Enchanting the Desert


An interactive digital monograph by Nicholas Bauch

THIS WORK IS BASED ON a single historical document: a slideshow made by commercial photographer Henry G. Peabody between 1899 and 1930 at the Grand Canyon of Arizona. The project reconstructs Peabody's slideshow in a web-based medium, allowing readers to see beyond the photographer's presentation of his forty-three individual image-objects. Enchanting the Desert, instead, uses the photographs to spatially narrate the cultural history of the Grand Canyon, laying bare the European American project of remaking this space, focusing on specific territories within the vast region where the subtle mechanics of colonization unfolded.

Viewers have for over a century visually swallowed whole the entirety of the details available to them in these pictures. With eyes agape, information has down-poured into the back recesses of our collective memory, where it carries out its duty of producing an expectation of what the Grand Canyon is, and what it looks like. But now it is time to temper that downpour, to move slowly through the slideshow, to look at its details with sympathetic, critical, giving, and analytic care, as it has never been seen before.

Doing so is not only reading the photographic objects to know the Grand Canyon, but is redefining the very way we come to know all landscapes that carry importance to us.

Readers of Enchanting the Desert encounter a pattern language that describes a new cultural becoming of this great landscape. Another layer on the palimpsest of meanings that have accrued here for nearly 10,000 years, the European American experience of the Grand Canyon is yet an altogether new one. Readers are given the opportunity to critically—and cartographically—evaluate how Peabody's camera vision helped produce a national vision of the Grand Canyon, a vision that recast the space of the Grand Canyon in a new light.



Enchanting the Desert is the geographical revival of Henry Peabody's traveling Grand Canyon slideshow made in the early part of the twentieth century. It helped set a template for how we see the Grand Canyon today.
Enchanting the Desert is a regional portrait of the Grand Canyon that creatively interprets the space produced by a series of landscape photographs. Building cartographic portraits of the photographs—a spatial-analytic achievement—affords the opportunity for a place-based portrait of human inhabitation here—a humanistic achievement.
Enchanting the Desert contributes to an aesthetic for the production of cultural space. It is a conversation between two modes of visual geographic representation: the pictorial and the cartographic. Holding these two in concert is to explore between emotion and analysis.
Enchanting the Desert uncovers the contributions of one of the Grand Canyon's earliest commercial promoters. Mostly absent from the historical canon until now, Henry Peabody's photographs open up new ways to learn about the place-based human stories that enrich this region that we love.
Using an established medium—the website application—Enchanting the Desert introduces a genre of scholarship—the born-digital interactive monograph. The medium allows for technical leaps impossible in a print publication. The genre takes advantage of these leaps by performing spatial narrative in an inventive new way.