Boundary Landscapes – Signal Tower On Hill Overlooking Arivaca

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

12×20″ wet collodion ambrotype view of surveillance tower near Arivaca Arizona.  The tower is part of a now altered “virtual fence” plan to “secure” the international border with Mexico.  The initial test of the plan was called Project 28 after the 28 miles of terrain to be covered during the test.  A 21st century upgrade of the towers common in the Douglas and Naco areas of the borderlands, this tower has improved visible light and infrared optical capabilities as well as Ground Surveillance Radar (see rotating rectangle at the top of the tower visible in the plate detail below) to locate and track multiple ground targets.

Making the 12×20″ plates posed many challenges which were enhanced by the environment and distance.  Particularity, in the case of this image the weather, distance and water supply were important factors.  The tower was located approximate 140 miles from my base camp which makes for a 300 mile day.  Factor in the volatile Monsoon Season weather with 30 to 50% chance of storms each day starting at around 11am and it becomes very possible to make the trip only to find the weather not favorable. Without making the trip it is almost impossible to tell if the weather will be a factor so the only choice is to go and to go early.  Lastly my water tank on the jeep held 10 gallons of water, which is enough to produce four to five 12×20″ plates.  Imagine taking your digital gear 140 miles and then only be allowed to make 4 exposures once you arrived.  Be thankful you would not need to worry about chemical inconsistencies, breaking your plates, spilling the silver bath, or…well you get the idea.   This is almost a forgotten why of thinking about photographic image making, one centered on restrictions.

Elk Mountain Signal Tower - Timothy O'Sullivan

Elk Mountain Signal Tower – Timothy O’Sullivan

The Boundary Landscapes project is highly influenced by the work of Timothy O’Sullivan conducted during the King and later Wheeler surveys of the American West.  Many of the images also have a hint of elements present in O’Sullivan’s Civil War visual record.  As I found myself drawn to the surveillance and communications towers scattered around the remote desert, O’Sullivan also, at least on one day was also interested in communication/surveillance towers.  The images above and below are views of the signal tower on Elk Mountain which overlooked the Antietam battlefield.  As I type this post I am uncertain of the exact number of negatives O’Sullivan made of this particular signal tower, but look closely at the images provided and you will see they are of different moments in time based on the positions of the men pictured.  I can think of at least one other view that I have seen meaning  at least three plates were made of this tower.  The time, technology, and terrain are not the same in my and O’Sullivan’s images of towers, but the towers functions are.


~ by Phil Nesmith on December 8, 2012.

One Response to “Boundary Landscapes – Signal Tower On Hill Overlooking Arivaca”

  1. […] have been making lots of references to Timothy O’Sullivan since the summer because of the recent work I have been entangled […]

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