Friday, September 29, 2006

Outfitter's Store, Keesville, New York

Manikins, Redux

It seems that shopkeepers with a sense of humor can be found anywhere.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Evergreen Motor Court, Bristol, Virginia

Motel Pool Redux

On the half dozen or so times I've stayed here on my way to and from the Blue Ridge, I've never seen anyone use the pool. The rooms are neat and tidy, big, and incredibly cheap. When I check in, the office is always suffused with the seductive aromas of Pakistani cooking. One time, as I was checking in, I mentioned the wonderful smell of cooking to the young (from my perspective) woman who came to the desk, and she upgraded my room to one with a king bed. Compliments work. But I'd rather have gotten some of the food.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Colonial Motel, Burlington, West Virginia

Motel Redux

The room here was fine, but the empty swimming pool was pretty spooky.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More from Waterbury

When the weather forecast is partly cloudy with a 50% chance of rain, it's a good time to go looking for pictures. I don't like clear sunlight and blue skies, to look at or to photograh. But when the sky is stormy and it's about to rain, almost anything can take on a wonderful glowing presence. Cutting it close can get you drenched or rained out—though wonderful pictures can be made in the rain—but I find my success rate working right at the edge of the rain is better than when I try to find something in "fine weather."

Waterbury, Connecticut, 9/24/06

Monday, September 25, 2006

Waterbury, Connecticut, 9/24/06


The small city of Waterbury hit its peak way back in the 19th century, when water power from the Naugatuck River drove the mills and factories that made it a metal-working capital: The Brass City. Since then industrial decline has been the norm. The remaining neighborhoods of stately town houses are surrounded by far larger areas of urban blight. Still, somebody in the public works department must maintain a fine sense of style to choose this color scheme for the city's fire hydrants.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

West Barnet, Vermont, 9/21/06


Old buildings are endlessly fascinating. I'm sure that once upon a time this building stood square against the pull of the steep hillside it's built on. But the hillside is gaining and likely will win one day. Meanwhile, there's the great, fully descriptive name of the organization that owns it. I'm sure a marketing expert would tell them to change the name to something short, catchy, and meaningless. Of course there's also the possibility of an acronym: CCCOCA. Even that isn't short.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Motel, Newport, Vermont, 9/20/06


Back from a very short road trip to Vermont's amazing "Northeast Kingdom." A benvolent blog elf kept an eye on WP while I was offline for two days (thanks, OG). As often happens with a first look at a place, I don't know yet whether I got any 'real pictures,' but I do know it's a place I want to go back to for a longer and closer study. A good enough result for a couple days invested.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On New York Route 374

If you're out looking for pictures with no set destination or preconceived subject, anything can serve as a guidepost for the exploration. I frequently find interesting subjects in places with interesting names. If I spot an interesting place name I just change my heading and go there. I can't see why there should be any real connection. Maybe a place whose name intrigues me just makes me a little more alert to the pictures lurking there.

Sofa, Chateaugay, New York

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Keesville, New York

Stickers: they're not just for bumpers anymore

Popular Tourist Destinations never seem to yield good pictures for me. But sometimes there's something interesting right nearby, like here, in a parking lot near the overlook at Ausable Chasm in far northeast New York State, just a couple miles from the convenience store in yesterday's post. So I often investigate the surroundings of popular tourist spots to see what I can find around the edges.

Flower Memorial Library, Watertown, New York

Why should Manhattan have a monopoly on Library Lions? I don't think it would do much good to go looking for lions in upstate New York, but if you're looking for absolutely anything that might prove interesting, lions may appear.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Watertown, New York
"Do You Always Carry Your Camera?"

Every photographer encounters this question now and then. I'm sure the more basic question—whether or not it's a good idea to carry a camera habitually—has been argued since the invention of reasonably convenient hand cameras. I'm also sure there is no proper answer to the second question: the choice is a matter of personal preference.

I don't carry a camera every time I go to the grocery store or the post office. However, as a full-time photographer without a day job or a daily commute, I spend a great deal of time out specifically hunting for pictures. Sometimes just for a morning, sometimes for days or weeks at a time. The picture above was made one recent evening, through the window of a pizza parlour in Watertown, New York, while I was waiting for my slice and salad to arrive. I was on a three-day expedition to find pictures, with absolutely no preconceived notions of what I was looking for.

Convenience Store, Keesville, New York

This picture was made 26 hours or so earlier. I'd pulled into the convenience store parking lot to get off the road and use my cell phone. The picture just jumped out at me, so I shot it, then made my call. Taking blocks of time when my entire attention is devoted to finding pictures seems to work for me. Not carrying a camera the rest of the time also seems to work. Making the separation may help center my attention.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Traffic Circle, New Delhi, 1969
Decisive Moments

Back in 1969 I was lucky enough to have a state of the art 35mm camera. The shutter was instantly responsive. The view through the finder let me see what was happening around, as well as in, the frame. This made it relatively easy to “choreograph” a picture of uncontrolled moving subjects. You had to wind the film with a lever after each picture, so usually you got only one try at action shots. This was great for your concentration.

Most recent cameras, film and digital, allow rapid sequence shooting. I think this may be a bug disguised as a feature. Even if you don’t set the camera to continuous shooting, and I never do, you know that you can hit the release again and get another exposure a fraction of a second after the first. I’ve been looking at these two pictures, made a couple weeks ago, and I can’t quite decide which works better.

The first has more immediate impact, but the second has more complexity in the relationships. I keep wondering if, with only one chance, I might have done something a little better than either one.
School Lane, Ausable Forks, New York, 2006

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Malone, New York

Recruiting Posters

This small city is a few miles from the Canadian border in a fertile agricultural strip just north of the great Adirondack forest. After I shot this abandoned storefront on the town’s main street, I noticed a new recruiting center, around the corner, on a side street. Maybe the whole building was put up for sale and all tenants were forced to move. The display windows at the new office were a bit more spiffy, without the stray pieces of tape, but used exactly the same recruiting posters.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Storefront, Clay, West Virginia

Sometimes I would really like to know the backstory behind a subject. The store is derelict, but some of the merchandise is recent. The picture taped to the glass must be a memorial, but I couldn't find anyone to ask about it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Wires and doors, Piedmont, West Virginia

Today I was going to post a single picture with no text except a title. But a funny thing happened on the way to the internet. The picture was one that is "about color." About Red, actually. Several kinds of red varying from pale to intense. Trouble was, when the file was degraded to sRGB color space for web posting, the color it was about had disappeared on me.

So I rummaged around in Bridge, looking for another picture that I think is about color, but about color that will survive the translation to a limited web-friendly gamut.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

First Sight

Another remarkable thing is how often it seems that my first really good look at something turns out to be exactly the way I want to photograph it. Exactly the spot the camera lens should be. If that first sight is from the road and I want to make the picture with a 12x20 inch view camera, it can be awkward or downright impossible to set up in that exact spot. If I want to shoot it with a camera small enough to hand hold, it's a lot easier. Just roll down the window and make the shot.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Vesuvius, Virginia"

It's remarkable how often a picture I like was made in a place with a name that makes a perfect title. It's not that the name is literally descriptive of anything, it just somehow seems resonant.

Vesuvius was the location for a very different kind of photograh exactly fifty years ago: one of O. Winston Link's elaborately staged pictorial illustrations of the steam railroad's final days. See the middle picture here. Look carefully at the upper left corner of that picture, at the wooden brace above the gas pumps. It supports a kind of porch roof along the front of a building. That building is still there, as you can see in this picture, made from the tracks facing back to where Link's camera must have been.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What the...?

Bill Pierce, photojournalist and author of the immortal column "Nuts 'n Bolts" (it's run since the 1960s in a succession of magazines and now online, so that's pretty near immortal) once told me that when you really boil it down, we all keep making the same two pictures:

1. Somebody Standing In Front of Something.

2. "What the Hell's Going On Here?"

This picture, from Richwood, West Virginia, seems to be firmly in category two. Unless you count the no trespassing sign as "somebody," in which case I guess it's standing in front of something. Hmm.

Monday, September 11, 2006

"Hard way to make a living."

This picture is from Shiraz, Iran, in 1970. I was a college student on a traveling scholarship. Recently I scanned the negative to try a digital print from it. I'm used to seeing this picture with the soft gloss surface of fiber-base silver paper and I miss that in the digital print on matte paper. But in most other ways I've got to admit the new print is an improvement. There's far more nuance and detail in both the highlights and the shadows. The smoothness of tonal transition from darkest to brightest is also better. It's a valid new interpretation of the picture.

This makes me think of an incident a couple weeks before I made the picture. The 35 students and faculty of the International Honors Program were bouncing along in the rattling second class carriage of a train bound from New Delhi to Agra where we would visit the Taj Mahal. Someone pointed to the Leica that IHPers sometimes called Carl's Necklace, and asked how long I thought still photography would last before being overwhelmed by movies and television. My off-the-cuff response was that I expected the technology to change completely in less than twenty years, maybe to something electronic, but that the still photograph—the print you can hold in your hand, frame on the wall, or reproduce in a magazine or book—that was here to stay.

Maybe I was reading too much science fiction because my guess at how fast technology would change was wildly optimistic. It took most of those twenty years before digital imaging took over the reproduction of photographs in books and magazines. It's taken most of another twenty years for digital printing and digital capture to take over a significant "market share" of still photography by professionals and amateurs. But I was right about the second part. That print you can hold in your hand, frame on the wall, reproduce in a magazine or book—and now on the web—that's still going strong and will be with us for a long time to come.

The post title quotes what the wonderful photographer David Vestal said when I showed him this picture.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Trap Shooting

Photographers who’ve worked enough with large, tripod-mounted cameras generally develop strategies to deal with the fact that lots of things don’t stand still. You can’t follow action with an 8x10 inch view camera the way you can with a hand-held camera. The slow shutter speeds generally required also won’t freeze a moving subject. But something I really like to do with big cameras is set up for a picture where some of the subject matter will hold rock-still while other parts, like moving water or grasses waving in the breeze, will blur during the exposure. Not only can the effect be pretty, but I think it conveys a sense of time passing. This approach, trapping subject action from a fixed camera position, has become so natural for me that I find I use it even when I’m working with little cameras.

The first picture was made at the pullout for a mountain overlook in West Virginia, not far from the motel featured in Saturday’s posting. I’d set up a 7x17 inch camera for the big view and was waiting for the light to do something. The sun was above the horizon but not over the mountains or heavy clouds in the eastern view. However the light was really interesting looking west so I set up a digital camera on another tripod to see what I might do with the road and passing vehicles. I could hear this heavily loaded tanker grinding up the switchbacks to the south for several minutes before he crested the rise and filled in the picture for me.

The next one was made on a bridge across the James River on the west side of Richmond, Virginia. About two minutes later those storm clouds opened up and my Austrian friend Harald Leban and I were drenched to the skin by the time we made it back to my truck. We looked like drowned rats when we got to the gallery at Corporate and Museum Frame to help with the installation of our group exhibit, "The Enigmatic Landscape."

The next one was made from the parking lot of my motel, on a crisp October evening in Bradford, Pennsylvania. I was thinking about shooting just the road and auto parts store when I saw the car out of the corner of my eye. So I framed what I wanted, locked in the AF/AE/overrides and waited to trap the car as it passed.

Oh, OK, I can tell there will be complaints if I don't show it, so here’s the motel, even though nothing is moving in this picture.

Imperial Broom

Signs and business names are fascinating. Big businesses spend huge sums on the creation of names and logos. Small businesses need a public face as well. There's something downright audacious about the name of this janitorial supply company in Richmond, Virginia.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Just as wonderful as shop windows. Big chain motels are boring, but if you’re a starving artist looking for the least expensive place to stay, you may be rewarded with wonderful things to look at and maybe make into photographs.

Cheap is good, but there’s more to it. On photography expeditions I travel in a pickup truck loaded with 5x7, 8x0, 7x17, and 12x20 inch camera outfits, accessory case, film case and film-changing tent, etc. Plus the digital capture set. It’s something like seven cases averaging forty pounds apiece, a suitcase for clothes, and coolers for food. The last thing I want is the central-entry layout of “better” motels. Every item I can’t leave in the truck needs to be carried to the front entry, through the lobby, down the hall, and up the stairs to the second level and then down another hallway to reach the room. No, I want a room entry like this:

The room was fine and cost under $50. It took about three minutes to move everything from the truck to the room, and the same to put everything back in the morning before the sun rose. So I got an inexpensive room, low stress handling of the equipment, and in the bargain a gold mine of photographic subjects. This is the view between the two wings of the motel:

Who left the mop there? It’s perfect. I couldn't dream that up and ask for it.

Have you ever hung anything up in a motel room? If so, did you leave your dry cleaner coat hangers there? How did the hangers wind up here?

I think the grill is communal. The desk was busy when I walked past so I didn’t ask if the grill was there for guests to use. Anyway, I didn’t have the makings, or the charcoal. Cheap motels generally have little refrigerators and microwave ovens while more expensive places do not. If you pay a lot more for your room, the management will expect you to call room service and pay too much for bad food. This was the first time I encountered a barbeque along with the in-room amenities.

The fuel tank. Now this is a real "Installation."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wedding Dress Rental

Recently I read that the average cost of a wedding in the United States has hit some amazing figure like $25,000 and it is not unheard of for middle class couples to spend far more. Then they move into an apartment because they can’t afford a down payment for a house. My wife and I eloped, 35 years ago this September 11. As a photographer I’ve also done my best to stay totally clear of weddings. But despite my lack of resonance with wedding extravaganzas, even I find something wrenching about a shop window that says “wedding dress rental.”

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Shop Windows

I love shop windows. The way a little store sets up its display windows can tell you a lot about the store. It may even tell you something about the town. Yesterday’s picture was from Naugatuck, CT. Today’s is from Torrington. Another hairdresser shop, this one in a corner storefront with all windows displaying exotically costumed manikins.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Working Pictures

Back in what seems like a previous lifetime, I used the tagline "Working Pictures" in an advertising campaign for my commercial photography business. Now I'll use the same line to title a photo blog for recent and current pictures. So here's the first.