscape and sometimes for myself, I love the desert I can look at images all day but I get a little bored with a traditional landscape image. And so, I was trying to recreate and reference more of a feeling of a memory or evoke almost being able to step into another realm. 


"Jesus is Coming"/Mikayla Whitmore

Exhibition of photographs by Mikayla Whitmore

“There Is No Right Time”

Richard Tam Alumni Center – UNLV

Why do you record the sounds of the desert?

Bell: Sound is a great emotional reminder of places that you’ve been. When I take these recordings back later and listen to them, it just brings back a lot of memories, images and pleasant feelings. Since the shooting, you read about people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and I’ve read that sound cues triggered a lot of these reactions. Sound can be a negative thing but it can also be a very positive experience.

It is not so much the dead quiet that I’m seeking it’s the life that’s out there. I think it’s fascinating to hear the birds, the coyotes, the wind in the trees, the water, all that stuff. It stirs my imagination.

On the sound of a coyote:

Bell: This was actually made at the Furnace Creek campground at the Death Valley National Park. I set up my microphones outside the campgrounds at night. I had heard them the night before. They’re creatures of habit. So, I figured they’re probably going to go again tonight at midnight. So, I started the recorder and just waited.

I think it's music. It sounds wonderful to me. It doesn't creep me at all. I think that it's a beautiful sound. If you've become familiar with a thing, then you've become comfortable with it. I don't feel threatened by a coyote in any way.

On the sound of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge:

Bell: That’s mostly wind blowing through the mesquite trees. Wind can sometimes sound like water. They’re both technically fluids. They can have similar sounds.

I think everybody should find a quiet place to sit and listen. 

Fred Bell, Sound Recordist; Mikayla Whitmore, Photographer

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.