Trucks rusting in the desert

I’m not sure what it is about old trucks or tractors rusting away in the desert that makes such compelling images but they just look so cool.

Granted, it almost seems cliché to have a photo of a truck in the desert, I mean how many senior portraits, engagements or band photos can you think of that have a similar look to them?

That said, it’s a subject matter that matches up pretty well with the Holga lens.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

I saw this pickup while I was out at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Leeds and I couldn’t resist.

I like the way the white truck pops out from the grey of the grass and brush behind it. It focuses you right in on the subject matter and at the same time gives a lonely and isolated feeling. Cliché aside, I’m fond of this image.

A Lake Powell Holga vacation – complete with video

Totally off the topic of ghost towns but I spent the weekend at Lake Powell and couldn’t resist seeing what I could do with the Holga lens on my Canon 5DMkIII…

Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

There are a few historical spots on the lake that would be an interesting add to my ghost town project, there are steps that were carved into the canyon walls by the Civilian Conservation Corps in Navajo Canyon,  and there are other spots in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area that have historical significance, like the traces of the uranium mining that took place in the area, or the old sunken steamboat that can be found in the Lee’s Ferry section of the park.

Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. If you look closely you can see the smokestacks from the Navajo Generating Station, a coal fired power plant just a few miles away from the lake.

Unfortunately , I wasn’t anywhere near those spots on this trip. I was just a few miles away from the Crossing of the Fathers, the spot where Fathers Dominguez and Escalante crossed the Colorado River in 1776 but that spot is now under a few hundred feet of water so it’s a little hard to photograph…

Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

So I focused on taking some photos of the beautiful scenery at Lake Powell and came away pretty happy with what I got. I’m not sure where it fits in this project, or maybe it’s a whole different project. I think probably the latter since I much prefer these images in color.

Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Gunsight Canyon on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

I also took a stab at recording some video through the Holga lens. It makes for a different look. Not sure what I’ll do with this yet but it might be an interesting artistic choice I’ll make on some future project somewhere. I can say that I will need to remember to bring a tripod with me the next time I try and shoot Holga video.

 

Photography is in the details

When I first began my career as a professional photographer I was blessed to have Nick Adams for a photo editor. I learned a lot from Nick, way more than I could ever relate in a single blog post, but one of the little tidbits of wisdom I recall Nick relating to me one day was just how important he felt the details could be.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

I don’t mean the details of photography like f-stops and shutter speeds, I mean the details of the world around us. Sometimes, getting up close, focusing on a small part of a subject, can tell you way more than a wide shot taken from far away that shows a building, a mountain or a person from head to toe.

Taking time to notice the details and to share them with your viewers is important. There’s lots to learn from the details. You can see the weathered paint flaking off of the door frame. You can almost feel the roughness of the rocks that make up the walls of the building.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

The photo of the door knob at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Leeds is one of my favorite shots from that trip. And I think it might tell you more about the camp than the wider shots.

So I try to notice the details, I try to get close. I try to find something interesting where others might never look. I try to help my viewers discover a different way of seeing the world.

Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Leeds

During the Great Depression, in an effort to put unemployed young men to back to work, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established. Camps were built throughout the United States where men participating in the CCC program lived while working on public works projects in the surrounding towns. There were several camps located in this area. A marker is all that’s left of the camp in  St. George, near where the Red Hills Golf Course is today, a few buildings still stand along from a CCC camp along the banks of the Virgin River in Bunkerville near Mesquite and in Leeds, there are four structures still standing from the CCC camp that was built there.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

The men of the CCC built projects throughout the area as well and if you know what you’re looking for, remnants of those can also still be found. The CCC cut steps into the walls of Navajo Canyon at Lake Powell to help the Navajo people who called the canyon home in the 1930s have better access to their homes. In the newly declared Gold Butte National Monument there are structures built to help water the cattle that grazed on the lands there. And in Zion National Park there are numerous improvements to trails and buildings that can still be seen and credited to the CCC.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

The Washington County Historical Society has a great collection of easy to read articles on a number of the CCC camps and projects on their website at http://wchsutah.org/ccc/ccc.php if you’re interested in a little further reading.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

I stopped by the remains of the camp in Leeds to capture a few Holga images for my ghost towns project just the other day. These are a few of the images I came back with.

 

 

Ever had one of those days?

I drove out to the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite in Leeds to shoot with my Holga lens and when I pulled out my camera it told me the memory card I was using wasn’t readable.

This is what my Canon 5DMKIII was telling me when I turned it on at the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite in Leeds.
This is what my Canon 5DMKIII was telling me when I turned it on at the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite in Leeds.

I tried formatting it. No dice. I tried pulling it out and reinserting it. Still nothing. Turned the camera off and back on again. Still not readable.

I had a bad card.

Usually I have a couple extras around, I even try to make it a habit of having one in each of my vehicles, just in case I get somewhere and find myself with a bad memory card.

This time, I had nothing. I ransacked my car, looking for a hidden memory card but came up empty.

Frustrating. I had to drive all the way back to town to grab another card.

Luckily Leeds isn’t that far from the nearest Target.

That said, a word of advice to any budding ghost town photographers out there… Always have an extra card. And then, always have another one. Finding out your card has been corrupted and you don’t have a backup is not something you want to discover after you’ve spent hours driving out to a super cool ghost town in the middle of nowhere…

Washington in black and white

There’s something about the middle grey tones in the adobe brick of the Washington City pioneer home that I like a lot.

Abandoned adobe pioneer era home in Washington City.
Abandoned adobe pioneer era home in Washington City.

I don’t think the color versions of these images work as well. I think I’m leaning towards going all black and white with the project but I suppose I could still change my mind.

That’s the beauty of digital. Switching back and forth, seeing the difference is as simple as the click of a mouse. I don’t have to buy black and white photographic paper, darkroom chemicals, or find a darkroom in which to work. I can just change the color mode in Photoshop.

So we’ll see, but for now, I’m doing everything from here on out in black and white.

Abandoned adobe pioneer era home in Washington City.
Abandoned adobe pioneer era home in Washington City.
Abandoned adobe pioneer era home in Washington City.
Abandoned adobe pioneer era home in Washington City.

What is a ghost town anyway?

I passed by an old pioneer house in downtown Washington the other day and just had to come back with my Holga lens. It’s not a ghost town, in fact the home next door is very clearly occupied but the structure clearly matches the feeling and emotion you find at any abandoned town site.

So what is a ghost town and is that what this project is about?

A pioneer era home in disrepair on 100 South in Washington City.

Is it about the abandoned towns that humans once called home? Or is it about the structures that once housed life and laughter, work and play, interaction between people and yet now are left to decay in the landscape?

Certainly entire towns that evoke this feeling are more dramatic and we all want to go find those ghost towns where we can experience all those memories and all that history at one time but there are also those other buildings, those other spaces that capture the same essence.

I’d hate to leave them out of this project because I think they have something to say as well. They are also part of our history even if there are still neighbors living next door to those now vacant spaces.

Modena is a perfect example of a place that once was bustling but now is well on it’s way to becoming a ghost town. I wrote about the town for the Spectrum back in 2015. While the town is mostly abandoned, there are still some residents and that, I think, makes Modena a spectacular place to explore.

There is the history told by the decaying buildings, but at the same time there are the memories of those who still call the place home to provide insight into the lives that were lived in that place.

I haven’t had the chance to get back out to Modena with my digital Holga yet, but I intend to pay the town a visit soon.

A few more thoughts on the post production of Holga images

In addition to sepia toning, there are other historical processes an image could’ve undergone. Selenium, copper, iron and gold toning processes, all of which replace the metallic silver in a print with other metals, all exist and each changes the look and feel of an image. Iron will make an image look blue, copper, will give it a more reddish hue and all the other toning processes each have their own unique signatures.

The image of a crumbling wall in Harrisburg, Utah looks somewhat different when it’s had the colors desaturated in Photoshop.

On top of that, in this, the age of Instagram, we all know you can add all kinds of digital filters to change the look and feel of an image.

Filters can make the images look similar to what many of those toners did in the analog age or make the colors fade and look as if the color print were made in the 1970’s or on Polaroid film.

The iron toned or cyanotype version of the image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

What you choose to do to the image after it’s captured is a mater of artistic choice.

For most of my artistic work, I’ve tried to stay true to my background as a photojournalist and avoid too much manipulation of the image.

I like to be able to assure those who view my work that what I show them in a print is a very close approximation to what the camera actually saw. Not some sort of digital manipulation of what a camera might have captured.

The black and white with the blacks deeply saturated, another version of the image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

I want to portray reality. That, I feel, is one of the most significant aspects of the art form of photography. It is reality, as it was, if for only a split second. Capturing reality and then sharing the emotion of the moment, the feeling of a brief point in time, that is the challenge to the photographer.

So, for me, the choice really is just black and white or color. Maybe sepia. But definitely not much more than that.

Black and White vs Color

Most of the images I took with my Holga when I first began this project were taken on black and white film.

The original color image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

I did add a sepia type coloration to the images in Photoshop after I scanned them into the computer, however.

When I was an undergraduate studying photography at NYU long, long ago, we learned about alternative processes and did some sepia toning. Sepia toning is the process by which the metallic silver compounds in a black and white print are replace with more stable silver sulfide compounds. The increased stability of the silver sulfide means the prints are likely to last much longer than an untoned image would. It also happens to change the image from consisting of shades of grey to shades of brown.

The sepia toned version of the image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

Most people incorrectly assume those old brown colored images became brown simply due to age. In reality, those old images were converted to brown and white images shortly after they were printed in order to make them withstand time.

It’s a pretty simple process, you just soak the prints in a combination of potassium ferricyanide followed by a sodium sulfide solution.

In the digital age, sepia toning is even easier and can be done with the click of a mouse button.

The black and white version of the image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

But that leaves the digital photographer with a number of choices. Do you showcase the original colors captured by the digital camera? Do you convert the images to black and white? Do play on the audiences assumptions that sepia toned images feel older and convert the images to a sepia color to evoke a feeling of age?

This is one of those choices that comes down to the preference of the artist. At this point, I’m not sure which choice I’d like to go with. The nice thing is that, while printing and toning those images would’ve taken hours in an analog world, with Photoshop, switching between the three choices takes just a few seconds.

Harrisburg through a Holga lens

For a bit of the history of this Southern Utah ghost town located just south of Leeds, I’ll refer back to a story I wrote on the town for the Spectrum.

“Harrisburg was founded in 1859 when Moses Harris and his family built their home at the confluence of the Virgin River and Quail and Cottonwood creeks, the area where Quail Creek Reservoir would be built more than a century later, according to the Washington County Historical Society.

“Other families joined them and a few improvements were made but by 1861 the settlement had moved upstream on Quail Creek to the site where the town would stay until it was abandoned in the 1890s.

The Orson B. Adams home in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

“A number of the homes in Harrisburg were built by Willard G. McMullin, a stonemason from Maine, who arrived in Harrisburg in 1862, according to the information posted on signs in the ghost town by the Bureau of Land Management. Most of the land that was part of the town of Harrisburg is now part of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

“A portion of the south wall of McMullin’s home in Harrisburg could be seen for decades from the freeway as drivers made their way through the dip between the Hurricane exit and the Leeds exit on I-15.”

That wall is still there although it’s rapidly crumbling.

On the other side of the creek that runs through the little valley, however, stands the Orson B. Adams home. It’s been completely restored.

There are also rock walls throughout the valley and the remains of a movie set in Harrisburg. The set, the remains of which consists of a crumbling rock well and a stucco and wood building designed to look like a portion of a Mexican village, was built in 1958 for a Gary Cooper picture called “They Came to Cordura.”

Here are a few more of the images I captured on my most recent trip out there with my Canon 5D Mark III with a Holga lens attached.

The remains of the set for the film “They Came to Cordura” in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.
The Orson B. Adams home in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.
The remains of the set for the film “They Came to Cordura” in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.
The remains of a wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.