Trona’s a small gritty mining town in the Searles Valley in the Mojave desert (not far from Death Valley), and I’ve struggled long and hard to realistically show the small bits of it that I see when I drive through on my way elsewhere (as I probably do once or twice a year). I don’t really mean the landscape or the townscape as such; I mean the weird mixture of industry, domesticity, and harsh desert beauty that comes together when you see the junkyards on the edge of town or you stop at the little rest stop on Trona Road (the main drag) or you see the glinting hills and mountains of the Mojave looming behind the plant, or you pass the “Trona Tornadoes” sign on the local high school or the large white windowless Catholic church next to the road, or when you see the Trona Pinnacles way down in the distance. People think of the place as desolate, but it’s much more than that — it’s a real place, a place where real people live and work and go about their lives, not a stage, and certainly not a setting for hipsters passing through taking selfies in front of the plant or […]
One of those “the best camera is the one you’ve got on you at the time…” shots. In this case, of course, that camera is my iPhone, and I’d ridden my bicycle past this sight (in the Fruitvale district of Oakland) on the way to work that morning, thinking it looked cool, but the light was in the wrong place, and I’d never be back in time later that day to do it when the light was in the right place — and in a day or two the flooding would be gone anyway. But I got off work early, and there it was. I go past this building almost every day, one way or another, and until recently it housed a working business; but now it’s up for sale or lease, and gentrification can’t be far off (just like much of the rest of my neighbourhood). I can’t help wondering how long it’ll be before this place ends up in another Now And Then article here….
This one probably speaks for itself, but I’ll talk over it anyway. This is big country — this is the view from a 4WD trail east of Afton Canyon and somewhere west(ish) of Baker, California, a track that roughly parallels Interstate 15 on its way to Vegas (and the word “roughly” is appropriate here…). I’d stopped and taken a bunch of hand-held photos of the mountains in the distance with a longish (70-200mm) lens on my Nikon D300, but I didn’t hit on the right way to get the full effect of the size, textures, colours, shimmers, and subtle beauty until I had the genius idea (duh!) to actually include the traffic on the freeway below (which was actually a fair way off — this was a longish lens). This is the only one that really works for me, but I really wish I’d put the truck and the freeway a little further up in the frame (the others were better framed but had too many — or the wrong type — of vehicles in them).
I’m not sure what most people see when they look at this image printed large on my studio wall. It makes a break from the usual body shots and stuff like that — no manipulation or striving here. I’d guess most people don’t look twice at it, but it’s one of my favourite landscape shots of the last few years. I’ve had something like this shot in mind for years — I drive through this part of the Port of Oakland at least weekly, and the place has always fascinated me. It’s pure industry, and although it’s often swarming with trucks and containers and ships and trains at all hours of a typical work day (and night), most Bay Area residents have probably never seen it except from the outside, from one of the freeways or roads that snake along the perimeters. I’m guessing a lot of people who drive past it every day have no idea you can drive through the middle of it, let alone how you get there. This particular shot was taken on West 7th heading back towards West Oakland and Downtown as you go under the main railroad lines and yards that lead into the […]
When I first got to California, I didn’t know much about the deserts here, but I knew a bit about the old Route 66 and its role in California’s history. I was curious enough about it that when I first visited the Mojave, I drove down the old Route 66 (now known in that area as the National Trails Highway) between Barstow and Amboy (California). Lots of people do that — it’s a popular, easy drive, and if you ever get the chance, do it — some of it’s ruggedly-beautiful, and you’ll see a lot of natural and human history, often within an easy walk of the road itself (and some of it — especially the bits around Barstow and Daggett — will give you a good feeling for the realities of life in the High Desert). Before I did the drive I looked at the map and noticed a string of places with names like Bagdad, Siberia, Cadiz, Ludlow, Klondike, etc., marked along the way on the map. I had to visit Siberia, California! I had to see Bagdad, CA! (The Bagdad of Bagdad Café — except that movie was actually mostly shot a bunch of miles west at […]
I’ve commuted to San Francisco for years now on BART. Back in the mid-2000’s, as you went over West Oakland on the elevated BART way, you could see this ramshackle old apartment building just off to the left at street level in a mostly commercial and industrial neighbourhood. Over the years it got progressively more decrepit until it looked like it must have been condemned; but these things are hard to tell from BART. I kept mentally making a note to go and photograph the place, and every now and then I’d actually ride or drive past it on my way through West Oakland, but the sun was always in the wrong place or the light was bad or (as always seems to happen in West Oakland) there’d be a huge container truck or something similar parked idling right in front of it. Finally I went out on my bike one Sunday morning and managed to get it (more-or-less) right. I think the resulting image does a reasonable job of conveying the isolation of the building, the lack of people on the street (this wasn’t the sort of neighbourhood where most people take casual strolls), the bizarre angles and textures on the […]
Just another Instagram. I drive past this wall and door on East 10th at 23rd Avenue in Oakland near my studio every now and then, always meaning to get a photo, but I’m usually in too much of a hurry to stop. So one day a few months ago I walked there from my studio, pulled out my iPhone, and took this shot. Well, in fact I also took several shots at the same time with my little Canon Powershot G12, but I like this one the best. This is exactly the way it looked back then (it’s still there, but the way it looks changes with the seasons, the graffiti, the weeds, etc.), and I think it conveys the sense of weirdness I always get when I see it — the overwhelming rectangularity (contrasting the radials on the door), the dominant reds and browns, the painted-over graffiti, the slightly-anarchic weeds, and the mystery of a single small door in a large otherwise-unbroken external factory wall. What’s inside? Why is it never open? But there’s more to it than that. Nine years ago I drove by that door early one morning on my way to work and witnessed the confusing aftermath of […]
I used to do street photography with a view camera. Yes, really — bellows, light hood, heavy tripod and all, a bit like Ansel Adams, but with a lot less talent. Not street photography in the sense of waving your camera in the face of snarling or indifferent people on the street, of course, but in the sense of taking photos on the street and of the street. I tend to avoid taking pix of San Francisco because everyone takes photos there (plus I’m a long-term Oaklander who mostly couldn’t care less about SF), but this is one of the few exceptions I made, because, well, I really liked this beautiful exposed wall. It was on an old semi-derelict building on Mission near Third in San Francisco; I used to see it every week on my way down Mission. So early one Sunday morning sometime (I think) in the late 1990’s I set up my 4×5 on Mission Street a little north of Third, and spent a bunch of minutes taking a couple of black-and-white film negs while people wandered past me. It’s one of my favourite rushed get-in / get-out street view camera shots from those days (how do you do rushed […]
One of my all-time favourite candid people photos, taken maybe a decade ago at Oakland Airport’s Old-T’s hangars. Lou — CDR Louis Fields, USN (Retd.) — was a flying mentor of mine who died a couple of years ago and had a great memorial send-off on the USS Hornet in Alameda. He’d served in WWII, so he wasn’t exactly young when I took this photo, but he was still mentally very sharp and physically active; he was just about to fly his little “Thunder Chicken” (a well-maintained Aeronca Champ fitted out with GPS, etc.) to Rio Vista. He’d just said something drily funny about my aerobatics flying — he was an accomplished aerobatics pilot as well as a senior flying instructor and FAA Designated Examiner (DE) — and I had my Nikon D100 handy, so I took this photo to poke fun at him (he was also kidding me about my wielding a camera around the hangars all afternoon). The original image off the camera is of course in colour, but I’ve always presented the finished version in black and white, as I think that emphasises the wonderful strength and character of his face at this age — a face that could simultaneously deadpan a joke and express obvious amusement at something you’d just […]
I left Winnemucca, Nevada, heading for Utah on Interstate 80 early that morning. It was snowing heavily, and I drove very slowly behind a snowplow along the freeway. There was almost no other traffic going in either direction. I wasn’t too worried about the snow on the road — I have a Subaru and it keeps to the road pretty well — but the visibility was terrible. By Battle Mountain, although it was still snowing, I could at least see maybe a mile in front of me, and the landscape around me was starting to emerge. That landscape was beautifully bleak and stark, almost monochromatic, and alternately flat and jagged. The mist and low cloud accentuated the effect, and I stopped off the freeway several times to get photos of it all. I think this is the best of the lot — it certainly evokes that morning for me — but there are a bunch more that will probably appear here eventually, usually emphasising the contrasts between the flatness and straight lines (like the railways, roads, and power lines, but also the horizon at times) and the sharper, more convoluted and broken lines and surfaces of almost everything else […]