PROJECT: Phoenix Palms
I first began making these photographs in response to what I saw each morning out the windows of a moving light-rail train. Between Mesa and Tempe the track runs along a dilapidated Apache Boulevard. Vacant lots and abandoned motels clutter the street, but ultimately it was the palms that caught my eye.
There is no shortage of palm trees in Phoenix. Here, palms are more prolific than Kentucky blue grass and as ubiquitous as the August sun. Usually well-groomed and standing proud, the palms entice visitors with promises of paradise. But the palms I was seeing were different. Some, abandoned – holding onto their vacant lots like destitute squatters. Others, like strays – taking root where they may and lapping water from nearby drainage canals. A few, sorry and pathetic – desperately holding onto what little shred of dignity they might have left.
The taming of the West was as much about agriculture as it was about exploring new frontiers. It was about human ingenuity stubbornly, ambitiously, defying Nature. To me these palms not only reflect the precarious perch of desert life, but also speak directly about the vulnerability of humanity and our intrinsic dependence on what the planet offers us. They act as stand-ins for the other major inhabitants of the desert and in many ways are direct manifestations of the greater human condition that quite literally raised them – sometimes glorious, often horrific, but always present.