Water Mining (Eaton Canyon)

2021, 5 min., cyanotype and plant material on 16mm film, recorded and finished digitally

Water Mining (Eaton Canyon) is a nature film made with a stream, rather than about it. Its images come from a combination of cyanotype, a blue-and-white photographic process dating back to the 1840s, and actual plant material adhered to physical film. I hand-coated clear 16mm leader with cyanotype chemicals, then used sunlight to make photogram-style, cameraless exposures of plant matter I had gathered in and around the stream in Eaton Canyon. Cyanotypes are processed using water, and for this film, I used stream water that I had also collected from the canyon. I approached the film as though the stream, what was in it, its surroundings, the film, the chemicals, and I were all extensions of one another.

Part of the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains, Eaton Canyon has been a popular hiking spot for years. I have been visiting there since I was a young child. It’s a place I know well and one that I come to know anew again and again. It is a steep-walled canyon that had known people for thousands of years before I ever came along, and it is still marked by traces left by some of those people. One of those traces, its name for well over a century now, comes from the 19th century settler who first started diverting large amounts of its water for human use nearby. Other settlers bored deep into the canyon walls to mine for water. Metal pipes and concrete structures are reminders of earlier eras of water removal, and the canyon’s water is still part of Pasadena’s water supply.

Water is on our minds a lot these days in California and has been for a long time. It is central to histories of Eaton Canyon and the broader USAmerican West. Those histories are also intertwined with settler colonialism, extraction, genocide, and also with nature image making. The imaging/imagining of nature—in paintings, in poems, in Sierra Club calendars, in nature films—as a pristine, untouched space separate from people, as a destination for visiting and for escape, relies on the erasure and denial of the ongoing violence on which the idea of the USAmerican West was built and is continually rebuilt. Water Mining (Eaton Canyon) is part of a larger ongoing project to pursue images that question these inherited traditions of nature imaging and propose other possibilities.