After a long day driving upriver towards Baton Rouge on the Westbank’s River Road, I came to this little spot in the road. Blue hour coming. Dusk coming. Trains on one side. Power lines on both sides making great leading lines. What could be better?
Actually, there are two River Roads. One on the east bank of The Mississippi River, where I live. And, one on the Westbank, which some people call “the best bank.” Maybe if you live there. I always get lost on there.
Anyway, it feels like you are way out there when you drive along the river, even if you are fifteen minutes from home. You are in the countryside. The southern countryside. There are still little tiny communities of former sharecroppers homes, that were slave quarters even earlier in history. Yes, descendants of both of those eras still live there.
Even though I always get lost, I like going there. I’ll be back once hell’s weather begins to cool down a bit. Air conditioning or no air conditioning, it’s no fun to get out of the car to make a picture and walk into a blast furnace.
The picture. After a long day of looking for pictures, I was vibrating. So was the camera. What you see here is the result of that.
You drive. You listen to specially curated playlists of road music. You eat gas station food. You drink bad coffee. You stay in motels of questionable quality. Even the ones with big names.
You’re having fun.
You decide to make tracks to a certain destination. You drive on. And on. You stop for gas. You eat in the car. You speed on. And on.
You become one with your car. Places whizz by. Signs become a blur. You’re not even going that fast.
Tired. So tired.
You see. But, not see.
That’s it. You stop. For the night.
Everything that you see looks like this picture. And, that ain’t a good thing.
The picture. It was planned for yesterday. So was the prose. But, you know what they say. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Chef Leah passed. That stopped me in my tracks. Funny thing, I had a song in my head the whole time that I searched for her picture and started writing. I couldn’t quite place it. I had part of the melody. And, no lyrics. Last night it came to me. “Mandolin Wind.” An ancient Rod Stewart song. A beautiful and appropriate song. So, while I write to you today, I’m listening to his work from that era. When he was young. When I was young. When the world was younger than today.
Oh yeah. What did I do? I did all the post production that I wanted to make the basic picture, which was good enough. By then, that road trippy feeling was in my head. I stacked the same picture on top of itself. I skewed them slightly. I clipped their edges by cropping. I added some edge darkness. Voila!
By the way, I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately. Wallah. Huh? It’s voila, pronounced wallah. Sheesh.
If you read Storyteller yesterday you know that changes are on my mind. Most for the better. Some not so much. Today, bright and early, I got a reminder of changes. My new phone shows me anything it thinks is important the minute that turn it on. Note that phrase, “anything it thinks is important.” AI has invaded my little home.
My neighbor and friend sent me a private message via FB in which she attached a long statement about my drugstore. They are closing. Today. My files and prescriptions are being sent to Walgreen, which I suppose is better than CVS, who I escaped from to go my little pharmacy. Apparently, the parent company — Fred’s — decided to close it.
That’s bad enough.
But, in talking with one of the women who was so helpful to me over the past couple of years, I learned how the staff found out. When they arrived for work last Tuesday — not yesterday — there was a hand written note on the door from Fred’s management. They had no other notice. No notice of how their salaries would be handled. No two weeks notice. No nothing.
Is this what we’ve come to? No consideration for the employees. No consideration for the customers. No consideration for people. If that’s what corporations are doing these days, it’s time to take a big step back. I would suggest that we buy local. But, that’s what I thought I was doing.
Basta! (that’s Italian for enough.)
Ironically, yesterday, I received an email from Kamala Harris, the junior senator from California. You might know her from her very lawyerly-like grilling of Kavanaugh during his hearing. It was kind of a general email to those of us who interacted with her in some way over the past year. She wants me to run for something. It doesn’t matter what office as long we populate it with like-minded people.
Maybe I should.
Certainly it is time to take back my country from high dollar corporate interests. From the one percenters. From the people who are too big to fail, as they flail around looking for any penny that they can find. Your pennies. My pennies.
I keep hearing from my friends who say that 65 isn’t old. That I’m not over the hill because the minute I climb over it there is another hill in front of me. And, when you consider who runs the country, and their ages, I’m still young. That’s saying something. Maybe I am.
See what happens?
Take away my local pharmacy and I get angry. I’ve been angry since about 7:15 this morning. I’m calm. Anybody who really knows me knows that’s not a good thing. Never mistake my calmness for giving up. Instead, I get resolute and lethal.
The picture. You want to know about the picture. How could I forget that? It is one of the many I made when I was driving and shooting. I made it before the one that I posted a few days ago. You can just see the clouds starting to come together. Again, I didn’t really do very much to it. Nature took care of my work. As usual.
I used to travel between Northern California and the Reno area pretty frequently. It began even years before that when I lived in Southern California. It was about a nine-hour trip for Long Beach. Or, about a five-hour trip from the Bay Area. I had family there. Old family friends that I looked at as an Uncle and an Aunt. Eventually, my parents moved there. To retire.
In those days I liked to explore wherever I went. So I got to know the region fairly well. Because I’m also a creature of habit, I used to visit the same places. Mostly to see what’s changed. I watched Virginia City grow from an almost ghost town to a place where people lived and worked. I still like to explore wherever I go. That hasn’t changed. Much.
I haven’t been there for many years. It’s coming up to a decade. I broke a promise by not returning sooner. A promise to myself. I told myself I’d come back at least every five years. But, sometimes life gets in the way. Or, something like that. Or, maybe it’s just an excuse. I keep telling myself, that driving from New Orleans to Reno would be a great road trip. A long one, but I could be really photographically productive. And, then…
Besides, my real destination is Fernley, Nevada. About 15 miles east of Reno on Interstate 80. That place has really changed. It’s sort of a boom town now. Amazon stuck one of their western distribution centers out there. They created all sorts of employment at many levels.
That’s not why I would go. The National Cemetery for the region is there. For veterans of all wars. It’s high desert. It’s somewhat bleak. It suits me. My parents are buried there. They were part of the Greatest Generation. My dad served in the Pacific Theater. He was part of the occupation forces based in Tokyo.
The picture. I’m getting a little repetitive. You know. Film. Print. Scan. Tinker. Post. Check out the details. Look at the gas price. 67 9/10 cents per gallon. That was expensive for the time. But, it had to be trucked into Virginia City from either Carson City or Reno. I’d guess Carson City because that is a much easier drive.
“Well, they say that Santa Fe is less than ninety miles away, And I got time to roll a number and rent a car. Oh, Albuquerque. I’ve been flyin’ down the road, and I’ve been starvin’ to be alone, And independent from the scene that I’ve known. Albuquerque. So I’ll stop when I can, find some fried eggs and country ham. I’ll find somewhere where they don’t care who I am. Oh, Albuquerque, Albuquerque.” — Neil Young
That about says it all. Out on the road somewhere. Flying along. Taking pictures through the windshield of my car. This one was made a few miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. On Interstate 25, where the speed limit is 75 miles per hour, which meant most traffic was blowing along at around 90 miles per hour.
I did have a sort of interesting revelation while I’ve been editing, er, culling, my work for the project that I described to you. I’ve been taking pictures to their extremes for at least a decade. Maybe longer. I just never did much with them. I wasn’t sure that they had a place. So they languished in my archives as experiments. Not anymore…
The road trip. The grand tour. Mostly along Route 66. In New Mexico.
Or better said, by Neil Young:
“Well, they say that Santa Fe is less than ninety miles away,
And I got time to roll a number and rent a car.
I’ve been flyin’ down the road, and I’ve been starvin’ to be alone,
And independent from the scene that I’ve known.
So I’ll stop when I can, find some fried eggs and country ham.
I’ll find somewhere where they don’t care who I am.
Oh, Albuquerque, Albuquerque.”
I think these pictures get the same place. Isolation. Aloneness. Disconnectedness.
But, not in me.
After all the year is 2017. It’s all gonna get better. In a minute. So, they say. Me, I’m just exploring. And, in a few minutes I’m going to go explore New Orleans. In dense fog.
The pictures. These were once vibrant color works. Then I got to them. I changed everything. The mood. The tone. The feeling. I guess I’m auditioning for the film industry. Or not.
I once had a photojournalism professor called Joe B. Swan. He was one of the kindest people that I’ve ever meet. He was from West Texas. He taught at San Jose State University. He had a pronounced West Texas accent. He talked about “shaders and siluets.” That’s what you are looking at right now.
Shadows and Silhouettes.
He also talked about making pictures from the “dog’s eye view.” Or, as I call it, “What the dog saw.”
Lessons learned in 1974 are still true today. Obviously.
Why him? Why now?
I had a couple of WordPress conversations with a couple of you. One talked about how well my picture turned out. One said, even after two years she doesn’t have pictures like mine. The third was about “What would Ray do,” to not shoot a touristy picture.
A dangerous thing happened. I started thinking. You know how that goes. Heh!
I thought about how I learned. Forget the technology. I learned using film cameras, developing the film and making prints in a wet darkroom. Today, most people have never done that. Doesn’t matter. Many people do not even do any post production. They shoot auto everything, make an in-camera .jpg and put the picture on their blog, or on Facebook, or Twitter.
None of that matters. Really. The picture is the thing. The thing that matters. It also matters that the picture is printed on paper. That’s another story.
In order of the conversations.
My pictures never “turn out” good or bad. They are an extension of my vision. Even when I talk about “tinkering,” I’m trying to get to the picture in my head. Not just the look. Also, the feel. If I can do that in camera without any real post production help, so much the better. For me, there are no accidents. That’s the difference between making or taking a picture. By the way, if I can’t get to “my picture,” you aren’t seeing whatever I did get to. No point in that. Think about it.
The other two comments — two years and touristy — are about the same thing.
Unless you are photographing every day, making a lot of exposures, curating tightly, and learning from your mistakes; two years is nothing. You are just getting started. When I say make mistakes, I’m talking like this. Your keepers — the good stuff — usually should average out to about 10% of your entire take. That’s not so much.
Same with not shooting touristy pictures. You have to take them to get to the good stuff. You don’t have to show anybody. If you live in a place in which you can return to a specific location frequently, great. You learn its ebbs and flows. You learn about its shadows and light. It will teach you. If you can’t return frequently then follow this saying… as a wise man once told me, “Don’t take the picture, let the picture take you.” Find a place. Sit there and wait for something to happen. When it happens, you’ll be ready.
Road Trips. America. Coast to coast. City to city.
That’s what these pictures are about. I was having a hard time thinking about what more to show you from my assignments collections.
Then it hit me.
I mentioned working for a lot of travel publications. Guide books. Trade books. Corporate travel companies. Brochures. Magazines. And, so on.
I thought that I might show you some of that work. Every picture you see today was published somewhere. At some time. Sometimes for more than one use. The images are a mix of film and digital files.
The pictures. You may have seen some of them here, on Storyteller. After all, this blog has been around for a long time. If I am lucky, you may have seen them published somewhere else.
The top picture. I made that in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Was walking down the street. This guy was playing his flute. I asked if I could take his picture. He said that would be okay if I bought one of his CDs. I agreed as long as he signed a release. He said that he would if I bought two CDs. Fine with me. I shared one with a friend and kept the other one.
The Mission District. I was working in San Francisco. I was looking for a kind of signature picture in the Mission District, which is probably one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. I found this one. It’s what I call a compression shot. 300 mm lens which brought everything into one plane of focus.
Earl. Everybody knows Earl. You may have seen a picture that I call Eggs. That’s the number one picture from this take. This is number two and makes a statement about the friendliness of New Orleanians. I think.
Los Angeles Boots. I made this picture on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles back in the day when cowboy boots were fashionable just about everywhere. You know. Black cowboy boots. Jeans. A black t-shirt. And, black blazer. That look. I saw this old 1930’s style gas station. One day it was closed. The next day it was open and the parking lot was covered in second-hand boots. What could I do? I just had to take some pictures.
The Chrysler Building. I was walking around in New York City at might when we decided to take a ride up to the top of the Empire State Building. Even though I was carrying a camera, I wasn’t really prepared for working at night from a distance. No tripod. Just two lenses. No off body flashes. Good thing too. I probably would have made a very sharp picture of the city with the Chrysler Building in the scene. Like just about every other picture.
Flying Over Las Vegas. If you’ve ever ridden to the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, you know this scene. Since this was one of the main reasons that I was working in Las Vegas, I actually stayed there. The accommodations are on the lower-middle end. But, I could ride up and down the elevator to the top as much as I wanted. Besides, I was working a lot. I didn’t stay in my room all that much.
Fisherman. Most tourists know the front of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. They rarely wander around to the back where the wharf is a real working place. I’m not like most people. You already know that.
Cemetery Boots. An Albuquerque picture. One of my favorite grave markers of all time. The cemetery, and the church across the street, is so small that a traveling priest comes once a week to say Mass.
Wynn. It’s great fun shooting casino floors in Las Vegas. Mostly, it’s not permitted. But, in this day and age of cell phone cameras, almost everybody does it. Secretly. Sometimes, not so secretly. But, when I made this picture I actually contacted the marketing department. They limited my freedom some. But, they also ran authorized interference for me when security personal questioned me. I think it took me more time to arrange access than it did to actually take the picture.
Rush Hour on Wall Street. The picture is all about early morning late fall light and motion. In New York City. I can’t think of a prettier city to photograph at that time of year.
So. What do you think? A little more before I slip into the craziness that is actually Carnival Season and Mardi Gras?