Samantha Chow

For more than 25 years, John Annerino has photographed and explored the hidden wonders of the Southwest. His passion for photography evolved from guiding students and clients on “wilderness journeys” where he hiked, climbed and camped among Arizona’s deserts, canyons and mountains – always with a camera dangling from his neck and at the ready. Since then, Annerino has pursued photography full time with a passion for the Southwest and its beauty.

In his new book, America’s Outback, Annerino takes readers on a journey through the Southwest with recent and historical images. He includes literary quotes from early travelers, authors and American Indians alongside the images to exemplify how the landscape influenced their travels.

Recently, we spoke with Annerino about his new book and his passion for landscape photography. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

What inspired you to make your new book, America’s Outback? Why cover the Southwest in particular?
Crossing empty ground on foot from dawn to dusk, I bore witness to nature’s palette, brushstrokes, and ever-changing hues of color, and I came to realize this trilingual landscape where my spirit touched down was like no other place on Earth. I’d made it my mission to go off the grid into its unknown lands in search of rarely seen earthscapes, take seldom-seen remote exposures, and photograph affable locals and their enduring traditions. I explored it by foot, raft, rope, canoe, sea kayak, seagoing panga — and, ill-advisedly, from the back of an ornery mule. I wanted to disappear into the landscape to photograph my journeys with the colors of the earth, note my perceptions and compose evocative essays.

How did you choose to organize your book?
I’ve organized the book into four far-flung explorations that were largely defined by each chapter’s geography, and interwove them with discoveries, adventures, historical vignettes and galleries of color images.

What attracts you to landscape photography?
After years of exploring the great Southwest, it was plain to me that the extraordinary geography was sculpted by forces of nature that touched my soul. Volcanic mountain islands erupted high above desert seas, sometimes creating elliptical craters that resembled the surface of the moon. Thundering cataracts tumbled into flood-swollen rivers that carved deep chasms through cliffs, canyons and sierras. Towering monuments and mysterious hoodoos, honed by wind, water and stone-splitting freeze-thaw erosion, resembled ancient deities like the Navajos’ Diné. Mystifying stone murals and otherworldly figures, etched and painted by Native hands, remain hidden among wind-scoured terra-cotta mesas that stretched across the Four Corners and Painted Desert region from one glorious sunrise to the next.

What do you look for when composing a scenic image?
The lay of the land, striking visual landmarks, captivating points of view, geography and geology, natural light, color, form, texture, weather.

How do you find your locations? Do you look for hidden gems or familiar places?
My earliest inspiration for exploring the natural world beyond my horizon lines came from reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Explorer: "Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges — Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!” Just go! That’s what I did, off the grid. I nearly always went in search of what I call “remote exposures” of mythic landscapes and secret places, seldom visited, explored or photographed. What’s out there, who lived there, what did they see?

Do you prefer shooting at sunset, or sunrise? Why?
Sunset and sunrise are coveted times for most photographers. I’ve discovered that sunset and sunrise — and midday light — offer different opportunities. It’s all about the light, the weather, the season and the clarity of visibility.

What do you hope people will take away from your book?
Two editors who wrote advance reviews summed it up best: I wanted to photograph and write about “what's most precious, astounding, and spectacular about this magical corner of our country." And I wanted to take viewers and readers “off the grid into the Southwest's hidden world of wonder and marvel and show ... this amazing landscape that many of us will never see or understand."

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