There was a time not so long ago when I would have gone to extraordinary lengths to exclude anything man-made from my images. But I slowly came to realize that I was being narrow-minded and losing some great photo opportunities. After removing the blinders from my artistic vision I suddenly became aware of new possibilities with subjects I would have previously rejected without a second thought.
I first came upon this car about five miles from where it now sits in the Rio Puerco Valley. I had made a second trip to its original location only to find it had been removed. I thought it odd that someone had gone to the trouble of dragging it out of the small side canyon accessible only by a two track dirt road, but then I thought that perhaps the BLM was making an attempt to tidy up the valley. It is, after all, a wilderness study area. Imagine my surprise to find the old, rusted, topless vehicle parked (for lack of a better word) in the “yard” of a tumble down adobe/rock house not far from Cabezon Peak.
I made this second image while driving through the panhandle of Texas. This whimsical installation lies along Interstate 40 east of Amarillo; I had my youngest daughter in mind when I was making the exposures. She loves VWs.
The image of the bus and the car were made along Torreon Wash near the Empedrado Wilderness Study Area near Cabezon Peak in the Rio Puerco Valley. The bus sits on rusted wheels and is full of old insulation and rat droppings suggesting that it is (was) being used as a storage shed for some nearby construction.
The car sits near an adobe/rock ruin. It is sunk to the rims in the clay soil and so its fate appears to be sealed.
This 1950s era Ford is parked in front of one of the rooms at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. There are several other old vehicles parked in front of other rooms. I can’t be positive, but I highly suspect that the creators of the Disney animated movie “Cars” may have used the Wigwam as a model for the motel in the movie.
The last image was the result of accidentally being in the right place at the right time. I was driving from Albuquerque to Los Alamos by way of Santa Fe. I pulled off I-25 at the exit where the AT&SF rails cross beneath the interstate. My plan was to get down on the tracks to make an image for my Road Series (as in rail ROAD). As I was walking across the bridge above the tracks on the frontage road, I heard the whistle and soon after that I saw the Amtrak Southwest Chief come through the cut and approaching the bend in the distance.
There is no shortage of adobe ruins in the American southwest and there is also no shortage of photographs of those ruins. This poses a dilemma for photographers who want to find fresh ways of capturing an image.
So, how many ways are there to photograph ruins? I decided to share some of my techniques for making eye catching images of an often photographed theme. In the first image, I asked myself: “What drew your attention to this scene in the first place?” The answer: the corrugated tin roof and the color and grain of the door. So, I made a selection of those elements, inverted the selection, converted it to B&W, and added a sepia tint.
I made the second image in the ghost town of Guadalupe, New Mexico in the Rio Puerco Valley. I had photographed the two storey ruin many times, but this time I was looking for something different. I was walking around the small village, in and out of various ruined buildings when I saw this image just waiting for me. By framing the larger building in the doorway, I managed to say more about the entire village while still making a fresh image of the subject.
Here is a more intimate scene. By de-saturating the adobe walls and warming the remaining color, I was able to create the effect of a glow from the inside of this old ruin.
This last image was taken from an overlook several hundred feet above and about an eighth of a mile from the Mummy Cave Ruin in Canyon del Muerto, a side canyon of Canyon de Chelly. I used my 80-200 f2.8 Nikkor lens at 200mm. I thought about putting on my 400mm lens to get a tighter shot, but then realized that this magnification was perfect: it allowed me to show the subject in context; including the towering rock face above the ruin says much more about it than if I would have zoomed in for a tighter crop.
There are places and scenes that I have photographed so extensively that I often think I shouldn’t bother to make yet another exposure. After all, if you’ve photographed something once, there’s no need to waste time doing it again. Right?
Some of these places have a kind of power over me. It seems I can’t go near without setting up my gear and making an image. That’s as it should be; it’s wrong to think that there is only one image waiting for you in any given location or subject. There is no end to the ways something can be photographed if you dig deep into your bag of creative tricks. The Bisti Arch in the Bisti Wilderness is one of the places that always draws me to it.
I have been to the arch many times. Every time I lead a Photo Tour to the Bisti, I take my clients there, and every time I go on one of my own outings, I find myself there. I could try to take a “been there, done that” attitude, but then that little voice starts haranguing me and I’m soon happily engaged in the process of composing and making photographs.
The result is a rather large collection of images of this formation (and others that I am drawn to in the same way). But, I try to give each version its own voice; whether I change the point of view or the focal length of the lens, or process the image differently, each of the resulting photographs portrays the subject in a unique way.
Sometimes, as in the above image, I give the feature a bit part, making it part of the background with other elements leading the eye to it. And sometimes I change the point of view dramatically
so the viewer may not even realize that it is the same place. The point I’m trying to make here is that making images of places or subjects that you have photographed numerous times need not be a repetitive chore. If you study the place and its environment, there are many ways you can come up with a fresh perspective and a new way of presenting your subject.
Artistic vision is not something that is easy to define, at least not in terms of individual style. It is something that is (or should) always be changing, evolving. When I look at the work that I was doing five years ago, I am struck by the difference from that which I am doing today. That’s as it should be. If I could see no discernible change, I would be worried that my creativity is stagnating.
Vision has to do not only with the subject matter you shoot, or the way you choose to capture it. It is also about how you take the image from the one in the camera to the one that hangs on the wall. So, post processing is just as important to expressing your vision as the initial capture, perhaps more important. This first image was made one January day on the edge of what was soon to become the Valles Caldera National Preserve and after many years of learning and evolving, both in my shooting style and in my processing technique, this is still one of my favorite photographs.
I tell my Beginning Digital Photography students that they should always be looking for new ways to present their subjects and of course this extends to the work they do in the digital darkroom. I made the above image in 2002. It is a close-up of burned tree bark that I took in the burn scar of the Lake Fire. This is pretty representative of the work I was doing at that time: close-up/macro/intimate landscapes.
The third image was made several years later and it is one of the very few I made during that time that included a hint of anything man-made. All of these photographs were made using film cameras. The first two were shot with a Nikon F3, the second, a Nikon F100. All three were made using Fuji Velvia transparency film.
Sometime around 2005, I began to feel that my strict adherence to shooting almost exclusively macro/close-ups was stifling my creativity and I began to broaden my horizons (both literally and figuratively). I had also purchased my first digital camera, a Nikon D200. Looking back, I think the new-found freedom of no longer being constrained by the cost of film played a major role in my ability to experiment with a new shooting style.
This black and white landscape was an early attempt to further break from my habit of excluding man-made elements from my images. I still hadn’t perfected my B&W conversion technique, but it was a step in the right direction.
When I was shooting mostly macro, I preferred diffuse lighting; no shadows means clearer details, but as I began to see the broad landscape, I began to take advantage of the multi-faceted nature of light. In the five images above, I make use of different kinds of lighting: overcast, early morning, evening, and mid-day with partial overcast. They each paint the landscape with a different brush and each portrays a different mood.
Lately, my work has come full circle, back to the subjects I was pursuing when I first started out all those years ago, which is to say–anything and everything. The difference is, I now have the expertise I lacked back then, so I am able to show my viewers what I saw in my mind’s eye before I released the shutter. That’s a good feeling, but it doesn’t mean that I feel I’ve reached some kind of photographer’s Nirvana; I am excited to see what kind of curve my vision will throw me next.
I have been stuck in the Photographic Doldrums for the past couple of months, so I have been spending quite a bit of time searching my archived images. I’m not one to live in the past, but I’ve found that it can be rewarding to revisit my older work. I have rediscovered some of my best work rummaging around in old files. I have also found photographs that, for some reason didn’t make the cut when I first edited them, but over time, with my ever-changing vision and some changes in my workflow, they suddenly take on a new life.
This first image was taken in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Mesa Arch is an iconic location for landscape photographers, but the shot almost everyone takes is of the sun rising behind the arch. Being a bit of a crank, and wanting to make an image that spoke of my vision and not some other photographer’s, I made this photograph in the late afternoon and used the arch to frame the incredible landscape that lies beyond it.
I made this image of Shiprock while driving to Utah a couple of years ago. I was drawn by the bright yellow rabbitbrush and I was also going through what I like to think of as my “fence phase”. These two elements made the perfect foreground for the great volcanic plug and brooding skies.
This is an image of the Virgin River in Zion National Park. The overcast settled lower and by the next morning, the rain was continuous, making my hike to the Subway impossible due to high water and flash flooding. But this moment, looking down canyon with the soft light penetrating the swollen sky is one of my best images from that trip.
Twilight at Chupadera Pond in Bosque del Apache NWR. These three cranes were hunting for their dinner. They had just flown back from a day of foraging in the farm fields at the northern end of the refuge and now they were continuing their seemingly endless search for food in the pond where they would spend the night. The color of the light in this image has not been altered. For one magical moment between sunset and the onset of night, the entire landscape was bathed in this golden-orange glow.
This final image of the Egg Garden in the Bisti Wilderness has gone through numerous iterations and I think I finally have it just where I want it. I know the composition goes against the venerable “Rule of Thirds”, but sometimes it’s good to break the rules, and sometimes it’s good to revisit the past.
Canyon de Chelly is unique in many ways. It is the only National Park that is contained entirely within a separate sovereign nation: the Navajo Reservation. It is administered by the Park Service, but access is controlled by the Navajo people. There have been people occupying Canyon de Chelly since the days of the Anasazi, making it one of the oldest, continuously inhabited settlements on the North American continent. Members of the Navajo Nation still live and farm the fertile canyon floor, but it has also been home to the ancient Puebloans, and the Hopis.
This first image was made from an overlook on the north rim. It is the point where Canyon del Muerto and Black Rock Canyon meet – Canyon de Chelly National Park is actually made up of several canyons, the two main ones being Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto.
There are many ruins within the Park, some are located right on the canyon floor like the Antelope House Ruins, which are located at the base of a towering sandstone wall that served as a huge heat sink in the winter. It was inhabited between about 850-1270 CE, and contains about 90 rooms. The remnants of several kivas can be seen in the bottom center of the image. They appear as distinct round structures.
Other ruins are situated high on the walls of the canyon. The Mummy Cave Ruins are located on a shelf which is nestled in a cave three hundred feet above the canyon floor. It is believed to have been continuously inhabited for over a thousand years. Its name comes from the many well preserved burials discovered at the site.
This last image is a view down Canyon del Muerto from the Massacre Cave Overlook. I realize that, visually, it is a bit confusing, but I was attempting to show the complex structure of the rock strata and this location seemed to be the best place to achieve that.
This was a drive-by shooting so to speak. anyone who is familiar with Canyon de Chelly will realize that these images were all taken from the North Rim. I plan to return soon to shoot the other side of the Park. So, look for Vol. 2 in the near future.
When I was a much younger man, I spent a great deal of time standing by the side of a road with my thumb in the air spurred on by the likes of Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey. Some of those roads were paved and four lanes wide; some were dirt or gravel and you couldn’t really tell how many lanes wide they were. I guess it really didn’t matter as long as they seemed endless.
These days I’m somewhat tamer in my ways, but I still get a feeling of expectancy when I look through the windshield and see nothing but the road, the sky, and a wide open or unknown landscape. Until recently, however, I would not allow the hand of man to enter the world of my landscape photography, so the roads were banished.
Now that I’ve overcome my phobia of including anything that smacks of man in an image, I am free to express my love of the open road in my photography. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I am working on a project; I am making images of highways and byways as I travel around on my photo excursions. I hope to accumulate enough good photographs to publish a book. The images in this post are ones that have made the cut; some have been displayed in previous posts, but most of those have been re-worked to bring them up to snuff.
The only down side to all this road photography is that I seem to be spending a lot of time standing or kneeling in the middle of some very busy highways. Most of the time though, I’m on a road like Indian Rte. 13 or NM 16 which see very little traffic.
And, at other times, I find myself on unpaved roads such as BLM 1103 in the Rio Puerco Valley, or small access roads like the one in the photo of the Shiprock Lava Dike below where I could stand for hours or even days without being in danger of becoming road kill.