Monday, March 15, 2010

Torrey Pines at Sunset ©Bill Evarts

April 2010 Newsletter
Bill Evarts: Showcasing Torrey Pines State Reserve

Self-taught in photography, Bill Evarts focuses on landscapes, deserts and the environment. A native San Diegan, educated in the Classics at Stanford, Evarts spent the first ten years after college in conventional photography as he worked the rounds of weddings, Little League teams, school proms and graduations.
As his work became routine Bill turned to his childhood experiences of traveling the Great Southwest with a father who found it almost impossible to pass up a historical landmark or desert waterhole, no matter how remote or obscure. Bill had already developed considerable expertise with black and white photography, and found increasing satisfaction using color transparency film to capture the broad landscapes and details of his native state with his 4X5 view camera.
In 1984 he took the plunge and decided to leave the madding crowds behind, preferring the solitude of the landscape photographer. His beard and his plaid flannel shirt, he says, seem to be the badges that mark him as a follower or at least an admirer of the Ansel Adams school. His quiet and patient manner make it easy for him to wander off the beaten path, out of sight of the nearest MacDonald’s, Wendy’s or Jack in the Box; far enough that he no longer has to carefully crop in camera to avoid the latest and greatest neon sign. He still backpacks in the Sierra Nevada each year.
Evarts comes from a family tradition of historians and environmental writers. Both his grandfathers and father were nationally prominent authors and naturalists. His sister writes nature themed books for young readers, and his brother publishes award winning books on natural history subjects. For seven years in the 1980’s Evarts worked on a portfolio of photographic work of the Torrey Pines State Reserve, then wrote the text to accompany the striking color photographs in the 1994 volume.
The Torrey Pines State Reserve is home to one of the rarest trees on the planet. First identified by physician-naturalist Charles C. Parry in 1850, the Torrey Pine lives in only two small groves totaling less than 2000 trees. The more famous of the two groves is in the reserve; while a second grove survives on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California.
Named by Parry for his mentor, Dr. John Torrey, the Pinus torreyana has clusters of five needles on a long slender cone. The trees of the Reserve live on a sandstone bluff high above the beach on the California coastline about ten miles north of the downtown area of San Diego. Because the climate is semi-arid and annual rainfall is less than a foot a year, Torrey Pines in the wild are slow growing and tend to be fairly short.
Parry had been looking for coal deposits rumored to be in the cliffs just south of what was then known as Soledad Valley. Soledad, meaning solitude or alone, was an apt name for a valley well isolated from the tiny city of San Diego which then boasted of only a few thousand inhabitants.
While Parry found no coal, he recognized the unique nature of the tree and began a campaign to preserve it from wood cutters and gatherers. Ultimately successful, Parry was probably one of the original “tree huggers.” In 1899 the City of San Diego established a small park of 369 acres to encompass at least some of the rare trees. Ellen Browning Scripps, a local philanthropist, joined the effort, buying up adjoining properties and protecting additional trees. But it wasn’t until 1959 that the park was finally transferred to the State of California to become the Torrey Pines State Reserve. In 1970 the Reserve reached its present size of approximately 1750 acres.
The Reserve is a fraction of Yosemite’s 1200 square miles, and portions of it abut developed parcels, making its preservation highly unusual in an otherwise crowded piece of extremely valuable land. The small land area, surrounded by some two million people, however, contains one of California’s largest undeveloped wetlands, marred only by the crossing of Old Highway 101 and tracks of trains running between San Diego and Los Angeles. It is bordered to the east by Interstate 5 as it runs north-south from Los Angeles to San Diego, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean as its waves break upon its sandy beaches.
It was within this confined space that Bill Evarts worked his magic as he photographed the Reserve from one end to the other. Often arriving before the sun rose over the Laguna Mountains to the east, and just as often leaving after it dropped below the waves of the Pacific to the west, Evarts found ways to exclude almost every trace of human existence as he photographed from the trails, beaches, ravines and canyons of Torrey Pines. He caught the golden light of a fading day as he photographed the cliffs above the sandy shore, and he captured the glory of clouds from a clearing storm as they boiled into the sky.
He must have left no corner of the Reserve untouched as he found the rare Coastal Agave among the needles of a Torrey Pine, and the pale pastels of the evening light filtered and reflected by the boiling surf.
It’s easy to write about Evarts’ work. He’s masterful in his careful choices and gentle in his words as he describes what he has photographed.
Torrey Pines, Landscape and Legacy was finished long ago. You can still find a copy now and then, but to see more of the photographs from Evarts’ work go to the website of the Ordover Gallery in Solana Beach, California. There you can see more of his work at Torrey Pines, and you can see the many faces of the deserts of Baja California where he continues to photograph.
If you visit the website of Amigos de los Californios you’ll see another side of Bill as he and his wife, Sue, help provide medical care to remote villages high in the Sierra de San Francisco. Years ago Bill and Sue established a non-profit corporation, Amigos de los Californios, with the intent to provide medical, dental and eye care to the people of Santa Marta village and its surrounding ranchos. As you read this newsletter they will be in Baja California del Sur with a team for their annual medical clinic, and it’s all without charge to a people who have no money to pay.