West Texas: Encounter With the Glowing Gate

West Texas is an area with a lot in common with other parts of the Southwest, but there is a striking difference:

Private property–on a scale unknown anywhere else in the United States.

If you go there expecting to recreate you are ushered down to the 1 million acres of Big Bend National Park.  Don’t think twice about it…it’s well worth the drive. But before you even get there you’ll have passed by a number of colossal ranches, some rivaling small European nations in size. In other words: this is not southern Utah (a place which could be described as the world’s largest primitive campsite).

I’ve made numerous trips to West Texas because Big Bend is hard to stay away from. It was on the rebound from one of those vacations that we encountered the glowing gate.

There’s not much to the story.  We were motoring across an expanse of grasslands as the sun was preparing to set.  I saw the gate and pulled off the road. Grabbing my Hasselblad, I stepped into the dry air. The gate burst into a furious red color which is difficult to forget.

The picture was made on negative film with my incomparable Superwide.  We weren’t far from Marfa, a place reknowned for its mysterious lights and the minimalism of Donald Judd.

The glowing gate has had several incarnations. It began as a C Print a few weeks after I took the picture.   Years later it was drum scanned and then “remastered” into Photoshop.  Can we begin feeling nostalgia for drum scans?

Nowadays the photograph is dressed up with pigment inks, but it’s pretty much the same old print. By happy chance, I’d used good film that day and an equally suited lens.

I wish I could tell you otherwise, but Photoshop has never been needed to amplify the red of the gate. It’s always been there, a dormant clump of silver halide hunkered down in the negative–chemical evidence triggered by an event from the previous century.

12 thoughts on “West Texas: Encounter With the Glowing Gate

  1. Hi John, I have seen a similar light, just as the sun was setting, illuninate a tree in my garden, seeming to set it on fire. I wasn’t able to capture the phenomenon as you have. Thanks for sharing the background to this very striking picture. Living in the UK on this tiny island, it’s difficult to imagine all that space.


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