By Angela Romeo

This valley attracts so many visionaries. Eric Schwabel: Fertile Desert, presented in conjunction with Joshua Tree Stonewall Remembrance Days and Bruce Bibby/Ted Casablanca Gallery continues to make that point.

Eric made a mark as a photographer shooting everyone from Chris Pine to Kirk Douglas. He is a much sought after commercial photographer as well. In 2009, Eric’s first monograph, Shooting Male, was published to rave reviews. He followed that in 2010 with his creation of The Human Light Suit, a 10-year photographic portrait survey of the Burning Man Project, which remains underway through 2020.

But his latest body of work, Fertile Desert is a departure. With this work Eric places mysterious figures covered in body paint in the desert. The burning question is why.

AVR: This work is really a big departure from what people may expect from you. Do you feel it’s a leap into unknown territory or are you working out this work as just a natural progression from your photography?

Eric: “This project felt more like “getting back to my roots” or “back to what I love” than anything. My very first publication was a series of nude portraits that I shot in-and-around my college, Rochester Institute of Technology. That series was more about juxtaposition. I think the biggest change with this work is that it’s much more personal. I’ve been working as a commercial and celebrity photographer for a number of years. This work wasn’t about anyone else’s needs: no clients or art directors, it was simply what I wanted to put out there.”

AVR: The High Desert has some interesting locales. For you what came first: the concept that fit into the locale or a locale that created the concept?

Eric: “The concept came first for this project, which is a change for me from recent years. It was a very focused direction, but the concept was about the desert… so maybe they both happened at the same time.”

AVR: Do you see this installation as a new direction?

Eric: “I see this work as a turning point. I never expected to be a gallery-showing artist. In fact, I never wanted to be an artist at all, I very specifically sought out commercial applications for photography when I started: my BFA is in advertising photography. But the longer I worked in the industry, the more I realized that the only way to sustain my happiness is to be in a constant state of creation. I became a full-time citizen of Yucca Valley in the middle of making this work, and just being away from my ‘financial base’ to a place that has become my creative home definitely switched something back on in my brain.”

AVR: Do you consider yourself controversial?

Eric: “I may be controversial, but I’m not sure how much that is reflected in my work. In the age of Facebook, it has been challenging to show the more controversial work because it is censored on most of the social media networks, and that’s the primary place people get to see my work. In the past, I would seek out controversy, and I think that probably helped my career, but this work in particular is about sharing my vision of the world around me.

Most of the people who will see this show already live in the desert and have an appreciation for it. But I hope that people will get a sense, even subconsciously, of how connected to our natural environment we are, how beautiful it is, and how much life is here in the desert. With this body of work, I wanted to feel like, if you blinked, or if you weren’t paying attention, you’d never see these scenes, like maybe there is more beauty and wonder around us than we see, until those moments when we stop and are present in our environment.”

One can only imagine the next step in Eric’s journey. The brilliance of vision – I can hardly wait for the next installment.

For more about Eric Schwabel visit www.schwabelstudio.com.

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