Lincoln Highway

Lincoln Highway

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.

Aurora, Nebraska
frame 20 – Aurora, Nebraska (2020)

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.

Lincoln Manor Steak House, Central City, Nebraska (2020)
frame 24 – Lincoln Manor Steak House, Central City, Nebraska (2020)
Somewhere in Western Iowa along the Lincoln Highway
frame 32 – Somewhere in Western Iowa along the Lincoln Highway

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.

Outside Carroll, Iowa
frame 36 – Outside Carroll, Iowa
WalMart, Carroll, Iowa
frame 34 – Carroll, Iowa

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.

Lincoln Highway, outside Scranton, Iowa
frame 03 – Lincoln Highway, outside Scranton, Iowa

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.

Farm House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
frame 05 – Farm House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa

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.

Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
frame 11 – Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa

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.

Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
frame 12 – Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
Lincoln Highway through Grand Junction, Iowa.
frame 18 – Grand Junction, Iowa
Lincoln Highway through Grand Junction, Iowa.
frame 19 – Grand Junction, Iowa
R.A. Miller Mobil station, along the Lincoln Highway in Grand Junction, Iowa.
frame 31 – R.A. Miller Mobil Station along the Lincoln Highway, Grand Junction, Iowa

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.

Gary Hevalow, Proprietor-Preston's Station, Belle Plaine, Iowa
Gary Hevalow, Proprietor/Benefactor, Preston’s Station, Belle Plaine, Iowa. Gary is working hard to try to reopen Preston’s Station as a local landmark and attraction. Given the era and subject matter, it of course had to be photographed in Ektachrome E100.

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.

Abandoned wayside station along the old Lincoln Highway, somewhere in West-Central Iowa.
frame 03 – Wayside Station, Lincoln Highway, western Iowa
Abandoned hotel in Beaver, Iowa along the old Lincoln Highway.
frame 08 – Lincoln Highway through Beaver, Iowa

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.

Old CTA Station on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Wells St., Warehouse District, Chicago, Illinois.
frame 29 – Old CTA Station in the rain, Chicago, Illinois

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.

Social Distancing

Social Distancing

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.

frame 13 – Social Distancing, Colorado Style. Gould, Colorado.

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?

frame 10 – Nokhu Crags and Mount Mahler, Never Summer Range, Colorado. It’s still very much winter in the mountains.

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.

frame 18 – Social Distancing, Colorado Style. North Park, Colorado.
frame 35 – Big Horn Sheep, Cache la Poudre Canyon, Colorado. Every time I travel Cache la Poudre canyon I hope to see bighorn sheep. Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to see them, and have the right lens and film ready.

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.

frame 05 – Joe Wright Reservoir Parking, Poudre Canyon, Colorado

Here’s to later in the year…

frame 28 – Park Range and Arapahoe National Wildlife Refuge, North Park, Colorado

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?

Your humble editor at Portillo’s in Chicago, March 10, 2020. Photo by @MatthewCrane.

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.

North Park, Colorado is a great place to practice Social Distancing. Took the F6 for a spin Sunday to see what we could see. Using the vintage 80-200 ƒ4,5 pre-AI, converted to AI I was reminded how glorious it is to be able to use virtually all Nikkor lenses on the F6 – with the modification. The MS-40 battery caddy is tucked in my pocket, kept nice and warm on a cold, Colorado day. The Nikon FB-11A has all my vintage AI-S lenses and a few extra bodies, just in case.

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.

Arches National Park, January 2020, part 2

Arches National Park, January 2020, part 2

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.

frame 01-Arches N.P. Entrance, Moab, Utah [Portra 400]

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.

Utah Juniper, Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. A wonderful thing about photographing in the fog – neutralizing the background. On a clear, hot sunny day there’s so much visible distraction beyond the subject. This day presented unique opportunities to explore isolation – in isolation. [Ilford Delta100]
While photographing in Arches National Park, I left the F6 outside for an hour while I waited in the car – complete with heated seats. Upon getting out to check on the camera, frost had begun to develop on the strap. I’m having fun creating impromptu videos while out shooting to bring a little more of the experience to the story.
Garden of Eden Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah [Ilford FP4+]

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.

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. The level of detail held in the frozen boughs combined with beautiful wood grain of Utah Junipers provided endless interesting compositions.
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. The level of detail held in the frozen boughs combined with beautiful wood grain of Utah Junipers provided endless interesting compositions.
frame 16 – Close Up Crop, Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. Though it was plenty bright enough – especially shooting ISo100 Delta – A tripod and Mirror-Up were used to assure as sharp and clean an image as possible. As always, Delta 100 developed in Ilford DDX does not disappoint. I can’t wait to wet print these negatives in the darkroom.

To see more imagery from the trip, including the frames made with medium format film, please visit bluehourjournal.com

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah.
Utah Juniper, Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. Through the various times visiting the Garden of Eden, the rock pillars would emerge then recede coinciding with density of the fog.
frame 19 – Garden of Eden Area, Arches National Park, Utah. Each time the icy fog lifted, fine, delicate crystals adorned everything. Kodak’s new Ektachrome 100 was superb for recording fine, accurate colored detail. [Ektachrome 100]
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. Much time was spent examining this scene. Large areas of wood grain, contrasted with fine frost and frozen juniper berries produced delicate detail and unbelievably intricate negatives.
Frozen cottonwood tree near Windows Area, Arches National Park, Utah. Arches’ average annual precipitation is 8.7”, 221mm. Not much. So when it happens it’s a pretty cool thing to see. Something else noteworthy about this image is that it was made with a plain, old 50mm lens. Nothing fancy or exotic – just a normal focal length lens you can pick up very inexpensively. In fact, this 50mm lens is perhaps the most used lens in my bag. It’s small and sharp – easy to have on the camera most of the time. Further proof you don’t need to spend a fortune on exotic camera gear to enjoy photography. OK, the F6 is pretty exotic, but still… [Ilford Delta 100]
Nikon F6 and NIKKOR 50mm ƒ1.4D, a match made in heaven.
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah
Near Windows Area, Arches National Park, Utah. The depth of fog changed often during 4 days, sometimes completely hiding distant rock formations – other times allowing just barely visible hints. A down side to this is the dust appearing in otherwise perfectly smooth areas of beautiful tone. Time to brush up on the spotting skills.
Arches National Park, Utah. Something about the swirling, organic patterns in Arches sandstone came to life in the day’s flat light.
Winter on the rim of Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Utah Juniper, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.
I debated whether to include this photograph or not, but decided to. This was made with the Mamiya 645 on Delta 100 and honestly, is the reason I shoot medium format film along side 35mm. While I love 35mm film and my Nikons, nothing compares to the larger frame and tone of the larger piece of film. Glad I shot both 35mm and 645 this trip, and have this image on the larger neg. It’s going to make a great wet print in the dark room.
The F6 and Nikkor 50mm f1.4D. 12 years old and going strong.
frame 15 – Self Portrait, Dead Horse Point, Utah (January, 2020). I might look grumpy in this photo but believe it or not I’m as happy as a guy can be… just a little cold.
Arches National Park, January 2020 – part I

Arches National Park, January 2020 – part I

Arches National Park, January 2020.

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.

frame 22 – Night cap, Moab, Utah

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.

Utah's Arches National Park isn't just beautiful when the sun shines (and a million people are crawling all over). A recent January visit revealed another side to this iconic National treasure.
frame 09 – Garden of Eden Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah

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.

frame 33 – Arches National Park, Utah

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.

frame 31 – Hikers make their way from a fog obscured parking area toward Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah.

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.

frame 29 – Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

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.

frame 11 – Garden of Eden Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah

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.

frame 14 – Windows Area, Arches National Park, Utah.

Sometimes the fog lifted just enough to make background features barely visible, adding depth to the mysterious scenes.

frame 07 – Fog introduced an element of mystery to the landscape, near Garden of Eden Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah

Next up is the color work. Thanks to Denver Digital Imaging for processing my color films. Couldn’t do it without you guys.

All In

All In

The D3s and F6 have worked side by side for 10 years. It's time to say goodbye to one of them - and it's not the F6.
The D3s and F6 have worked side by side for 10 years. It’s time to say goodbye to one of them – and it’s not the F6.

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.

Me, and the apple of my eye in my favorite winter haunt, RMNP.

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.

The same, only different. On the left, the F6 using Velvia 100 color slide film. One the right, the D3s. A good case could be made for either image. But why bother?
Nikon F6 35mm film camera.
Nikon F6, 35mm film 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.

Ready for any adventure: Nikon F2 Kit housed neatly in the Nikon FB-11A carrying case.
Old school film bliss; the Nikon FB-11A filled with vintage gear.

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.

frame 22- Hallett Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Kodak Ektachrome 100G (expired).

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.

Utah Juniper, Garden of Eden
frame 24 – Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah

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.

Fourth of July Parade, Allenspark, Colorado (2014)
Fourth of July Parade, Allenspark, Colorado (2014)

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.

35mm film
Can a compelling reason be made to shoot 35mm film? If that’s what the creative you wants to do, who cares what others think?

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.

frame 31-Highway 85, Wyoming. Velvia.

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.

Peace, JBC