Monument Valley, Arizona, 2022
46” x 103” Unframed 61” x 118” Framed Edition of 12
34” x 77” Unframed 49” x 92” Framed Edition of 12
When filming in Monument Valley in the spring of 2022, I asked our Navajo Guide whether there was a possibility to shoot from the rock structures to the south that stand high above the ampitheatre of mesas and monoliths. It struck me that this position of height could offer an extraordinary back drop of what is the beating heart of Southwest America.
He said it was possible, but that we would need permits and we would also need to camp up the mountains if we wanted to shoot in low light - the 15-mile journey by powerful 4-wheel drive from Kayenta is a challenge and can take up to 3 hours. There are no roads and the vehicles must face terrain that makes most off-road Land Rover car adverts look lame.
My plan was to film cowboys at the top of the escarpment and offer a layered photograph featuring one of America’s great vistas. I have seen many pictures of Monument Valley, but never this composition. That excited me, after all, originality in a place as well documented as this, is critical. John Ford got here long before me.
We chose the most experienced West Texan cowboys we knew and they travelled west to Arizona with their lead horses. But we then encountered a massive and unexpected problem - the cowboys - who are as tough as old boots, felt the ride up the cliff face was too challenging for their horses. That offers some context as to why the end photograph here is authentic; it is a problem to get horses up to the top.
Our unlikely solution was to ask the Navajo locals to ride their mustang horses up the mountain. Afterall, it’s their land and only they know the safest route to the top. Some dollars changed hands and they agreed to collaborate. The Texan cowboys meanwhile hitched a lift in the 4-wheel drive and were teased by me for not being up to the challenge.
We all camped up the top that night - 4 of my team, 3 cowboys and 5 wonderful Navajo fixers. The Navajo made a fire and cooked us a steak dinner under the stars; it made for a very special memory.
~ David Yarrow