Color Bars | Big Bend

Painters use palettes, fluidly mixing colors by hand. Designers create color schemes, arranging swatches in rows. What about filmmakers? What existing tool or organizational system can fully express the dynamic range of colors found in video? The gamut of shadows, midtones, and highlights contained in every image; the soft tones produced by motion blur; the in-between tints and shades emerging from bokeh?

By repurposing the color bar - a standardized test pattern unique to video - as a moving palette, this study not only explores color combinations but also the interactions between colors in motion. Each palette is paired with selected video, populated by colors found within, and treated with motion inspired, literally or figuratively, by its corresponding footage.

This series examines the landscapes of Big Bend - austere, lonesome, otherworldly - as seen through a lens of personal experience. In 2016 I ended my estrangement from Texas. After 15 years - a runaway pushing 30, having spent too much time in Southern cities, surrounded by trees and suffocated by sticky summers - I felt the pull of home, swift and strong. In this place of striking subtlety, I found I was a stranger in a familiar land.

Camera: Julianna Villarosa + Derek Torres. July 2016.
Post: Julianna Villarosa. July 2017.

This is best viewed in Google Chrome. 

Terlingua Ranch

The final days of my 28th year found me in Terlingua, Texas, last stop before Big Bend National Park. I stayed up late and woke up early, because the night is a true dark sky in these parts, because I love the desert in the blue hour. When the sun breaks the mountains, when cool turns to warm, it’s time to hide under what little shade is near and wait for evening. 

Sierra del Carmen

In West Texas I remembered what it’s like to see to the horizon. To look one way at anvil-heads, the other at empty sky. The conquistadores called this land el despoblado, the uninhabited.

The flat-top mountains of the Sierra del Carmen, fanning out into the haze, played tricks on my eyes. Faint, obscured by the neutral gradient of dry earth and air, I mistook them for banks of storm clouds.

Chisos Agave

The Chisos Basin is a sky island - an isolated mountain range surrounded by desert. Ascend five thousand or so feet from the Chihuahuan floor and the Big Bend transforms: dust and wiry ocotillo become (comparatively) balmy air and shade-trees. The Chisos Agave takes refuge here, a blue-grey rosette, solitary, so unlike the other flora.

Rio Grande

The river cuts steep canyons along much of the Big Bend, but near the old Hot Springs I gazed across into Mexico. A wall of cane chokes the banks - this is where dry heat turns to oppressive humidity. I met the river, slow and warm, a green line bisecting the vast nothing. The border feels abstract and arbitrary here, nothing much distinguishing one side from the other, a far cry from the wire fences splitting El Paso and Juárez.

Nightfall, Nowhere

A fact, unquestionably true: Texas is big, but West Texas feels even more farflung. I drove for hours each day, resisting the impulse to take in every storm, dust devil, and lone mountain. On my last evening I pulled over to stand in the prairie grass and watch the sun sink. No cars on the road, no sounds except for crickets. (It had taken a few days to acclimate but now I was used to seldom seeing and hearing other people.) A breeze, the temperature of skin. Heather purple joining dark green, becoming black.

Much later on, back in Atlanta and home-sick, I tried to find this exact spot on Google Earth and realized the futility of my efforts. It has no name. There’s nothing to search for. There’s nothing around. It was somewhere, a real place where I once stood, but now it’s lost to me.