Topic: West (11 posts) Page 1 of 3

Old Trail Town

Old Trail Town. Cody, Wyoming, summer of 2005. I spent a few weeks in Cody that summer, renting a little place above a garage on a side street in town. I'd spent time at a ranch outside of Cody as a teenager and I went back to see what it was like, almost 50 years later. This was the last big shooting trip I made with the 8 x 10 view camera. The good 8 x 10's came fewer and farther between on that trip. I was experimenting with early digital capture. But I did make a series in 2 1/4 (120mm film format) handheld that has lasted well and has been shown frequently. 

I made the pictures of Old Trail Town with an Agfa black and white film, processed the rolls, then made inkjet prints of the scanned negatives. By that time I no longer had a darkroom and didn't print using an enlarger and chemicals. 

Old Trail Town is a rather spare tourist attraction that tears down and reconstructs shacks, corrals, saloons, jails,  barns, hotels from all over the American West and puts them in one location in Cody, making a town that never really existed at all. I found it bizarre and wonderful. It is here on the site.

I shot it just when it opened on a weekday. I'd been the day before when it was filled with people, not at all what I wanted.

These were incredible, these structures. It felt, in an odd way, that it wasn't really there for tourists but all there for me with my camera. I know, presumptuous, right? I was very excited, feeling the pressure of time and changing light to get these pictures on film. Work fast, but clean and right. "Don't fuck up" is often the refrain in times of making pictures like these.  Here I was working with film so couldn't review files that night. In fact, I wouldn't see the developed film for weeks, and make prints weeks later.

Ever felt that it, whatever "it" is, clicks with you and your sensibility on such a fundamental level that you just need to be there and shoot it, that this is not complicated or difficult at all? Old Trail Town had an inevitability to it that day.

It is a big series, 29 or so and takes us from the entrance of the town to the final picture at the town's edge, now emphasizing the landscape more than the buildings.

The Old Trail Town photographs always remind me of  "Music for Eighteen Musicians" by Steve Reich, an exceptional piece. The concept of repetition and derivation on a theme play large in his piece, which is really a symphony. Look at the photographs as thumbnails here on the back cover of my book American Series and you'll see what I mean.

This is how they ended up in the book, at a very late stage in the design: 

After I'd made them that summer, the following fall we were working on the book. Big bucks, a wonderful designer, getting well-placed people to write on my behalf,  making the scans (I made the scans for the book, a whole other story), approving proofs, printing in China; all the myriad details that go into making a monograph. Late in the design, I brought 3 x 3-inch square prints of Old Trail Town to Providence to show the designer Paul Langmuir and pitched the idea of including the series in the book. We revised the book and added pages to allow Old Trail Town to be in the book. 

Old Trail Town serves for me as photographs emblematic of an approach a little like a rock stuck in the tire of a car. Round and round the wheel goes as you drive, every time the rock hits the pavement it makes a noise, over and over, changing in tempo as you accelerate or slow down. My point being driven home through repetition. If you've read this blog for a while you know my philosophy behind the idea of "the same but different". The Old Trail Town photographs are just that.

The last frame I shot that day, winding film out of the camera while walking back to the rental car I saw a family at the gate and another behind them. My revery at Old Train Town was over just in time. The photographs were in the can and I was done.

I've written this before but I have often been lucky that way throughout my career. 

Note: We seem to be emphasizing work from my past lately. If this grates on you, please accept my apologies. Recovering from major surgery always takes longer than one expects and to be fully healed longer still. I am on the mend and working almost daily, but have not dug into anything substantial yet. There are travels ahead and new work will come. You will be the first to see it, have no doubt.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Black and White,Analog,West

Permalink | Posted April 14, 2019

Thompson Spring, Utah 1

If you read the blog you know I spent a couple of weeks photographing last fall in and around Moab, Utah. As I often  do, I went back to a few places I had photographed on earlier trips. One was Thompson Spring, about an hour northeast of Moab. I made a series of photographs there in 2010.

We will look at that series in the next few posts.

The full series is on the Gallery page of the site: here.

In 2010 I was still teaching at Northeastern in Boston but was on a sabbatical leave, my last before retiring in 2012. That winter I spent time in Austin, Texas and Moab.

I came across Thompson Spring on a whim, curious to see what it looked like about a mile off the highway.

Not much to look at, much of it torn down or abandoned, the 2010 census shows 39 people living there. Evidently the town's past included cattle and mining and it had been a stop along the railway line you can see going right through town in the above Google Map aerial.

I got there about an hour after dawn and found an essentially abandoned town.


This is another in a long list of projects where I was discovering as I was making. Walking along Frontage Road, the first picture I made served as the first in the series, a gas station, now torn down as I discovered this past fall, 8 years later.


The effort to make a series, form a narrative, say something cohesive and establish a rhythm, to go deeper, often unfolds as I move along. What I had right off was exquisite light and a growing sense that this place was presenting something unique.

I know, the cliche' of an old western ghost town, but something perhaps a little more telling and that was the trailers, double wides and RV's in the back in most frames, as though the occupants simply picked up and moved to another location, discarding their origins.

Again, my interest was piqued as I found what had happened to this town.

In 2010, I was working by then with the Nikon D3X, the second full frame sensor digital camera from the company at 24 mp. The lens is the 14-24mm Nikkor. The prints are 17 x 25 inches.

Next up? Thompson Spring 2.Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest,West

Permalink | Posted March 25, 2019

Going to Paradise Day 4

This was my last day in Paradise, Day 4. Although cut short by rain in the afternoon, some of what I was able to get to in the morning was grim.

Much of this, of course, had a purpose, was purchased at some point, used by human hands for some reason, stored away for use another day, now rubble, debris in a disaster zone.

Three deer came by while I was photographing, foraging and perhaps looking for a handout.

Just before the rain started I ended up in a higher-end neighborhood, with gated driveways, security systems and views out over the canyon, homes perched on the edge.

These are places I wouldn't have been allowed close to before the fire, now, in a perverse form of democracy, wide open, gates unlocked, nothing for robbers to steal.

That's it for the photographing part, the acquiring of photographs, just really the first phase of a project. Next when home I will edit and edit and edit, an endless process of working on the imagery to refine the work to an essence, a core group of pictures that say best, that speak to my intention. For this group I will write the story as well with the idea that perhaps this work deserves attention as a published piece. Not my field or area of expertise. We will see.

With a little research you can delve into the politics behind this particular fire, the worst in Caifornia's recorded history.

The fire caused at least 86 civilian fatalities, with 3 persons still missing, injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres, and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours. As of November 19, insured damage was estimated to be $7.5–10 billion.

Source: Wikipedia

Was this fire preventable? How did it start and who is liable? Could the town and state have prepared better, plotted a safer and more effective evacuation plan? Will Paradise rebuild?

Thanks for coming along. I appreciate your being a subscriber to the blog.

Topics: West,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted January 6, 2019

Going to Paradise-Day 3 Beauty

Overwhelmed. I think that was it. Photographing in Paradise for several days got to me. Scene of the infamous Camp Fire. So much destruction. 

At any rate, I've been staying in Red Bluff, about an hour away. Why? Because forget finding anything in Chico, the closest town, because so many displaced Paradise residents are living there now. The commute each am and pm is long, two lane, straight and flat. I am in Central Valley, the huge agricultural region inland from the coast in California. On the morning of Day 3 I began photographing along the way to Paradise (putting off the drive up the ridge to town?). Row after row of nut trees, almond and walnut, some fruit orchards, all bare, in January.

 Rural farmland mostly. Open and expansive, a river valley in large scale with distant mountains on either side. And very beautiful.

Why stray from the stated mission to photograph the effects of the Camp Fire in Paradise? For a reprieve, a break, to come back to beauty, some serenity and sense that all is right in the world. For things are very wrong in Paradise and I don't know that it can ever be made right again.

Padlocks on a fence overlooking the canyon in Paradise.

Wooden crosses on the side of the road into Paradise to commemorate the 88 killed in the fire.

Mailboxes at the entrance to a retirement community leveled by the fire.

What is quite striking is how quiet this all is. Get away from the main street, into residential neighborhoods and walk around to find no one there. They are gone, their homes ash and dust, for there is nothing for home owners to return to. These neighborhoods are ghost towns, oddly serene, unvisited, no moms carting kids off to school, no sprinklers cycling on to water the grass, no sound of lawn mowers on Saturday mornings, no dogs barking, no joggers, no deliveries, no UPS truck bringing Amazon orders. Nothing, no life and no sound. Odd and dead and gone.

Last day today, Day 4. Back to Paradise as a wrap up, to take one more look, to see if I missed anything.

Topics: West,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted January 5, 2019

Going to Paradise-Day 2

Day 2 was big, as I photographed the town and area around it in the morning then in the afternoon flew out of Chico to make photographs from the air.

This one above on the ridge leading up to Paradise, at the tail end of the destruction. The nature of firestorms is that homes are engulfed when hit by embers thrown by high winds. This means some buildings are spared.

In this one you can see trees singed and then some that are still green. This is looking down into the canyon below Paradise.

A Mustang and a Porsche, sitting in the garage,  left behind as the homeowners fled.

Often the chimney is what remains. This home had an expansive view of the canyon below, perched on the edge of the ridge.

Downtown Paradise:

Today? Back to Paradise, to photograph more. At this stage, I am just trying to finish with no regrets about what I didn't get. I have the option to fly again today but will pass as I am confident I got what I needed from above. The on-the-ground work is harder as it tends to look just a confused mass of debris. Will work today to bring some coherence to these pictures. 

Thanks for coming along. Your response welcome: Neal's email

Topics: West

Permalink | Posted January 4, 2019