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Whitewater Country Club: An Abandoned Wasteland in Palm Springs

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Sand dunes reclaim tennis courts at the
abandoned Whitewater Country Club in Palm Springs.

Images shot on Fuji Velvia 100 film - Click to Enlarge

On the northwest end of Palm Springs, California there sits a sprawling expanse of land where nature is reclaiming cracked tennis courts, crumbling foundations, and golf cart paths that once guided visitors through lush fairways. Sand traps that were carefully placed decades ago are now virtually indiscernible from the natural dunes accumulating along deteriorating fences and cinderblock walls. Palm trees dot the landscape, shabby and neglected, some with their tops sheared completely off.

This is Whitewater Country Club.

Formerly know as Palm Springs Country Club, this golf course opened in 1954 but fell into disrepair about 10 years ago when the owner passed away, millions of dollars in debt, sending the Whitewater Country Club into foreclosure. Since then, it's been left abandoned and decaying in the harsh desert elements.

There are plans to revive this land with condominiums and single-family homes, but the process is slow-going. Permitting, approvals, local pushback...you know how that goes. From what the news articles report, it sounds like some residents are hesitant about the proposed plan due to how dense the housing could be. But it goes without saying that pretty much all residents agree that something needs be done about this place. After all, can you imagine what a rundown post-apocalyptic-looking golf course does to their property value?

Although this little slice of the apocalypse is a real drag for local residents, for visiting photographers like myself it's a veritable playground. Photographers love urban decay. I'm ashamed to admit it - because it's just so damned cliché - but there is something about deteriorating structures that begs to be photographed. My appreciation might stem subconsciously from a rebellious urge towards big developers. Having grown up in Irvine, California where for decades there has been a ceaseless gobbling up of wild spaces by multi-billion dollar corporations to make way for more overpriced high-density housing, a part of me gets some deep satisfaction in seeing nature reclaim what's hers. It's a nice reminder that even greed is ultimately powerless against the elements.

Greed and overindulgence has created countless environmental catastrophes and longterm destruction including climate change, but in the grand scheme of things, humans are just a blip on the radar screen of Mother Nature. We may pollute this planet into uninhabitability, but nature will bounce back in the long run. It's incredible when you think about it. This planet could flick us off like so many gnats and, in fact, would thrive without us around. Nature reminds us of this all the time. Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes - little reminders here and there to show us who's boss. And of these "reminders," I think the decaying remnants of human development are one of the least-destructive and most fun to photograph. The desert's reclamation of this property is really a quaint and harmless example of our species' impermanence compared to the awesome force of a hurricane.

I don't mean to sound bleak. Environmental issues are near and dear to my heart, and it's because I'm in absolute awe of nature's beauty and power. Mankind has made countless mistakes in caring for this planet, but we are moving in the right direction. Changes are happening and people are caring more. We have a long way to go yet, but we're on our way.

But enough with the serious environmental stuff. Let's talk photography.

I shot these photos using a Fujifilm GA645Zi medium format rangefinder camera with Fuji Velvia 100 film. This film is a high-contrast high-saturation film that gives these photos great vibrance and harshness, that "punchy" look as some photographers will call it. I shot in late afternoon to get some of that warm desert light coming in at a low angle, which creates depth and color. I'll be the first to say that these photos are not "beautiful" in the traditional sense. I mean, look at those palm trees with the sheared-off tops. Is there anything more sad than a palm tree missing its top? But there are two things that stand front and center in these photos - the passing of time and the decay of things - and those can both be beautiful through the right eyes. They certainly are through mine.

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Whitewater Country Club, Palm Springs, CA

Self portrait

Octopus Agave, Puffy Clouds, and Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film
Shot with a Fuji GA645Zi Camera

Click Images to Enlarge

There are three things I love - succulents, puffy white clouds, and Fuji Velvia 100 film. And when they all come together at the same time, that’s a perfect storm of good vibes.

This year’s El Nino has brought some great things to southern California. Of course, the extra precipitation is a godsend with the ongoing drought, but there are certain other side effects to El Nino that I’ve really enjoyed. First, this spring we’ve had a higher-than-normal share of days with what I call “the perfect sky.” It’s that crystal clear blue color behind a sea of fair-weather cumulus clouds - those herds of puffy cotton balls gently migrating across the sky. And second, El Nino has coaxed out some impressive spring blooms.

Back in March I found myself with some spare time on one of these “perfect sky” days, so I grabbed my delightfully fun-to-use Fuji GA645zi camera, loaded it up with Velvia 100 film, and ventured out to the Jeffrey Open Space Trail in Irvine. I went out with no plans of what exactly to shoot. All I knew was I wanted to incorporate the sky in some way.

The Jeffrey Open Space Trail is a developed walking trail with landscaping that features some very impressive succulents. As I ventured along the trail, I came across a cluster of Octopus Agave plants - an agave from Mexico with fleshy leaves that twist and crawl out from its core. Shooting up from the center of each plant was a long, slender spike about 15 feet tall, each wrapped in countless green-yellow bulbs. They were stunning. The flowers were not in full bloom on this day, but still, the unique shape and design of these plants were begging to be photographed.

I decided to concentrate my compositions on these alien-like spires shooting up into that Monet sky because I loved how unusual they looked. I excluded the base of these plants from my compositions to preserve the bizarreness of what stood before me. With no base to provide context, these spikes became even more curious. I kept my aperture relatively wide open to let the background blur out ever so slightly, further drawing attention to the plants against their backdrop. And that color palette of green-yellow, sky blue, and white…man, oh, man…Mother Nature really knows how to pair colors, doesn’t she?

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

For the film geeks out there, I want to tell you a little more about the camera. I bought this Fuji GA645zi off eBay as my “walking around” camera. My main landscape photography cameras are so big and slow to set up (a Shen Hao TFC 617-A and a Mamiya RZ67) that I decided I should carry a lightweight, point-and-shooter to fill in the gaps. This old camera has a lot of modern amenities including auto focus, auto exposure modes, flash, exposure compensation, and even a power zoom lens (albeit not a very wide focal length to work with).

Fuji GA645Zi Medium Format Camera

I have to say, I have fallen in love with this camera. The size is just right, it’s easy to use, and the power zoom function is great for fine-tuning composition. I use this camera most often in Program (P) mode or Aperture Priority (A) mode instead of full manual so I can concentrate on the composition instead of metering. The auto exposure meter has been very reliable. Exposures are often perfect and the exposure compensation lets me sway it when I know it’s going to make a mistake. This camera is flat-out fun to use, which might be the best reason to own a camera.

I learn something new or am reminded of an old lesson every time I take out my camera. On this occasion, I was reminded that I need to get out with my camera in-hand more often - no plan, no preconceived ideas of what to shoot - just get out with my camera and see what the world shows me. Because who knows when you’ll find a 15-foot tall alien plant against a perfect sky?

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 30

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 30 - Park at Night on Ilford Delta 100 filmPark at Night - Irvine, CA
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 7:55pm
Click to Enlarge

Well, I finally made it to the 30th and final day of my photo a day challenge. I again found myself out at night to make my exposures, this time at a neighborhood park near where I grew up. The real reason I chose to visit this park to take photos is because there is a beautiful Gratitude and Honor Memorial set up there for the fallen heroes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And seeing as how the date on this night was September 11th, I thought it would be fitting to photograph the memorial.

Here is a shot of just one section of one of the panels on this memorial. There are  20 panels in all - each one filled with names of soldiers killed in combat. As of this writing there are 6,714 names engraved in the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial (per www.northwoodmemorial.com). If you carefully review the names in the photo below, it's chilling to note some of the ages of these soldiers.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 30 - Northwood Park Military Memorial on Ilford Delta 100 filmWar Memorial - Irvine, CA
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 7:26pm
Click to Enlarge

The panels are glossy, so it was difficult to avoid reflections clouding the names. I first tried to get my own reflection out of the frame, but then I decided to let my outline show in the composition. I felt that my silhouette might serve as a reminder that these names aren't simply names on a plaque but names that represent real flesh-and-blood people fallen in the line of duty.

If you're in the area, I strongly recommend visiting this memorial.

After taking this photo of the memorial, I decided to venture around the park in search of other shots to finish off my final roll of film. I eventually found my way to the back of the park where I fixed my camera on a tree and lamppost with an interesting backdrop of silhouetted rooflines. Much like the photo from yesterday's blog entry, I think this shot of the lamppost is going to speak much more to me than anyone else. As I continue to mature in my photography, I'm realizing that more than capturing moments or subjects, I really want to capture "vibes" and emotions - those deeply-ingrained feelings that can't be articulated in words. This image of the lamppost and tree, I feel, captures a "vibe" that I can't articulate. I don't know if you'll get that same vibe from it, but that's what I like about it.

This 30-day photo a day challenge has been a huge growing experience for me. It helped me discover new approaches to photography and how to find photos in situations and subjects I wouldn't have otherwise thought to photograph. It helped me reach a point where I know now what to do next. I have project ideas sprouting up in my head left and right. The creative juices are flowing and I know where to go from here. This challenge certainly served its purpose.

Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.