Christopher Langley, a life-long educator, has lived in and studied the Mojave Desert for more than forty years. Working as a film historian, a founder of the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine and Inyo County Film Commissioner, he focuses on the desert’s complex relationship with cinema and how land plays an essential role in the story of our lives.
He is the author of two Images of America books Lone Pine and Mount Whitney as well as a short history of Death Valley film history called From Jayhawkers to Jawas. He collaborates with photographer Osceola Refetoff in an on-going project called High & Dry: dispatches from the land of little rain. Their work appears regularly on KCET Artbound and in the Mojave Desert magazine The Sun Runner. They are at work on a book about the dying mining town of Trona on the edge of Death Valley.
Langley has also published in Boom: a Journal of California; Arid Journal; and Palm Springs Life. For more than twelve years he has published an on-going column in The Inyo Register called “Inyo Film Journal.” These columns will be the basis of several forthcoming books including Dust! Doom! Death! Destruction! The Film History of Death Valley and An Epic and Intimate Landscape: The Film History of Lone Pine, California. He is also at work on Clarence Badger: A Silent Film Director Steps from the Shadows.
Langley is now president of the Inyo County School Board, which is engaged in creating and running a series of small charter high schools in L.A. in partnership with YouthBuild and the California Conservation Corp. He calls the project “entrepreneurial education.” The twenty-six school sites average about 100 students a piece and serve a population looking to get their lives back on track. Langley is also co-founder of the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group; Langley’s environmental activism has won several commendations including a National Conservation Cooperation Award and Sierra Business Council 20/20 Award. The group now has legislation in Congress to make this popular filming and recreation area a National Scenic Area.
Film by Eric Minh Swenson. High & Dry is a long-term exploration of the deserts of the American West by writer/historian Christopher Langley and photographer Osceola Refetoff. Balancing images and words with the personal and historical, the cross-platform collaboration focuses on the remnants and future of human activity across these vast open spaces, territory that will inevitably be dominated by immense wind and solar arrays and the controversial dynamics of critical resource allocation.
AND WHAT IS THE “20 MILE SHADOW?”
Mary Austin first wrote about it while living in the Owens Valley.
The Owens Valley is about twenty miles across from the crest of the Sierra Nevada to the Inyo Mountains. As the sun sets behind the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the shadow reaches across the valley and crawls up the western face of the Inyo Mountains, producing a twenty mile shadow.
Writer Ellen Melloy writes about this natural phenomenon:
“I was a pine-cedar dweller, denizen of the mountains’ gentler, more temperate west flank. But I knew I could defect to this desert valley in a heartbeat. From camp at sunset the Sierra cast its shadow over the valley to the Inyos. The shadow was twenty miles across.”
The Anthropology of Turquoise p. 67
The 20 Mile Shadow repeats almost every day in the Owens Valley where I live. I often sit in my front room, pause from my writing to watch the shadow slide up the Inyo Mountains’ face. It’s one of the many reasons why I love the California desert. I hope some of my future publications will bear the 20 Mile Shadow Press imprint.