Friday, April 30, 2010

Recovered Silver: Bringing Negatives Back From the Dead

Cadillac Graveyard, U.S. Route 66 
Amarillo, Texas, June 2006

It is very difficult photographing a place that's been made famous primarily through some predecessor's camera.  Such is the case with the whimsical and eccentric Cadillac Graveyard outside Amarillo (which my Puerto Rican friend Marimer pronounces "Amarijo") on the famed Mother Road, U.S. Route 66.

So, instead of trying a novel angle, or ultra-saturated color palette, I put a magazine loaded with Agfapan 25 on the back of my Rolleiflex SL-66, put a yellow filter over the lens, and shot a whole roll of people interacting with the famed car sculpture.

Except, I didn't:  When I unloaded the magazine up the road, I found it'd been loaded with Fuji Velvia 50!  I had the lab pull it to ASA 25, and talk about saturation, as in yellow!

So, by virtue of my Nikon Coolscan and Adobe Photoshop, I played around and tweaked this image until it achieved its intended look.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Of Harry and Visual Polytonality

Twlight of the Harry, March 2009

In March last year, I took on a photo job for a friend, to shoot her Brussels gryphon terrier, one Harry.  We had wanted to catch Harry in his natural element, going outside to leave his contribution to the Earth.

As the sun was low and sinking, I thought it would be ideal to capture the essence of Harry -- and what resulted were these striking and powerful pictures of him on the frozen tundra of Minnesota.

For your edification, I present Der Harry.

Also Sprach Harry, March 2009

Ein Harryleben, March 2009

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Garish: The Cutting Room Floor

Post office, Rainy River, Ontario, June 2009

Is there anything more charming than an old post office?  To me, more than any other edifice, the postal office represents the highest convenience of civilized life.  Our correspondence, financial statements, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and phonograph records come through here to our homes.  When we write letters, pay bills, and mail picture postcards, a short trip to the post office connects us with the world outside.

Including this post office:  This very photograph which you are viewing began life as a Polaroid snapshot, was addressed, and had postage affixed -- and arrived at my home in Minnesota just five days after me.  All for just 89 cents, Canadian.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garish: The Cutting Room Floor

U.S. Route 52, Sauk Centre, Minnesota, March 2009

Having moved to the city of Stepford, Minnesota, in August of 2008, one of the first places I wanted to visit was Sauk Centre, the hometown of my favorite novelist, Sinclair Lewis, about four hours up the road.

Lewis's breakthrough novel, Main Street, tells the bittersweet story of Carol Kennicott, whose attempts to enlighten and beautify the fictitious town of Gopher Prairie -- a thinly-veiled Sauk Centre -- are met with the indifference and stubborn resistance of the town's provincial and priggish denizens.

This neon sign marks the spot of a local motel located on the town's Main Street, and named in honor of the fictitious hamlet.  The motel is located next to the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center, where the tour guide informed me that the novels of America's first Nobel Prize in Literature winner are no longer required reading in the town's high school.    

This slap in the face of one of America's finest writers and keenest observers of human nature reflects the duality with which Lewis has come to be regarded:  Outside of town on Interstate 94, a billboard proudly claims Sauk Centre as Sinclair Lewis's boyhood home.  Yet, anyone who's ever read Main Street picks up on Lewis's heavy-handed loathing for his hometown's oblivious and hypocritical residents.

Now that the nation's high school and university literature instructors have forgotten him (with the possible exceptions of Babbitt and Elmer Gantry, seldom assigned anymore), their empty-headed counterparts in Sauk Centre have apparently followed suit.

How soon in our future will the same fate be shared Minnesota's other genius author, F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Hopefully never.  The keepers of Fitzgerald's legacy should thank their lucky stars their literary hero hailed from Saint Paul, and not Sauk Centre.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Russell Means, Lakotah Elder

Russell Means at his home, Santa Fe, New Mexico
March 2000

It is hard to believe that it's been a whole decade since I photographed Russell Means for an interview I conducted with him.  At the time, I was more concerned with asking the kind of questions to elicit candid and upfront responses than I was with obtaining a great photograph.

As it turns out, I captured what turned out to be one of the most iconic portraits of this great civil rights leader and founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

These days, Russell is fighting for the independence of the Lakotah Nation in South Dakota.

Mitakuye Oyasin!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Los Colores de Coahuila

Piedras Negras, Coahuila, March 1999

Every picture tells a story, but sometimes a picture has a backstory.  During my first visit across the border to Mexico, I stopped in the beautiful city of Piedras Negras, across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass.

I'm used to people asking me what I'm doing, photographing insignificant ephemera.  In Texas, I usually get a long drawn-out "Yep.....Right.....Uh huh."  Trust me, Hank Hill is alive and well there.

Mexicans tend to be a bit more upfront.  For example, I was standing in the town plaza in Villa Union, about fifty miles inside the border, and this guy pulls up next to me and says, "Hey!  You're white!"  It was hilarious, because he was as gregarious as you'd ever want to meet; he just got to the point more directly (you don't see white tourists beyond the border towns in Coahuila much).

Back to this photo:  It was taken outside an auto repair garage and car wash.  As I was stooping to snap the picture with my Ricoh KR-5, one of the mechanics on duty asks me, "What are you taking a picture of?"

Instead of giving my usual sarcastic answer (I tend not to be droll when a guest in someone else's country), I replied, "I'm shooting the gravel.  That chain and broken bits of glass are really interesting."

His response made me laugh out loud, as he told his co-worker, in English, "See that?  He's taking a picture of the gravel."

"Huh?  The gravel?"

"Yeah, he's taking a picture of the fucking gravel, man!"

God, I miss Mexico!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Garish: The Cutting Room Floor

Highway 68, Burlington County, New Jersey, May 2003

This photo makes me long again for school days, waiting for the bus.

But not in New Jersey.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Signs From Oblivion

U.S. Route 181, Falls City, Texas, May 2002

An Exxon, previously Esso, station that was closed and abandoned long before I showed up on a hot and humid Texas afternoon to capture this image on my Pentax Auto 110.  I wonder what ghosts haunt these desolate places of business no more.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Garish: The Cutting Room Floor

State Highway 43, Winona County, Minnesota, March 2009

This image is what they call "busy" in the graphic arts and art school biz.  Yet another reason I'm a proud art school dropout.  I like busy, and I'm sorry if some brains can't "process" too much "information."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Im Augenblick

Prayer grotto at Sanctuario Chimayo, New Mexico 
June 2006

During Holy Week, every year before Easter Sunday, penitents make a pilgrimage to Sanctuario Chimayo.  They come by foot, by motorcycle, lowriders, or bus.  Truly, you feel as though you are in the presence of God when you are within the walls of the church.    In the little room within the church, el pocito, make sure to get a palmful of Holy Dirt, which is said to have healing powers.  I carry a small 35mm film canister filled with the dirt, just in case.

Crackerbox Palace

Brandon, Manitoba, June 2009

Although this Polacolor image was never intended for inclusion in Garish, I snapped up this photograph on one of my last trips during the assembly phase of the book. 

Have you ever had an image inside your head of your dream house, but one you've never seen in reality, just in your imagination?  When I was a boy of eleven, upon hearing George Harrison's single, "Crackerbox Palace," the thoughts that my mind conjured to the music and lyrics were not far different from this charming little house.  Too bad it's not for sale.  

Maybe one day, I'll hire the equally lovely Sandra Rinomato to be my realtor.  She's only one province away from Manitoba, in Toronto.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Garish: The Cutting Room Floor

Provincial Highway 8, between Moosomin and 
Rocanville, Saskatchewan, June 2009

"The first cut is the deepest.  Baby, I know."  

This image is one of my dearest favorites, but it didn't even make it beyond the first round of edits.  That's how it goes sometimes.  The beautiful halo of powder blue, turning to a deep-blue sky framing this red farmhouse I found in Saskatchewan off the Trans-Canada Highway was too reminiscent of an image that did get included, of an even more brilliant crimson farm storage tank -- coincidentally, just up the road, near Esterhazy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Angeles Verdes

Somewhere on Carreteria 29, Coahuila, November 2002

In Mexico, if your automobile ever breaks down, just telephone Angeles Verdes (Green Angels).  Just dial 078!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, L.S. King

Leslie Scher, N&W Railway, Sharpsburg, Maryland, 1988
Photograph by Robert L. Jones

A most happy birthday goes to Leslie Scher King, a close friend going on twenty-two years.  She is also an inspiration to me as an accomplished photographer, whose historically-themed work has that odd and rare quality of appealing to the emotions first, and then the intellect.  Through her mastery of alternative processes, Les's work -- from John Wilkes Booth's escape route from Ford's Theater, to her documentary work photographing war re-enactors -- pulls the viewer into her images.

After spending some time there, you may never want to leave.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Road Trip: New Mexico

U.S. Route 66, Santa Rosa, New Mexico, November 2006

On the same trip I visited the El Comedor Restaurant, I also ran across this relic, a detail of a sign to the Rio Pecos Truckstop.  A business that fell prey to the Interstate, the friendly trucker still greets weary motorists with a sincere "howdy."  Of course, this was almost four years ago.  I wonder if that's still readable.  

I wonder if it's even there anymore.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Governor Is a Jewish Cowboy

Kinky Friedman, Austin, Texas, October 2006

One of my favorite photography shoots as a photojournalist was when I trekked up to Austin from San Antonio to cover the Kinky Friedman for governor campaign.

Writer Jennifer Litz and I showed up at Friedman's campaign headquarters, a warehouse building on the wrong side of the tracks, at the appointed time.  I entered his office, and introduced myself.  He turned a surly face to me, asking "You're the photographer, huh?"

I replied in the affirmative.

"Well, this fucking shit better not take more than five minutes," he growled.  "I'm tired of wasting two hours every time one of you people comes around here."

"I'll do it in four minutes," I countered.

And I did.  Friedman was so impressed I could execute a photo shoot without endless light metering, lighting setups, and assistants with reflectors that he invited us up to Sixth Street to cover a campaign meet-and-greet at Tom's Taboolery, where I snapped this with my Nikon FM-3A.

Most politicians I've ever met are slick and superficial types who pretend they're your best friends -- for all of ten seconds.  I have a hell lot more respect for a guy who's not really a politician, but a cowboy who shoots from the hip, but means what he says.  He won my respect with his line about photographers wasting his time.  I don't have much use for them, either.

Rediscovered Negatives: Im Augenblick

Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)
Köln, Germany, 1987

Of all the great Gothic cathedrals, my personal favorite is the cathedral at Cologne, which began construction in the 13th century, but was not completed until the 1880s.

It dominates the city's skyline, and for tourists to the beautiful city on the Rhine, to see the giant cathedral, all you need to do is step outside the city's main train station, and there it is.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Road Trip: New Mexico

El Comedor Restaurant, U.S. Route 66
Moriarty, New Mexico, November 2006

When traveling the old highways of North America, I tend to not make U.S. Route 66 a destination.  Even though it's right up my alley, subject-wise, I am too busy documenting roads neglected by the photographer's lens; there are hundreds of photographers already photographing every inch of Route 66.

Nonetheless, while criss-crossing the map, I invariably happen onto Route 66, and I get sucked in by all the decaying beauty of the "Mother Road," until I'm back onto another highway whose fading relics capture my attention.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rediscovered Transparencies: Model Shoot

Alissa Capuletti, Medina Lake, Texas, May 1999

Say what you will about Fuji Velvia 50 (and I have nothing but superlatives to say about it), but when Agfa-Gevaert was still in business producing the most idiosyncratically beautiful emulsions the world has ever seen, their RSX-II 50 ASA film, when used with an 81A warming filter, matched Velvia and -- in my humble opinion -- surpassed it for subtlety of skin tone and fidelity to the color palette.

Taken with Nikon's FM-10 body and 35-70mm/f3.5 lens, this is one of my irreplaceable shots.

Rediscovered Negatives: Los Colores de Coahuila

Piedras Negras, Coahuila, March 2000

Just ten years and one month ago, I was armed with my Ricoh KR-5 Super and five rolls of Kodak Vericolor III film.  Of all the places I most miss, Coahuila tops the list.  It is the place my heart and mind keep coming back to.  Alas, it is much too dangerous to go there these days because of the "War On Drugs."  It is a disgusting waste of human life: Mexicans being slaughtered in the street because of Americans' greed to get high.  One good reason to decriminalize drugs.  Still, the drug cartels corrupting Mexican politics and society are terrorizing the people, who are defenseless.  

One good reason to legalize firearms ownership in Mexico.  Until then, the slaughter of the innocents will continue....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Let's Go

Collage after Mondrian, Germany, August 2001
(Clockwise from left: Norden, Lauffen/N, Emden;
center, Stuttgart HBF)

Just weeks before September 11, my mind and Nikon were far away from tragedy.  Now, everything has changed, and Germany and the whole Western world are under a shadow.

Here's to happier times.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Los Colores de Coahuila

Ruta Federal 29, San Carlos, Coahuila, January 2002

In the winter, even though the temperatures don't really dip too low, outdoor eating venues are shuttered up.  I ran across this refreshment stand, and was so floored by the desolation, that I shot it with an 81B warming filter, and then desaturated the image after scanning (a departure from my usual processing, which is why this image is not included on my website).  

The resultant image is a place out of time and mind, although the Siempre Coca Cola advertisement places it in the 1990s, though in less than a decade, sun and sand worked twenty years damage on it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Unintentional Photo Effects

U.S. Route 285, Eddy County, New Mexico, 2008

This photograph was taken on Fuji Velvia 50 color transparency (slide) film, on my Rolleiflex SL-66.  At the time this image was captured, I only had Velvia in my camera, as I hadn't brought along any black-and-white negative film for the camera.  I did have a roll of 35mm Kodak Tri-X, but this composition struck me as a square, not a rectangle (either vertical or horizontal).

I finally got around a few months ago to scanning this transparency, as I envisioned it as a black-and-white print.  The strangest thing happened with the tones:  The resultant scan turned out looking almost as if the picture was taken on infrared film, particularly in the deep grays of the sky and the paleness of the shrubbery.  (Red, however -- which is the color of the "WHITE'S CITY" sign -- came out in normal tonality, not as a shimmering white, as it would appear on infrared film, through a red filter).

Of course, this oughtn't to have surprised me, given Velvia's exagerated color curves -- which, when desaturated produce exagerated tonal curves.

Still, I love the otherworldly feel of this picture, something not uncommon in New Mexico landscapes.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Road Trip: Madawaska Valley, Ontario

Near Greater Madawaska, Madawaska Valley, Ontario, 
June 2004

I always carry many different cameras and types of film when I head out on a road trip.  This photograph, taken on Agfapan APX-25, was captured during one of my trips documenting the Trans-Canada Highway on Polacolor 669 film.  Fortunately, I brought my Rolleiflex SL-66 along, because this image of unpainted barns in the Madawaska Valley was clearly meant to be monochrome.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Los Colores de Coahuila

Mothers and Children, Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, April 2002

These women are the wives and girlfriends of men detained in the city jail in the city of Acuña in Coahuila.  I was introduced to them by my dear friend and guardian angel, Paulina Sanchez.  Whether imprisoned justly or not, these women's men were languishing in jail for want of an attorney.

So, they wait in vigil outside city hall in protest, hoping that the mayor will grant clemency. While I cannot know whether justice was dealt or not, I certainly sympathize with their predicament.

One year before taking this photograph, I had spent time in the jail at the police station in Acuña.  I had been photographing along the main drag, near the border crossing into Del Rio when I passed by a grade school.  As I was taking pictures of street life with my Ricoh, when the kids behind the fence playing at recess asked me to take their picture, I did.  Five minutes later, the police picked me up and took me to the local police station.  

As it turned out, a child had been kidnapped from that school but one month before.  The suspect was a tall gringo who took the boy's photograph the day before.  Apparently, I was suspected of planning to do the same.

By God's grace, a woman named Paulina Sanchez was on her way home for lunch, following about fifty feet behind me.  She went to the police station as a witness on my behalf, and went to the U.S. side of the border to make telephone calls to everyone I knew to call the Acuña police to get me out.  After a long wait in the drunk tank -- which smelled of urine -- the police chief let me go.  My Army administrator called and informed him I was a legitimate military photojournalist.

I've heard it said that street photographers haven't made it until they've been arrested for the "crime" of taking pictures.  Perhaps, but I really don't want to go through it again.