This photo essay is one of a five-part series with Atlas Obscura and Olympus. We asked some of our favorite photographers to take a quest with an Olympus E-M5 Mark II camera, and these are the results of their adventures. All photographs in this story were taken with an Olympus E-M5 Mark II with a 12-40mm Pro lens. To see the full series, go here.
The town of Marfa, situated in the high desert of West Texas, has a population of just 1,981. It is difficult to get to—the closest airport is three hours away—and yet, despite its small size and relative in accessibility, it has become famous for minimalist art, and the mysterious Marfa lights.
The art scene began in the early 1970s, when artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa. He bought properties for his installations and collections, and Marfa is now home to the Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation, along with numerous other galleries. The heritage of the Marfa lights dates back further; under local lore, it was a cowboy in 1883 who first spoke of seeing the lights as he herded his cattle across the plains. They are described as either stationary or mobile bright lights seen in the desert, which may “pulse on and off with intensity varying from a dim to an almost blinding brilliance.” Witnesses to the lights often attribute them to paranormal activity such as UFOs and ghosts.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that photographer Peter Ash Lee wanted to visit Marfa. He was intrigued by its history and culture, and hoped that maybe he could also chase down the elusive Marfa lights. In late November, Lee made his way to Marfa from New York via two flights and a drive, to photograph this isolated and most unique town.