Traveling back and forth between Colorado and Illinois for as many years as I have, getting off the Interstate and driving two-lane back roads instead is always a welcome diversion. Most of the time I’m in no particular hurry, allowing me to wander slowly through the Mid-West matrix of gravel roads at low speeds, looking for anything of interest causing me to stop.
I’ve been traveling the Lincoln Highway for many years now, each time trying to cover different stretches. For this trip, I exited Interstate 80 just after Grand Island, Nebraska, and picked up the Lincoln Highway in Central City, a few miles north.
This past Spring amidst the Covid-19 outbreak I found I’d rather be in the car than cooped up in the house. Here are a few photographs from the three trips made along the Lincoln Highway between early March and early June – all with a specific purpose, by the way – to either retrieve my son from school, or return him to school in Chicago.
The ‘romance’ of being on the road came to a crashing end this night in Carroll, Iowa. Having found a perfect camp site a few miles earlier – only to learn it was closed due to Covid-19 – as were all Iowa campgrounds – I was forced a few more miles down the road before stopping for the night. So what do you do in a WalMart parking lot all night? Make photographs, of course.
Though U.S. 30 is today’s closest equivalent to the Lincoln Highway, the real joy of the true Lincoln Highway experience comes from following the spurs. Often, along U.S. 30 there will be signs marking the Lincoln Highway route. More often then not these signs point the traveler down a dirt road with no obvious incentive for the casual traveler to detour from their route. But it’s on these detours – that always wind back to U.S.30 somehow (though often times it takes a good bit of head scratching and backtracking) – the true lore of the Lincoln Highway is visible.
One such detour was around Scranton, Iowa one morning. Early morning light was soft and beautiful, and traffic was light. Birds chirped along the field each time I stopped the car to make a photograph. At one point a ring necked pheasant, hunkered down in the grass waiting to determine my intentions – exploded into the sky, the suspense finally becoming too great for him.
Coming upon these old, abandoned establishments along the road is an eerie experience. Long-ago forsaken, they have lain dormant for years. Or have they really? Approaching with caution should one of today’s weary travelers be seeking temporary refuge for the night within the confines of its walls is always a good idea.
R.A. Miller Mobil Station in Grand Junction, Iowa was such a pleasant and wonderful surprise. It was early morning and I was just finishing off the last of my coffee when I rolled into the empty streets of Grand Junction. As usual, I stopped in the town center and climbed out to stretch my legs. Wandering around the empty streets I found some wonderful, old brick buildings and other interesting signs and markers. When done I saddled up and continued on, only to bring the car to a sudden stop not 2 minutes later when this old filling station appeared, hidden from view while exploring moments ago. Once again I stopped the car, absolutely giddy with excitement and spent another hour exploring this scene from various angles. Dogs were barking, cars beginning to drive by with drivers smiling and waving as I again and again hoisted the F6 to my eye – often times making virtually the same photograph as the moment before. Making sure I paid adequate attention to this landmark was all that was on my mind.
Earlier in the year during another trip along the Lincoln Highway I had the good fortune to meet Gary Hevalow, the now benefactor of a similar landmark, Preston’s Station in Belle Plaine, Iowa. You can read more about that here. These old filling stations strategically placed about the highway are a special focus for me – in what ever form they occupy today. So back in March, the opportunity to be invited in to photograph the interior was a special treat.
On this trip I followed the Lincoln Highway through Aimes, Iowa, where finally in the name of expediency I picked up the Interstate again. I encourage anyone who’s out traveling to take full advantage of the opportunity to move slowly if you can, and not be in a hurry to get from one place to another all the time. There are surely times this isn’t possible. But there are times when adding a day or two onto an existing trip to explore the less-traveled routes is quite rewarding.
Arriving in Chicago is usually the end of the line, where there is always plenty of visual interest to finish off a roll. This old CTA station, nearly invisible beneath the L-Platform at Franklin and Chicago Ave. impressed me with its early, sturdy brick construction standing against the pouring rain.
All images made on Ilford Delta 100, developed in Ilfotol DDX developer, 1:4, by the book. Often times the humble Nikkor 50mm f1.4D with a Nikkor Y48 Yellow filter was used.
Whoa… what the heck, huh? I hope everyone’s doing alright. And by alright I mean virus-free, staying healthy and managing all the newly imposed ‘should’s and shouldnt’s.” We’re not used to this. I’m not used to this. I want to be out roaming. I sure had enough of that a couple weeks ago. I wrote about it in Blue Hour Journal. But now the whole Social Distancing, isolation, and ‘stay at home’ thing is a thing. If we can get ahead of it and modify behavior, hopefully we’ll be alright. Tonight on the local news they said it already seems to be showing promising signs – but we have a long way to go.
Honestly, both my wife and I are introverts – so this social distancing thing isn’t too much of a stretch for us. In fact, there are times I find it relaxing to be how I naturally am anyway, without the guilt. When I’m told to stay home and isolate, well, say no more… music to my ears. Until I start going nuts because I want to be outside.
Boy, that sounds kinda glib… how about some photos?
Yesterday I got out for a little ‘social distancing’ of my own, heading to my favorite place to get lost, North Park, Colorado. Really to get out of the house more than anything else – but Spring weather rolling in was pretty dramatic and it turned out to be a beautiful day. And in case you’re wondering – I did keep my distance from everyone else – emerging from the car only long enough to snap a few frames, then duck back in.
Though things here in Colorado are beginning to green up down low, the High Country is still firmly locked in Winter’s grip. A healthy snow pack means fewer water restrictions later in the year.
Here’s to later in the year…
Look, these are difficult times, to be sure. But they’re here – unquestionably the event of the decade thus far. We’re all affected by it and nothing will change in the short term. So the way I see it, why not turn it into a ‘glass half full’ thing? Being such a unique life event – what can we each do to turn the dreadful circumstances into something positive? Years from now we’ll look back on this event and site it as turning point. So what will change in your life?
I’d love to hear from anyone around the world. How are you marking your newly found time? How are you processing this? Documenting it? Photographing it? Enduring it? I’d love to hear. Drop me a line.
From my home to yours, please be smart, stay healthy and safe.
P.S. Something I’ve noticed lately about the F6 is how sensitive it is to cold weather. This shows up in the battery level read out on the LCD. In colder weather it’ll often drop one tic even with fresh batteries. I’ve made it a habit slipping the MS-40 battery caddy in my pocket to keep it warm. It’s easy to re-insert quickly when time to shoot and keeps the F6’s sensitive electronics happy.
No matter what time of year you visit Utah’s Arches National Park you know you’re in for a treat. Having visited frequently over the past 30 years I’ve seen the Park in many different weather conditions – but mostly some variation of hot and sunny with bluebird skies above. This past January, however, changed that.
I had the privilege of seeing Arches in some icy cold fog which – though wasn’t what I’d initially intended – turned out to be a uniquely beautiful time to see and photograph something different than what we might typically think of when Arches comes to mind. In hind site I count it as a blessing, a gift given me I didn’t know to ask for.
Most of the work done with the F6 this trip was in the “Garden of Eden,” an area of the park lesser traveled (I find it curious that at least three areas of the park carry biblical overtones in their names: “The Garden of Eden,” “Devil’s Garden” towards the top of the one-way road and the “Fiery Furnace.” Are there more…?) The first morning out I came across this scene reminding me a little of Lord of the Rings, which lodged in my mind creating a curiosity and desire to return often through the trip to see how the fog and light were interacting with these elements.
To see more imagery from the trip, including the frames made with medium format film, please visit bluehourjournal.com
Having just returned from a long weekend to Arches National Park, I’m beginning to work through my film. Shot a good bit of 35mm and 120, both color and monochrome this trip, keeping with my New Year’s ‘goals’: shoot more film, drink more whiskey. Did both, it turns out – but shot more film than whiskey, largely dividing time evenly between 4 cameras: 2 x medium formats and 2 x 35mm. Since retiring my D3s I’ve added the F5 back into heavy rotation and am loving working with it again.
If you want to see one of America’s true treasures, visit Arches National Park in Utah. If you want to see it at a special time of year, and when there are (far) fewer people – try visiting in January. In much of the Park I was alone, and it was wonderful.
The F6 saw heavy use. I continue to be pleased with its performance (after more than 10 years), even in the cold. Of all my cameras it’s still the king of metering and perfect exposure. Having just replaced the batteries with fresh AA’s (went with Duracell’s new “Optimum’s” (“Extra Life. Extra Power” is the slogan). In 20° temps they registered down 1 tick on the top plate indicator so I slipped out the MS-40 and kept it in an inner jacket pocket until ready to shoot. No problems after that.
For 35mm, ran some FP4+, of course Delta 100 as well as some new Ektachrome and expired Provia. Ran mostly E-6 through the F5 this trip, largely relegating the F6 to monochrome. Both use Kirk L-brackets so getting them on and off the tripod is fast and easy. The color medium format work can be seen on Blue Hour Journal soon.
The vast scale of the land is hard enough to communicate through small photographs on the internet. But everyone knows a human figure when they see it.
As is evident – there was no sky the whole trip. Just a huge, grey wall behind every horizon line for 4 straight days. This made shooting wide difficult, and encouraged tunneling in more, cutting the horizon completely out of most images. There were times just enough depth showed through to indicate something in the background, and in that case it stayed. But largely, this was a horizonless shooting experience.
I found this tree fascinating, and the small, frozen berries against the gnarled, twisted trunk communicated delicacy against a tortured harshness unique to Arches. I do think, however, this image will wet print better than it scanned/displayed digitally. There’s a lot of detail/information here and controlling contrast is going to be important. One of the great things about FP4+ is slightly less contrast than Delta, allowing contrast to be built up slowly using multi-grade filters.
Sometimes the fog lifted just enough to make background features barely visible, adding depth to the mysterious scenes.
Next up is the color work. Thanks to Denver Digital Imaging for processing my color films. Couldn’t do it without you guys.
It’s January 1, 2020. Not just the beginning of a new year, but a new decade. Tonight in the local news (well, not exactly news… in Colorado it’s Kyle Clark’s NEXT-we watch him every night and love the program) – the question was asked what things you’d like to leave behind from last year or previous years as you move into this new decade. For me, the answer was deceptively simple.
Our son is a Communications major in college and is about to take his first Photo Journalism class. His used D7000 was becoming a bit worn and after briefly consider bequeathing him one of my prized F2’s (there’s still time for that…) I realized what he really needed (and wanted) was a better digital camera.
My D3s has been a good camera for 10 years. But over the last 4 or 5 has seen less use each year as I double down on my commitment to film and my shooting preferences and style evolve. After a brief discussion with my wife it was clear what to do.
His delight Christmas morning was not feigned and I knew we’d made the right decision. But it wasn’t until watching our news program tonight that it hit me: After slowly increasing my commitment over the past several years to a film-only approach to photography, I’m beginning a new decade newly, wholly committed to approaching every photographic situation with film.
This isn’t relegated to simply one format or one camera, but several. Crazy? Maybe. But I love the purity of it. And idealism certainly isn’t the last word used to describe me by those close to me.
Isn’t it OK to admit that photography is more than recording photons? I mean, if absolute literal interpretation is the name of the game – why bother? Who cares? “Just the Facts, ma’am” doesn’t really cut the mustard. Photography is infusing your slant, your spin – on what you’re seeing and recording; interpreting… whatever – in a way that says something about the scene before you. Not being afraid then to make a statement – to unabashedly express your creative intent through your frame – is what photography is all about.
OK leaving ethereal realm and re-entering practical realm. Yes, it’ll mean some assignments will have to be turned down. One of those is low-light shooting in indoor venues for our church, for example. But there are up and coming youngsters equipped with the newest mirrorless cameras – and a passion to learn who will more than fill any voids.
Last night I had a dream. My son came to me in the dream apologizing and handing the camera back to me, citing audio noise as the main reason. This made me sad. When I told him the dream the next day he laughed, saying he had no intention of using that camera for video work – and no way would he ever part with it.
As 2020 begins and anything is still possible for the year, here’s wishing you all a happy, photo-filled year and decade ahead. Thank you for visiting the F6 Project, and for baring with me as I get its new incarnation off the ground. Hoping for great things in 2020.