Sunday, January 27, 2013

Garden of lost soles

Rice is a wide spot on California’s Highway 62 and, some might say, seen too often on these pages.  It's also home to a shoe garden.  Right behind the shuttered service station and across the street from an old Santa Fe Railroad siding lays an entropic display of sneakers, boots and clothing.  This was once the site of a shoe tree that burned down under suspicious circumstances.  In its place has grown a bumper crop of footwear adorning a wire fence surrounding the footprint of a long gone building .  The shoe garden has been so fertile that the fabled Mojave Desert shoe bees have fertilized the adjacent station so that leather and canvas blossums are blooming there as well.

For yet another shoe tree drive US 50, America's Loneliest Highway, just west of Austin, Nevada where the most famous shoe tree once stood.  That one burned in 2011 and has been replaced by a new one just 20 feet away.   There's clearly evil afoot.  Be on the lookout for a barefoot arsonist in a 1967 VW van with California license plate h8shoes.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

True New or Tried and True

When I drive to or from southern California I try to avoid the interstate and follow blue highways through the Navajo and Hopi reservations.  The vast emptiness of four corners country gives me a bounty of new material each time I visit plus a fresh take on stuff I’ve shot frequently. The images from my November trip with John Farnsworth were a case in point as is this image taken exactly five years earlier. 

I’ve been having a between the ears debate about the value of plumbing the depths of familiar subjects versus the thrill of discovery and how each is reflected in the photographic results.  Does the best work come from knowledge and examination of the tried and true or from the immediacy of fresh and new?  The answer is yes.

But then there’s the feeling that you need to get out of Dodge to get stoked; a feeling that is corollary to the more prevalent grass is always greener affliction from which I suffer.  This irresistible force mitigates for the theory that our art is best served by seeing absolutely new things and seeing them frequently.  At least that’s my excuse.

More shots from the road to follow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The subject that wasn't

A couple of years back I drove from the Black Hills of South Dakota where I was on a climbing trip through Lead, pronounced Leed,  past Deadwood and into Cook County,  Wyoming to see Devils Tower.  In actual fact, the visit to South Dakota was for others in our party to climb.  I gave up climbing for Lent.
Devils Tower, itself an iconic climbing destination, was on a tick list of places I’d wanted to photograph so I made the jaunt northwest from Rapid City.  As often happens when you have a specific subject in your sights an unexpected one intercedes.  The happy accident takes hold and your intended objective fades to dark.
Such is the case with this tiny schoolhouse on the windswept plains of eastern Wyoming.  I can’t name the town because there is no town on Highway 24 between I-90 and Devils Tower. 
At precisely the moment I stopped to photograph the school I had a lens malfunction that caused a soft focus effect. The softness and imprecision recall images from the early days of photography and which are now being emulated with cheap plastic cameras such as Holgas or Dianas.  So despite my predisposition for sharpness this ephemeral quality brings an emotional dimension to the image.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Bad Sport

Nuptse from Kala Pattar
I stood breathless and unsteady atop 18,300 foot Kala Pattar, a brown hillock of no particular significance but for its epic view of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.  The hike to its slope shouldered summit was a slow slog of two short steps and a rest followed by two short steps and a rest all the way up from 17,000 foot Gorak Shep, the highest inhabited place on earth.  Though I was lightheaded when we reached the top the staggering panorama was worth every panting breath.  In the thin crystalline air Nuptse smiled with jagged snow clad teeth.

For trekkers summiting Kala Pattar or reaching Everest Base camp is the high point of their two week Khumbu adventure.  Each day of a Khumbu trek is a six hour hike of 2,000 feet or so between monestaries and tiny settlements.  That’s the formula for acclimatizing to altitude and being ready for the final push to 18,000 feet or for an attempt at a trekking peak of 20,000 feet or more.  Then at higher altitude the formula becomes two steps up and one down, where you climb to a new high point then come back down about half of the day's elevation gain to sleep.  Climb high, sleep low is the axiom. 

It was the morning after a climb high sleep low day that I woke up seeing a flight of birds in my right eye, tiny black specks in some kind of avian dance.  I was feeling fit and ready for our planned attempt on Island Peak in three days time but prudence and easy access to a high altitude medical clinic just over the ridge in Pheriche mitigated for discretion.   I couldn’t very well duck a couple of Docs an hour away.

The only things the American and the French doctor could do were take my vital signs and guess at my malady.  The most sophisticated test available was for oxygen saturation and mine was an outstanding 98%.  I was ready for a double marathon at 16,000 feet for Pete’s sake.  “Au contraire mon ami, said kindly Dr. Moreau, you probably have a retinal hemorrhage and we must insist that you go down.  Only bad things will happen if you continue.”   With those words or some facsimile thereof my hopes for climbing a 20,000 footer were dashed. 

All the way back down to Namche Bazaar I cursed like a stevedore, no pun intended.   I was so damn fit. I was the fittest person on our team, guide included.  Two solo days down the trail and two more days in Namche imbibing certain medicinal beverages brought me some equanimity.  But when my group straggled in with the news that they had been weathered off the mountain and could not summit I was not exactly disconsolate.  I was elated.