Seeing Things, Saying Things

Musings About Writing, Photography and Teaching

Posts Tagged ‘Thoughts on photography

New York at Night

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I made my first and only visit to the observatory of the World Trade Center in early November 1981. I was visiting a friend who lived in the Big Apple although we had met back in Springfield, Illinois, when we both worked for the state.

We visited the WTC twice on the same day. The first visit occurred during daylight hours. I might have said something about what a nice view it would be at night.

Whatever the case, we returned that evening and I made this image. I don’t remember having a tripod. Perhaps we went back to Mark’s apartment to get one. I can’t imagine that I was traveling with a tripod.

This image was made on slide film and over the years it has badly faded. I scanned it anyway and through some Photoshop work was able to regain some of the image.

It would not only be the last time I visited the WTC it would also be the last time that I saw Mark. In fact, I can’t remember his last name or how to get in contact with him. Our last visit, though, was a memorable one.

Casting a Long Shadow

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I was in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to photograph the spectacular fall foliage, which was at its peak color.

Intestate 271 and the Ohio Turnpike cross over the Cuyahoga Valley in close proximity and you get an expansive view if you stand beneath the bridges and look eastward.

The shadow crossing the image is the I-271 bridge. I wonder how many of the thousands of travelers who cross over this bridge every day notice or even know they are passing over Ohio’s only national park?

In the foreground below is the towpath trail, a popular path for joggers, walkers and bicyclists.

Storm is a Coming

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I lived in central Illinois for three decades and during that time I saw countless thunderstorms roll in and out. Yet I never once thought to get out and photograph one.

I stumbled across a Flickr page operated by a woman who lives near where I grew up and I have been fascinated with her work in photographing thunderstorms and other weather phenomenon that can easily be seen on the Illinois prairie.

It might look flat and boring to many people — particularly those who don’t live there — but the prairie can yield some dramatic images if you know how to “see” it.

Looking at the work of that photographer has taught me how to see my former home state.

I had just gotten my digital camera when I made a trip back to Illinois. I was driving back to Champaign and could see a thunderstorm brewing off to the west.

I pulled over just outside of Rantoul and got this image. It’s nothing spectular, but is a common sight on the prairie of a storm coming.

I was back in my motel room when the storm actually hit and it was fierce for a while.

I was driving to another hotel to attend a banquet after the storm had ended. I took the long way around, driving through the countryside west of town.

There were some really nice storm light images to be had. But, alas, I didn’t want to take my camera with me to the banquet and left it in my motel room. It was a painful lesson and this image will always remind me of it.

S Curve

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What you see above is what railroads call an S curve because if viewed from above it makes a figure S.

But I see something else. I see a meandering path that creates motion for the eyes. Any basic photography instruction manual preaches the virtue of creating images with motion because it gives the photograph a dynamic quality.

Railroad tracks make visually interesting images because they naturally create a sense of motion.

Having an interest in trains, I was here to get a photograph of a train coming through that S curve. I knew that soon after I made this image that a southbound Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train would becoming along.

Yes, I photographed that train navigating the S curve. Yet sometimes the track alone is enough to create a good image.

I see this photograph and I am beckoned to wonder why lies around that curve in those woods in the distance.

No Longer Running

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I keep finding myself drawn to photographing abandoned service stations in my travels. I’m not sure why that is, but more than most abandoned businesses, service stations tend to still have a classic feel to them, even those that are in run-down condition.

Service stations typically were free-standing structures regardless of what era in which they were built. Many of those that have been abandoned and which are still standing were built of brick and featured a standard design.

The oldest ones had a single island for the gasoline pumps. There would be two garage doors for the service bays and a front door leading to the office/waiting room that also sold sundry other automotive-related items. Remember when oil companies used to issue road maps?

Maybe my fascination with old gas stations is rooted in a childhood ritual. During our travels about town Mom or Dad would stop at the filling station to “fer ‘er up.”

You didn’t have to leave your car. The attendant or even the owner would come out to you on the driveway.

My parents often knew the owner and chatted with him for a few minutes. They were guys you felt you could trust.

Service stations were part of the tapestry of small town America, but it is not like that today. In New Jersey a guy still comes out to fill up your car, but everywhere else I’ve been in recent years it is self service.

Today’s service stations — if that is the right term for them because they hardly provide any service — are large modern convenience stores that just happen to sell gasoline among other products.

Shown above is a former Marathon station in downtown Arcola, Illinois, that has been semi restored. The restoration has consisted of new paint and restoring the “best in the long run” Marathon herald.

It is located a block east of U.S. Route 45 just over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. It probably took a major financial hit when Interstate 57 opened in the 1970s east of town. That is a story that is all too familiar in all too many small towns in America.

One of the Magnificent 92

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Indiana has a lot of stately courthouses that tower over the square of the county seat communities that they serve. Most were built in the late 19th and early 20th century.

I don’t know if this makes Indiana unique or any different than any other Midwest state.

Nearly three decades ago, the late Ira Wilmer Counts, Jr., a professor of photojournalism at Indiana University traveled the state and photographed the 92 courthouses in the Hoosier State.

I don’t know how long that took, but it probably wasn’t done in a week.

His work was placed on a display with the exhibit text written by his colleague, Jon Dilts, who was my adviser during my time in graduate school at IU.

Their work was eventually made into a book titled The Magnificent 92 Courthouses of Indiana and a poster. I had a framed copy of that poster that sat on the wall above my desk for many years.

Professor Counts didn’t have far to go to photograph the courthouse in Bloomington, the home of the IU main campus and the county seat of Monroe County.

I admired Professor Counts’ work for his ability to vary the angles and compositions of the courthouses.

I never had Professor Counts for a class during my time at IU. I only knew him casually, if that.

He had a distinguished career that landed him a place in the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

An Arkansas native, Professor Counts is best known for his prize-winning photograph of a black student seeking to integrate a segregated high school in Little Rock in 1957.

When he died of cancer at age 70 in 2001, Professor Counts merited an obituary in the New York Times and other publications. His book about Indiana courthouses was mentioned in the Times obit.

Whenever I see a courthouse in Indiana I’m reminded of Professor Counts and his devotion to telling the story with images of the architecture of another era.

Scooping Up Snow

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This tractor is used by the owners of a farm to scoop up soil and move large, heavy objects. Maybe they also use it to remove snow from their driveway when it is rather deep.

But on the day that I photographed it, it wasn’t scooping up or moving anything. I was buried in the snow just like everything else that had been left outside during a recent heavy snowfall.