Meeting the Lizard

By Frank DiPerna

Driving from Zacatecas to San Louis Potosi I did more daydreaming than photographing as miles of cactus fields drifted past. It was about mid-day, the sky slightly overcast, the light bright. The air was a little chilly and the wind light. I was thinking of photographing something I had seen a couple of miles back when I sensed a change in the atmosphere. The light was brighter though the sun was no more visible than before. The road was smoother and the car generally much quieter. Just after cresting a hill I saw a red dirt road going off to the left. The clouds had become more textured and were turning a golden grey. The earth was luminous, seemingly on fire with light.

I drove up the dirt road about 200 yards or so, stopped the car and got out. Both sides of the road were lined with barbed wire fence. Varieties of cactus grew in clusters amongst creote and other scrub growth. I looked back toward the car and realized I had walked a considerable distance. My head became light. The air was now perfectly still and quiet. A slight tingling sensation ran through my body. I heard a noise, a rustling in the bush. I saw nothing. Then blending into the growth next to a giant maguey plant I saw a medium large iguana. His skin was bright green and unscarred. He stood raised up on his front legs with his head held high and he looked directly at me. The landscape vanished. My total attention was fixed on the lizard.

“What do you want?”, I found myself saying.
And to my wonder, he responded. He shrugged his shoulders, not unlike a person gesturing, “I don’t know.”
I continued to question myself and him.
“How did you get here?”
“Did you lead me to this spot?”
“Why are you here?”
The Lizard repeatedly turned his head toward the landscape behind him as if to suggest I follow him.

It was then that I saw the Lizard smile for the first time. Or perhaps it was a laugh. His mouth opened slightly and his cheeks became fuller as his head tilted a bit to one side.

He knew everything about my life. As I stood in front of him I heard his voice inside my head recounting a detailed history of my life as an adult. His voice was shallow and scratchy but compellingly confident. He avoided any reference to himself. But as he spoke I began to understand more about his presence. It seemed he was offering me a choice. I could return to my car and continue my life or I could go into the desert with the Lizard to experience the unknown.

The Lizard stopped talking while I stood silently pondering the strangeness of it all. I sensed the Lizard’s growing impatience with me. He was walking around in a tight circle, occasionally digging into the earth with his front claws. He paused momentarily, looked up at me and laughed. I’m sure it was a laugh. He then inflated his throat, shook his head violently and with one quick movement, he vanished.

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Please look at the photograph by Frank that accompanies this post: Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Monument 1984.
 Frank DiPerna has been an artist for more than 40 years, creating a long series of beautifully accomplished photographs. Using the latest technology of the time – moving from black and white film to Polaroid SK 70 cameras to digital color photographs – the flow of his work over decades reveals a careful eye that captures and transforms the world he sees.

He has described the feeling of being in the desert as spiritual, and Frank’s work combines an awareness of the outer landscape and his own inner vision. The light he prefers for his photographs comes from overhead, leaves no shadows, and allows the viewer to feel that they are looking at what he is looking at. His most recent photographs play with the idea of what’s real. Once again he pairs clarity and magic.

Frank also taught photography for decades at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C.  The Corcoran closed in 2014 and the programs were merged with George Washington University where he will continue to teach until his retirement in May. He has found teaching a noble way of life.

Today’s post is the introduction to the opening chapter in Frank’s one-of-a-kind book titled The Tale of the Lizard that he handmade in the mid 1980’s.

To learn more about Frank’s work please visit –
and he can be reached at –

Copyright 2019 Frank DiPerna







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