California artist Eric Merrell has spent years trekking into Southern California deserts to paint landscapes by the moonlight for his Nocturnes series. Merrell finds his inspiration when dusk begins to take hold of the desert—he says that “When night falls in the desert it becomes almost an entirely different world. It’s hard to tell where the facts end and the fiction begins.”
A documentary short by Alec Ernest in 2016 (and featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books) allows viewers to tag along on one of these painting expeditions as he gives an insight into the moonlit world of Joshua Tree National Park. The result is a stunning glimpse of the park’s natural beauty, in a setting not often filmed.
Ernest and his crew brought along state of the art cameras that allowed them to film Joshua Tree in complete darkness, while still capturing the rich colors and breathtaking vistas of one of California's natural wonders.
The humbling vastness of the untamed desert is put into perspective visually as we see Merrell, tiny in the frame, engulfed by the nighttime horizon, lightning illuminating the sky miles away with coyotes howling in the distance. The only thing missing is that desert smell. If you can’t make it out camping in Joshua Tree anytime soon, this video is a close substitute.
And for the film nerds wondering how in the hell the crew shot this without any light, Alec Ernest also offers this behind the scenes look at the making of his Nocturnes documentary: