44. Tracks, Drying Mud, San Juan River, Utah 3.27.2024.jpg

Tracks, Drying Mud, San Juan River, Utah

As we rafted down southern Utah's San Juan River, we saw that a flash flood had raced down the river ahead of us, originating from one of its side canyons after a late summer storm. Once the river receded and the silty flow settled out along the riverbanks at the entrance to Oljeto Canyon, the desert air began hardening the fresh blanket of mud.

As we exited the river boats, mud stuck to our sandals and squirted around our feet, creating a ridge of slurry that cupped our tracks. Some of us skid along after a running start, others slipped while gingerly navigating the slick scrim, and a few carefully and deliberately placed each foot straight down and lifted straight up. As the tracks dried, cracks formed. Other creatures left their marks. Small birds stamped claw prints. Worms' underbodies created small, squiggly trails and left engravings that mapped out circuitous and seemingly arbitrary routes.

As I absorbed the tableau, it reminded me of Roy Lichtenstein's brushstroke paintings, which parodied art theory concepts of the 1950s and 60s by caricaturing the painter's primary mark - the brushstroke. Aided by fluidity and gravity, these footprints, claw marks, and worm paths were unselfconscious gestures. Their canvas was mud, and they felt – like Lichtenstein's brushstroke paintings – instinctive, spontaneous, energetic, and slyly humorous.

- James Baker