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JANUARY 2013

Review of ‘Living Desert’ by Dana Buckley

Living Desert
By Dana Buckley
Published by Graphis Inc, 2012, New York

By Merri Rosenberg

I’ve never seen the allure of the desert. One of my good friends spends weeks at a time in Arizona, rhapsodic about the beauty of the landscape, the climate, the entire experience. As for me, give me the Atlantic Ocean and a South Florida beach any day when I need an escape from New York’s biting winters.

Dana Buckley’s exquisite, unusual, stunning coffee table book focusing on the flowers and plants found in our Western American deserts, could change my mind. Buckley, a photographer whose editorial work has appeared in Redbook, Self and Family Circle and who has done commercial work for Kodak, Procter & Gamble, Disney and Johnson & Johnson, is a six-time winner of the excellence in photography award from Art Direction magazine.

Her artistry is apparent in every page of this book. Her images evoke Georgia O’ Keefe’s intense close-ups, presented in a way to compel the viewer to really look at the surface of an aloe plant, or the petals of a desert lily.

Buckley’s selected her subjects from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson; the Anza Borrego Desert Park, Borrego Springs, California; Huntingdon Gardens in San Marino, California, Joshua Tree National Park in Yucca Valley, California, and Lotusland, Santa Barbara, California.

Buckley, to her credit, steers clear of cliché images of the desert. Don’t look for postcard visions of stark cacti plants in an eerie moonscape. Instead, Buckley shows the distinction of a bunny ear plant’s mathematical folds, the delicate pink petals of a lace cactus, the brilliant assertiveness of a Brazilian bromeliad, or the haunting stems of a brittlebush.

These are formalistic, abstract studies that nevertheless capture the essence of the still life Buckley explores in depth.

In her foreword, Buckley writes, “To me, the dryness of the desert has a certain resonance with the cement and stone of New York City, while the desert’s mountain backdrop is reminiscent of the jagged skyline. This experience required a new kind of patience; rather than trying to alter the environment to get the shot I wanted, I yielded to its might and majesty.”

That’s not bad advice for anyone who encounters this majestic book. Surrender to its mystery, its esthetic and its seductive sensibility. #

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