THE TITLE OF JAMES EVANS’S NEW series of Big Bend photographs, “The Camera Never Sleeps,” begs an easy joke: Doesn’t the camera have to stay awake when the lazy cameraman is so often out like a light? It’s a crack Evans makes himself. If you’ve only heard of him, it’s probably for his pictures. But if you’ve ever met him—and if you’ve passed through tiny Marathon, you probably have—then what you likely noticed first was his constant giggling. He’s not overburdened by the need to take himself seriously.
Don’t be fooled. Beneath the comedy is a photographer who constantly challenges himself. In 1989, to get better at shooting people and landscapes, Evans moved from Austin to Marathon. A dozen years later, wanting to make the area seem new again, he started shooting at night. He would drive into the desert, set up his beloved Hasselblad, open the shutter, and go to sleep on top of his pickup. Eventually, he started pointing a high-powered Q-beam at objects—a prickly pear, an ocotillo, a graveyard cross—to “paint them with light,” as he put it.
The results are a truly new perspective. The streaking stars don’t betray the stillness so much as give visual proof of the magic in the air out there. And the unexpected illumination echoes the desert’s basic mystery: What’s all this light doing here in the middle of the night? What’s all this beauty doing here in the middle of nowhere?
And it also begs a second wisecrack, one the moderately humble Evans would probably not make: He outshoots most photographers in his sleep.
Left: Octotillo and Stars Big Bend National Park, 2004
Right: Prickly Pear with Orion Big Bend National Park, 2004
Left: Sotols Big Bend National Park, 2004
Right: Marathon Motel Marathon, 2000
Left: Death Welcoming Marathon, 2005
Right: Moonrise at Sotol Vista Big Bend National Park, 2004