“The Joshua Tree National Park” - its original name - has been a national park since 1994 under the “California Desert Protection Act”, and prior to that had been a national monument since 1936. It is named after the Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia) that are native to the park.
But it is not just nature that makes this wilderness area unique, it is also the exceptional people who live here, a community of artists and musicians. These people, their constructions and their way of life are what inspired Nicola Carignani's photography project.
The Italian photographer has immortalised a whole world in itself with “Obtain-ium” – a world that is totally off the conventional grid of contemporary life.
“Obtain-ium” is an invented term coined by the word obtain - in this case obtaining abandoned objects found in the desert or in local thrift stores or even from dumpster diving - and the suffix -ium, often used in the names of elements, almost as if it were an imaginary metal alloy. The Joshua Tree locals bandy this word about a lot because it expresses their relationship with the world “of things”. Things that are stories of upcycling objects, ideas and even survival strategies. But Nicola Carignani doesn't use his shots as a documentary reportage of how this odd “tribe” lives and survives in such an extreme and awe-inspiring environment, nor is it his intention to celebrate this highly sustainable way of living. What he aims to do is share what he saw when he arrived at the crossroads where the high Mojave desert meets the low Colorado desert, the almost unreal colours, a bit like the words of anthropologist John Lubbock, who writes in "The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in": “What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. ... Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them”.
Nicola Carignani uses Obtain-ium to help us become creatives and not simply spectators. And his photos invariably set the scene for the notes of the album by the famous U2, “The Joshua Tree”, both because of the cover immortalising the same Mojave desert that Carignani photographed and because the people who live here really may have found what they were looking for.
Christiane Bürklein (@chrisbuerklein)