Backlog II - Roadside Attractions

Driving around Alberta and even walking around Calgary and Vancouver you stumble across all manner of roadside attractions. I only discovered that I was amassing a body of work of things I found by the side of the road. Although not as flamboyant as oversized perogies, easter eggs and UFO landing pads the ones I was collecting were a bit smaller, ranging from defunct pizza restaurants in the middle of nowhere to bright pink store signage on Denman in the west end of Vancouver.

This was another one of those "Let's go to x and see what we can find". In this case, "x" was Waterton National Park. Like my visit to Rosebud and Drumheller, my output from there didn't make the final cut. Lot's of nice postcard pictures but nothing that grabbed me. On the way there though...

There are several ways to get to Waterton National Park. One is to turn south  on Highway 2 when you leave Fort McLeod and head towards Standoff and Cardston.  On the way you'll see the "Sundance Restaurant - Fully Licensed" on the west side of the road. I don't mean to sound like some sardonic hipster, but you have to wonder about the business plan when there's absolutely bugger all in all directions save miles and miles of wheat, barley and canola fields.

I saw this coming up in the distance and pulled off to the side of the road while my ever patient teenage daughter sat in the car waiting for Dad to scamper across the road and work the setting. This one is the one of the set I like best, although I have three others in my gallery.

Fully Licensed
I stop in Fort McLeod on my way south, more to stretch my legs that anything else. While walking around I chanced upon an empty parking lot. This parking lot at one time must have been filled with buildings facing the street I was walking on but over the century, the buildings have vanished, leaving just one old farmer walking to the back of the hotel at the end of the street. When I framed the image, what I couldn't get over was the intensity of blue skies. I visualized it in black and white as I felt the the man would pop better against the white wall.

Walking down the main drag, I happened upon a little strip mall, two stores and a laundromat. In front of the laundry, this:

Please Wait Outside

I may be stretching the defintion of a roadside attraction, but in my defense, it was on the side of the road and it did attract me. I suppose that in the heat of summer, the humid laundromat and the smell of soap, bleach, and all the other things are just a little much; why not wait outside, grab some rays and have a coffee.

Technical Notes

All of these shots were with the Zeiss Biogon 35/2.8 on my Leica M-E. Cropped and processed in Lightroom and then SilverFX for the black and whites. 


Backlog - Sturm und Drang

I've been on a self-enforced shooting hiatus. Looking at a backlog of almost 900 images in Lightroom I felt that I was at risk of turning into some sort photographic magpie, collecting images for the sake of collecting them. So, over the last 5 weeks I've waded through them all and over the next couple of posts I'll be sharing and commenting on them.

The first tranche is from a collection I call "Springtime in Alberta" after the Ian Tyson song.

While I was on stress leave, I had a hankering to head down to Rosebud, Alberta. The shoot in Rosebud didn't amount to much. I did have one image that I thought would work but after my 3rd pass through (I sweep through the images multiple times in LR, narrowing down my choices) it just didn't stand up. I headed on down the road to Drumheller and it just wasn't working for me so I decided to head home. 

Climbing up out of the Red Deer River valley I saw a spring storm rolling in from the north. I pulled over to the side of the road and got the cameras ready. Looking over my shoulder and out the passenger window I'd drive a few kilometers and stop. One of my first shots was of farmhouse framed in sunlight from the south with a roiling mass of cloud running out of the north looking for all the world it was sent by God to some good old fashioned Old Testament smiting.

Island in the Storm
I processed this in Lightroom and then used GoogleNik SilverFX. If you haven't bucked up for the Nik Suite, I really recommend that you do. Back when you had to spend almost the price of Photoshop for all the Nik tools I'd have thought twice, but now it's priced so well that you really can't afford not to get them.

I jumped back in the truck and headed east. That's when I saw the grain bins. The folks behind me must have thought me mad as I wheeled off the road and jumped out of the truck with my Leica (I had it around my neck as I was driving so I didn't have to fiddle around). In both colour and this black and white version I had images of of those dust bowl storms that blew the top soil across the prairies in the '30s. 

I've got two versions of this next image and I'm not sure which I like better. 

Maximum 80

Maximum 80
I think the black and white could use some more work. I think I used SilverFX control point tools I could open up the road a bit and create some more drama. My wife liked the colour version better right now I tend to agree. 

Technical Details

All images where taken with a Leica M-E and a Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2.8. Inital processing was in Lightroom and then in SilverFX.

Upon closer inspection I can see I missed some dust bunnies (quite a few actually). I had been changing lenses quite a bit in Rosebud and Drumheller and I'd forgotten that unlike my Olympus gear, Leica didn't think to add a dustbuster. Of course, with the way these images are laid out, it's hard to find the dust. Every time I looked I found a few more hiding in the clouds. I've found a technique that will give me a better chance at finding them so I'll be going back into these to "kill the wabbits". It involves some jiggery pokery with the tone curve to highlight the specks. 


Some "New" Books on My Bookshelf

I've made a promise to myself to read one book about photography every month. Some months I succeed, other months I don't. It's a convenient excuse really; an excuse to buy photo books and books about photography. This can be an expensive proposition; good photobooks aren't cheap. On the other hand books about photographic design and criticism are few and far between. 

I've been fortunate though to find a good source in Calgary. Besides "Fairs Fair", a used bookstore, there's HomeSense. HomeSense is like an upscale Liquidation World and from time to time gets surplus photo books from sources unknown. These books are all in good nick and seldom cost more than 10 to15 bucks. The only problem is that the selection is pretty hit and miss and sometimes months go by without a photo book appearing.  

Pleasant Surprise

Although I'm not a huge fan of Ansel Adams, "Unseen Ansel Adams: Photographs from the Fiat Lux Collection" was a suprise to find in HomeSense. The Fiat Lux Collection was the result of a three year project for the Centennial of the University of California resulting in apecial centennial book, "Fiat Lux: The University of California". To quote from the UC Berkely Bancroft Libray's Fiat Lux web page:

"Fiat Lux was intended not as a document of the university as it was, but rather a portrait of the university as it would be. Kerr [University President at the time) asked the artists to project through words and photographs, as far as possible, “the next hundred years”— impossible, of course, but a provocative invitation that the artists embraced. The Fiat Lux project was a massive endeavor, producing 605 fine prints and over 6,700 negatives, far more than the 1,000 images stipulated in Adams’s contract. After Adams’s lifetime devotion to Yosemite, Fiat Lux was probably the biggest single project of his life."

"Unseen" is an extract of that collection. Some commentards on Amazon slag this book; I have to disagree with them. This was a commercial documentary project and often (as I've found working on the Heritage Park 50 Project) you can't put all of your art and soul into all the images. You have to shoot x, y and z and unfortunately x and y leave you cold while z shows some artistic possibilities. As a pro you give x and y your best effort to try to impart some artistic sensibilities to it but in the end it ends up as just another image.

Having said that, I enjoy this book much more than many of the other Adams collections that Adams Inc. have been pushing out the door. As I indicated above, I'm not a huge fan of Adams; perhaps I've been saturated by his Yosemite photos. I do find the work that everybody goes ga-ga over, while technical tour-de-forces from an exposure and printing perspective, lacking something. To me they fail to capture the visceral nature of his subjects and sit cold and lifeless on the page staring back at me as I ask them the question "What are you trying to tell me?"; the answer is stoney silence. (Perhaps, as well, I'm still narked by that line in his autobiography that the Canadian Rockies where boring and didn't present any true photographic possibilities)

The images in this book, while exhibiting the same technical prowess that is a hallmark of all of Adams' work are much more pleasurable for me. I look at them and try to deconstruct, to actually read the image. Some of the images have an impishness to them while others show a sense of wonder of the natural and the man-made world. The aerial work is stunning and the documentary photos showing the work of the University tells the story clearly and draws you in, studying with the students and the professors trying to understand what they are thinking.

If you find this book, take the time to read the images. I've learnt some things about telling stories in one image and I'm applying it to my street-work.

Tough Sledding

There are two books that are giving me no end of difficulty keeping to that promise: Sontag's "On Photography" and Barthes "Camera Lucida". Everytime I start one of these I end up like Sisyphus rolling this huge intellectual boulder up hill only to get interrupted and have it come crashing back down with me, running like Indiana Jones, trying to get the heck out of the way. I've been trying for 4 months now and I still haven't been able to swipe the idol from the temple (to horribly mangle the metaphor)

Both of these books require, for my marginal intellectual abilities at least, uninterrupted time sitting somewhere quiet. Of the two, Barthes presents the toughest sledding, not the least because it is a translation from the French. As well, he has a quirky writing style filled with asides, diversions and convolutions. The combination can leave my mind twisted into some unknown Wonderlandian topological construct. 

Sontag presents only a slightly lighter intellectual boulder to push up the hill. A much more direct writer she covers similar ground but from an American perspective. Neither Barthes nor Sontag are photographers, (in fact Barthes claims never to even taken a snapshot) but instead are philosophers. As such they are able to separate the mechanics (compositional theory, exposure, etc.) from the ideas presented by photography. Barthes begins by asking "What is a Photograph", Sontag begins by looking at the act of "taking a photograph". Again, following some of her arguments leaves me in bit of mental pretzel.

I will persevere and finish both these books as the ideas Barthes and Sontag present are worth trying to understand. Part of this journey to find my photographic vision and voice is to wrestle with ideas presented by people such as these and by understanding them (or not) grow in an understanding of this art form.

It's going to be an interesting Christmas break.