While shooting on location in Wonder Valley a nervous dog approached cautiously from a distance moving at an awkward angle across the sand. I was not exactly sure if the dog wanted to approach or run....however he continued to quietly position himself in the middle of my frame. The street sign marking the crossroad of this land is "Back of Beyond".

I have had a fascination with Wonder Valley since wandering into it in 2004. Oddly enough I wound up years later moving to the outer edge of Wonder Valley for a period of time in 2012 to produce this body of work.  I have continued to return to Wonder Valley over the years and have collaborated with the poet Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut who has written several poems inspired by this series. I am often taken aback by the striking changes that take place over time. This desert shows no mercy yet those that choose to stay find a way to make this their home.

-Deborah Martin

"Poised in an arid netherworld between strip malls and car lots, Wonder Valley lies just beyond the vacant, shuttered stare of the American Dream. Commercialism gnaws at the edges of this desert mountain wilderness - its embattled landscape of ragged palms, mountains, and eroding homestead cabins provides austere refuge to semi-nomadic enclaves of fringe-toed lizards, kangaroo rats, idiosyncratic visionaries and anachronistic loners.

In Back of Beyond, Martin immortalizes a 21st century desert struggle against destruction, and her lamentation for the disappearing landscape is also a praise song to the improbable power of endurance, tenacity, and longing. Painter Deborah Martin has established a compelling dominion as portraitist of an archaic America – ravaged sites and forgotten wastelands that nonetheless resist destruction. Her luminous paintings and photographs reveal the beauty in the bleak, and speak to the tenuous balance between home, depravation, isolation, community and hope."

-Quintan Ana Wikswo

"Martin's series "Back of Beyond" features scenes of the unincorporated town of Wonder Valley, located in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. The imprint of America is more than apparent in this group of landscapes that feature large, gas guzzling vehicles from the 1970s and '80s. Bleached bare from years of unprotected exposure underneath the sun’s aggressive blaze, Martin’s vintage sedans, vans, and convertibles don’t only evoke an air of abandonment, but they chronicle that which has been forgotten in exchange for what our commercially driven society considers worthy."

-Anise Stevens, Los Angeles


Back of Beyond
By Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut

Poems inspired by the paintings of Deborah Martin from the series "Back of Beyond".


beyond home

back of beyond,
beyond this bend
of light:           

between an oasis and a desert
they once called a heart-shaped valley,
spaces sprawl like destiny,
a manifest of whorls of dust
spread by hands

home,              deprivation,                 hope
spreading apart the spaces in-between
like clapboard cabins
pitched against wind, unsteady
weather they once called homesteads.

back then, this land belonged
to no one, not even the tribes
legendary for fighting back.
Lady of the Rippling Brook
charming a white man,
betraying her people—the same
story, again and again.

hope,               depravation,                 home
not for the weary of heart,
not for the well-traveled or explorer
wanting to get rich,
but for those beyond
home, softening the edge of hinterland,
the edges of loss.


“we must be rooted in the absence of a place”

we must be rooted
in not remembering like this desert will not
remember the scattered
bandits and pioneers adrift
in clapboard cabins and along stray horses

because what we need, we have
already lost, yellowed
in photographs, hinted by paintings

of an other-land, not quite a wild,
wild West or vintage American dream
but an other-field of
the soft giving up to edge

these words, by an exile herself,
“we must be rooted in the absence of a place”
reminding us to stay longer,
because we keep
what we cannot keep.


boom boom

because we keep what we cannot keep,
this driftwood desert forgives
those who live and unlive

who keep piling rusty ends upon ends
in towering junk-heaps,
hoarding every scrap and paper
because this is the only way we know

how to live and to unlive is to keep
accumulating everything we love

just as every love story
blows the storms from the roof
of our chests, nails the bones
of our feet to the floor of the desert wind

until everything else comes unhinged—

we know what it means to forget,
how a fire will steal

even the wheels of the get-away
car that keeps our closest memories
from freezing in the ice-box.