It might seem to be an odd confluence, but Joshua Tree National Park is the backdrop for an exhibit of photographs and album cover art featuring such artists as America and the Eagles. But if you're familiar with the album covers, and the park, you understand the connection.
The exhibit featuring photographs and album cover art designed by creative director and Grammy Award-winner Gary Burden with photographs by noted music photographer Henry Diltz opened August 10 at the park's visitor center in Joshua Tree, California. The showcase is a special segment of the park's 75th anniversary celebration.
The exhibit features images of the music groups America and the Eagles taken during the early 1970s in Joshua Tree National Monument. The exhibit, curated by Mr. Burden in partnership with Joshua Tree National Park, features more than 30 images.
The following thoughts from Mr. Burden explain why he turned to the desert, and Joshua Tree, so many times.
The desert has always held a great deal of fascination and appeal for me. Ever since I was a young kid and would cross the desert in the family car with the water bag tied to the front bumper and hear stories of how dangerous it was.
“Gotta always have your water bag filled and never wander away because you can get lost in an instant and never be found again. There are so many things on the desert that can kill you: animals, plants and the desert itself, the heat, the lack of water. It is an inhospitable place.”
It didn’t feel like that to me. It was so powerful and beautiful I wanted to immerse myself in it. I was intrigued by the stories of Cabeza de Vaca the sixteenth century Spanish conquistador who got separated from his troops and wandered across the desert alone for six years. He made it out and was a hero.
When I was in other parts of the world I would hear impressions of people who had never been to California talking about how boring the place is "...there are no seasons, it is always the same, there is no change in the plants like there are back east..." and I would have to argue that we do have seasons.
Even in the most barren parts of the desert there are little plants that bloom with the tiniest of flowers, leaves that change color... Seasons! But subtle seasons and changes you have to pay attention to enjoy. Maybe even get down on your hands and knees to see the tiny plants and animals that you could easily walk right by or tread on and never notice.
You have to pay attention! I’ve always liked that. I love looking out across a seemingly monochromatic desert landscape and then noticing and treasuring the beautifully colored delicate flowers erupting in a profusion of colors.
Later I came to love the stories of the native people who not only survived but prospered in the desert. They paid attention and knew what to do and what not to do. They listened to Mother Nature and respected her rules and had rich lives because they had respect. They knew where the water holes were, they knew the plants that would yield enough water to survive on. They paid attention to the animals and knew to step carefully. They had respect.
I like that. I like living within the rules of a real force much larger than man’s laws. When you listen and have respect you can survive. When you do, it makes you so elated, and you realize it is sweet to be a part of nature and survive life or death challenges by being respectful and paying attention.
As I got older and went out on my own I found living in the crowded city a challenge that was dictated by rules not of mother nature’s making, not organic, without natural order, with no discernable center and I felt more lost than if I were alone in the middle of the desert.
I loved going into nature and found the desert to be a place of refuge. A place of great power and mystery. A place where there is, in fact, an abundance of life and beauty. A safe place. A place where you are tested and when you pass the test and survive you can rejoice and feel truly alive.
Later I brought other people here to Joshua Tree and shared what I knew and felt. The right ones got it and cherished it. They came back on their own to enjoy what the desert offers, again and again.
We are very fortunate to live in an area that has and protects our desert and makes it available to everyone. There is much to learn. Much beauty. Great peace and tranquility that will always improve our lot here on earth. Thanks to the keepers of the special wild places, our National Park Service.
Mr. Burden is considered a pioneer in the field of album cover art, however he began his career as an architect and designed a house for singer Cass Elliot of the group, the Mamas and the Poppas. It was Ms. Elliot who suggested he consider the field of album art design.
Mr. Burden has designed album covers for some of the most important musical artists of the last 40 years including the Doors, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and comedian Richard Pryor, as well as the Eagles and America.
His collaboration with Neil Young and Jenice Heo on The Neil Young Archives, Volume 1 box set led to his achievement as winner of the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards in the category for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package. He has received three other Grammy nominations.
Mr. Burden’s discography includes more than 120 albums over a 40-year career.
The exhibit is free to the public. The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.