How the Art Happens - A Celebration of the Ancients

April 03, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Celebration of the AncientsCelebration of the AncientsCliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park is illuminated by 77 farolitos or luminaries under a star lit sky. This rare event took place on December 9, 2015.

A Celebration of the Ancients

Mesa Verde National Park is truly one of the gems of the National Park system in the US. The park provides the ability to travel back in time nearly a thousand years and experience the lifestyle of Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloan people. And you don't only get to look at their homes and workplaces. You get to touch and feel the stone, walk through the canyons, smell the air, and see the same skies.

A few years ago I was reading in the Denver Post that the park staff at Mesa Verde were going to illuminate the Cliff Palace ruin with farolitos as a practice for their celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park System. The event was to be open to photographers only. This seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be photographed if the weather cooperated. I put the event on my calendar. Sure enough, December 9, 2015 rolls around and the weather is going to be perfect at Mesa Verde.

I headed south for the 4-hour drive to the park and found a place to stay in nearby Cortez, Colorado by late afternoon. Arriving at the park around 5 pm, I discovered that the park officials were letting anyone with a camera come in for the event. Even cellphones were included. It turned out to be a zoo! There were several hundred "photographers" staking-out their personal space along the overlook of Cliff Palace.

I have always believed that my job as a photographer is to show my viewers something they would not have seen on their own. It's my job to either capture something they would never be able to see or, at least, show it in a way they didn't think of. Through timing, composition, and technique, I'm supposed to tell part of the story of my subject. 

As the evening progressed many of the people quit taking pictures and were standing around talking to each other and the several park rangers there to keep us under control. By the time it was really dark, most folks had left leaving about a dozen of us with easy access to the best locations. I knew that the Rangers were going to turn off the lanterns at 8 pm. I was trying to photograph as many different variations as possible while the lights were still burning.

The sky had been thinly overcast all afternoon eliminating any kind of sunset light and keeping the stars from showing. Just before 8 pm, the sky started to clear giving me a soft view of only the brightest stars. I knew it would be a technical challenge but I had to try and capture the stars above Cliff Palace. I just couldn't get the exposure of the bright lanterns to allow the stars to show. I ended up combining two frames, one of the ruins and a separate image of the sky to achieve my vision for "A Celebration of the Ancients".

I hope you like it.



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Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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