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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

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs - Fuji Velvia 100 Film
Click Any Image to Enlarge

This past September I had plans to visit Cabo San Lucas for a week with my family. We'd been looking forward to it for months. We're pretty much all self-employed which means no paid time off, which also means we take very few week-long vacations. We were counting down the days, getting our passports ready, buying new swimsuits...the whole nine yards. Then the morning of departure rolled around. Our flight was cancelled. Turns out Cabo San Lucas was about to be pummeled by Hurrican Odile.

Thank God we didn't fly out a day earlier.

At first, we were all pretty upset. A cancelled vacation is nothing to complain about when the residents down there were about to lose everything, but the morning of, we had no idea how serious the hurricane would turn out to be. Since this hurricane hadn't even been forecasted in the weather reports we saw, we assumed the airlines were just being overly cautious. Once we saw the destruction the hurricane brought later that week, we counted our lucky stars for avoiding it.

With our week wide open and all of us itching to put on our swimsuits, we quickly scrambled for a plan B.

Flying anywhere was off the table - tickets would be outrageously expensive. That left locations within about 6 hours drive of Orange County. San Francisco would have been nice, but just a tad too far away. Santa Barbara was suggested, but a few of us quickly vetoed that. Santa Barbara is pretty, but it wouldn't feel like much of a vacation compared to Orange County. Orange County is just an artificial Santa Barbara anyway. I literally live in an apartment complex in OC with "Santa Barbara style architecture" stated in its leasing literature.

Then I remembered something I'd been wanting to try for months. I'd heard you can rent retro 60's-era houses in Palm Springs, CA complete with Mad Men style furniture and a private pool. I'd looked into it before, but hadn't yet found the time or money to do it. This Cabo cancellation was the perfect opportunity. Ah yes, Jack Daniels and Sinatra by a private pool - it was starting to sound better than Cabo.

With iPad and iPhone in hand, I spent the morning finding just the right Palm Springs retro rental property for our group of 8. We found the perfect place with Oasis Rentals (www.oasisrentals.com) called "Tangerine Modern." Five bedrooms, a spacious layout, and floor-to-ceiling windows opening up to the coolest backyard I've ever seen - yeah, this would do.

Needless to say, we had a hell of a time. It was a much-needed break from the daily grind. The September Palm Springs heat was stifling, but the crystalline waters in our backyard provided all the relief we craved.

The sunrises in Palm Springs are gorgeous. The clear desert air provides little barrier for the sun to paint the palm trees and mountains with its golden light. I wanted to sleep in on my vacation, but I just couldn't let that morning light slip past me without breaking out the camera. So on one of the mornings, I got up in the wee hours (when it was already pushing 90 degrees outside) and snapped some shots around the neighborhood. The suburban setting at my feet meant I couldn't do my typical landscapes with foreground and background, so instead I opted to focus my lens up on the trees and mountain above. Fuji Velvia 100 film brought out the colors like only Velvia can.

So the moral of the story, I suppose, is that a cancelled vacation is not worth getting upset about when an entire town is looking down the barrel of destruction. When you get hit with a first-world problem, just come up with a plan B and thank God you aren't dealing with a real problem - like a hurricane.

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 11

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 11 - Bed and Lamp Bed and Lamp - Irvine, CA
Friday, August 23, 2013 at 10:45pm
Click to Enlarge

Life can sometimes get in the way of photography. That's what happened on day 11 of my Photo a Day Challenge. It was a Friday and my mind was more focused on some R&R than taking pictures. The whole day went by without a single photo op calling out to me. I didn't make much of an effort to go find one either.

As the day wound down and my girlfriend and I made it back to our place after a night out, I realized that I only had a little over an hour left in the day to take my photo. I ruled out anything outside because I just didn't feel like getting my shoes back on. That left the small confines of my apartment. Trying to find a good shot in my apartment is the ultimate in limited options. But I chose not to panic. I'd find something.

Likely because my mind was on the topic of getting to sleep soon, I found a composition with my bed and the nightstand next to it. Our white bedding, black frame, and silver lamp would look great on black and white film because this arrangement is nearly monochrome in real life. Looking back on it now, I think the whole driving force behind this composition was my tiredness. I framed up the photo as if it's from my point of view, about to get into bed. This scene is what I dream of when I want nothing more than sleep. If I'd been hungry at that moment, I probably would have photographed a box of donuts. I suppose my primal urges influence my artistic decisions more than I thought...

I set up my camera on a tripod and very carefully arranged the glass of water on the nightstand so that there would be no distracting overlap in the lines. Notice how the back edge of the nightstand goes right between the back rim and front rim of the glass. If that table edge had intersected the rim of the glass, I think the objects would have gotten a little lost on each other. And then I adjusted the lamp head again and again until I could see a nice bright rim on the bottom edge, but without revealing the lightbulb completely.  I also made sure that the shadow on the wall created a pleasing diagonal edge that didn't overlap the bed itself. My exposure was f/11 at 1/4 of a second.

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