Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wind

Wind.

Wind.

And more wind.  December 31, 2011.

Despite the 70 mph wind gusts, I decided to go out and shoot some photos in the Laramie Basin this morning.  Wind has been the weather story here lately and, for that matter, since the Pleistocene.  But the strength of it was a little above average today, threatening to rip the door off of my truck if I forgot to pay attention and hold on with both hands when I opened it.  My first destination was the Laramie River north of town.  The river is frozen of course, and since we've had no snow to speak of, the ice is clean.  One of these days I'm going to take a pair of ice skates out there and see how far I can go.  But not in this wind. 

On the way back towards town, I saw lots of plastic snared on barbed wire trying hard to escape to follow the wind east, but not having any luck.  Over the years I've made a series of images of plastic stuck in wire, and sometime I'm going to organize them into set of images to show, even if only for myself.

I finished my morning trip exploring the old Standard/Midwest refinery in West Laramie, which will be the subject of another post.  Finally, with frozen hands I headed for home.  It's been a great year and what better way to spend the last day than shooting photos in the Laramie wind? 

I'm not kidding.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

To Include or not to include? That is the question.

Canyon near Medicine Bow, Wyoming.  May 2008.

Canyon near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, with mattress.  May 2008.

Many of us who become obsessed with photography begin with a love of landscapes.  This is especially true when you live in a place like Wyoming, which is rich in them. I once heard the musician David Bromberg, while playing at the Wort Hotel in Jackson, lament that "too much of Wyoming is out of doors."

We're all aware of famous landscape photographers; Ansel Adams immediately comes to mind and of course there are many others.  Classical landscape photographers and painters studiously omitted any sign of human disturbance, and this tradition continues today among a subset of photographers even as it becomes increasingly difficult to frame a photograph without SOME evidence of humans--either on the ground or in the sky (contrails are almost unavoidable). 

Of course many contemporary landscape photographers have embraced human impacts. Tomorrow I'm going to Denver to see the Robert Adams' photos at the Denver Art Museum. Adams photographed extensively in the West and masterfully depicted the impact of man on landscapes.  In a description of an exhibition of his work at the Getty Museum in L.A., the writers say:

"His work is inspired both by his joy in the inherent beauty of the landscape, and his dismay at its exploitation and degradation for residential and commercial development.

In his images of main streets, tract houses, trees, and waterways, Adams records two kinds of landscapes, one damaged by people and the other somehow beyond their power to harm. He asks us, through his photographs, to consider where we live and how we relate to our environment
."
Closer to home, the photographer Martin Stupich explored the interaction of man with Wyoming's Red Desert. Some of his photographs show untouched landscapes, which can still be found there, while others emphasize human activity--primarily but not exclusively related to oil and gas extraction. 

I just read the excellent The History of Photography by Beaumont Newhall, in which he elegantly traces the evolution of photographers scientifically and artistically from the first experiments with camera obscuras to modern color prints.  He describes the realization that photography has the special power to capture the world as it is, with no embellishment and quotes Oliver Wendall Holmes, speaking in the context of graphic photographs of the American Civil War:
"The very things which an artist would leave out, or render imperfectly, the photograph takes infinite care with, and so renders its illusions perfect."
How many times have I struggled to artificially crop the effects of humans from landscapes, when including them would be both more honest and when their inclusion would make a better photograph?  (Answer: Lots.)  Neither of the photographs at the beginning of this post are spectacular, but which is more interesting?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas at the Buckhorn Bar

Christmas tree at the Buckhorn.  December 2008.

I haven't had time to write a suitable Christmas post, so here's a photo from the archives--the Buckhorn Bar (Laramie) Christmas tree in 2008.  It probably looks exactly like this in 2011, with the same people at the bar. 

Have a great Christmas!


The Buckhorn, Laramie, 2008.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ferris Dunes

Sunrise, Ferris Dunes. (Scan from slide -- probably Fujichrome Velvia)
(click photos for larger version)

There are surprising and beautiful places hidden in Wyoming basins. One of them is at the base of the Ferris Mountains north of Rawlins and east of Muddy Gap, where sand from the Wind River Mountains has been picked up by the wind (wind in Wyoming??!!) and blown all the way across the center of the state to pile up into huge, active sand dunes. Nearby is the tiny ghost town of Ferris, presumably associated with George Ferris, a miner and sheepherder who came to Wyoming after the Civil War and eventually was killed in a horse accident.  I like to visit the dunes in the summer when I'm on my way north to better known destinations.  Last summer I took Bei and her cousins from New Jersey to camp in the Ferris.  Lauren and Leigh had never camped before--what better place to start than in an obscure Wyoming basin.

Bei (center) with her NJ cousins on their first camping trip.  August 2011.

Evening, Ferris Dunes.

Dune grass, Ferris Dunes.

Drilling cable, Ferris Dunes.

Sunrise from Ferris Dunes.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Old Trailer Homes

Trailer near Muddy Gap, Wyoming.  January 2010.

(click any photo to make bigger)

There's something appealing about abandoned trailers in remote places.  Maybe it's about wondering who would live in such a place and why.  I like what Wyoming weather does to human detritus after a decade or two, and trailers are particularly evocative of how temporary we are.

Trailer, Laramie Basin.  January 2010.

Trailer near Red Desert, Wyoming.  October 2011.

Trailer near Red Desert, Wyoming (same as above).  October 2011.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Xiahe, China

Cyclists, Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, Gansu Province, China

I've been sorting through photographs taken in China in 2005-06 when we lived in Yunnan, making picks for a show I'm hanging at a popular lunch place in Boulder called Breadworks.  Some of my favorites are from Western China, where we traveled during the summer after we finished our year of English teaching.  Xiahe is a small Tibetan town in the Gansu Province, outside of Tibet itself, but dominated by the Labrang Monastery, one of the great centers of Yellow Hat Buddhism (the Dalai Lama is of this tradition). 

We stayed in Xiahe for several days, spending some time at the monastery but also exploring in the beautiful vast grasslands surrounding the town amongst mountain peaks.  I remember one day walking down a dirt road across a vast grassland and being approached by a group of nomadic Tibetan herders who offered my daughter Bei a ride with them on one of their horses--she was afraid to accept so they wandered away, disappearing over a low hill with their sheep.

The photo above was taken early one morning as monks walked from their homes to the monastery.  It's one of my favorites from our travels that summer and looking at it has me wishing I were in China now.

The Xiahe valley.

A Tibetan herder.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cutting Our Own Christmas Tree

Lodgepole pines, Snowy Range, Wyoming

Tomorrow morning, we're heading into the Snowy Range to find a Christmas tree amongst the  beetle-killed lodgepole pines.  I like the ritual of cutting our own. The three of us spend an hour or so post-holing around in the snow examining clumps of imperfect firs with one full side and another scraggly one, where the trees have hunkered together to save themselves from the wind.  Eventually we either find a good full tree (rare), or convince ourselves that an imperfect one will do (common), so that we can drag it back to the truck and break out the thermos of hot chocolate.  The scraggly side can always face into the corner of our living room.  By this time Bei can hardly wait to get home to start decorating. 

I remember a series of black and white photographs that Bobby Model made years ago in Cody, I think for one of the climbing magazines, showing kids from a rural school dragging their tree across a frozen creek as they returned to class.  I wish I could find a link, but I can't.  For me, Bobby's photos captured something unique to living in Wyoming, where getting a tree doesn't always mean driving to a lot and spending $50 for one that is "perfect."  I hope that when Bei is older she'll look back fondly on our trips to the Snowies.

December 2010

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In the Deep Freeze

Winter, Laramie Basin.

It's been a little chilly around here the for the last couple of days.  At our house the thermometer bottomed out at 17 below on Sunday night, but the official temperature at the airport just west of town sagged to 27 below.  According to the Weather Underground, if "felt like 42 below," whatever that means.  It's fun to report these extreme temperatures to relatives who live in warmer places because they inevitably express their horror and ask, "How can you live in a place like that?"  Oddly though, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds.  I grew up in the DC suburbs, and I can look you in the eye and report that I've been far colder there at 25 degrees in a damp East Coast wind than I felt yesterday riding my clunky old town bike to work (just a few blocks away) at 17 below. 

Stay warm!

Photo info:  Nikon D700, 17-35 mm lens at 17 mm, ISO 200, f8, 1/125 s

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Book: Yin Yang

                                    Bei (age 4) with Naxi men in Yunnan, China, 2005.

Ellen, Bei, and I lived in China in 2005-06 in Lijiang, a beautiful but touristy town at the foot of the Himalaya in the Yunnan Province.  Ellen and I taught English at a small college.  Bei, then four, went to a Chinese kindergarten.  Alice Renouf of Boulder, Colorado, helped us organize our year there.  She founded the Colorado China Council, which helps connect U.S. teachers to jobs teaching English in China.  We became great friends with Alice, and Ellen worked for her after our return to the States for a couple of years. 

Alice and Mary Beth Ryan-Maher just published a book called Yin Yang: American Perspectives on Living in China.  It features writing from my China blog and some of Ellen's letters to Alice, and photos from our stay there.  The above is one of my favorites, taken while we were out for a walk in one of the Naxi villages near where we lived (the Naxi are the dominant ethnic group in Lijiang).  The book also features lots of great writing by other American teachers that Alice has helped send to China.  If you are interested in China it's a great read, even if you haven't been there.  The book is available in paperback from Amazon for about $20. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Canyoneering: West Fork Blue John Canyon

                          Steve Millard rappelling from Blue John into Horseshoe

Lower Blue John Canyon is where Aron Ralston cut off his own arm in 2003, an act that saved his life and eventually led to his portrayal by actor James Franco in the Danny Boyle movie, 127 Hours.  I haven't yet brought myself to watch the film because I've heard that the climactic scene is...well...what you'd expect it to be, with realistic sound, but I will eventually when I can get up the nerve. 

Me, Larry Scritchfield, Larry's wife Jane Addis, Jim Akers, Steve Millard, and Don Reyes, all good friends, met in Utah this fall (September 2011) for our twice-annual canyoneering trip and did Lower Blue John on our first day.  This isn't a trip report, of which there are many, but instead a chance to post a few photos of the canyon, which is gorgeous and not too difficult (unless your arm gets stuck) -- a very fun day trip.  Blue John eventually empties into a pretty side canyon of Horseshoe Canyon, itself an outlying section of Canyonlands National Park, famous for a rich pictograph panel. 

From a photography standpoint, canyoneering is challenging.  It's often wet and muddy, always sandy, usually strenuous, and frequently punishing on humans and equipment, including cameras.  It's also dark down in those narrow slots, but you don't really want to carry cameras that can make good images at high ISOs because they are expensive, and likely to get trashed.  On-camera flash is too harsh, but off camera lighting is too time consuming.  In the last several trips, our group has destroyed two point-and-shoots, and I've damaged a decent lens (repairable).  I bought a Nikon P7000 and it works OK, but not as well as I'd like in the dark.  I carry an old D200 in dry canyons, but it often ends up in the pack for protection from the brutality.  I'd love to find a good solution that doesn't cost a fortune, but there probably isn't one (the new mirrorless cameras??).  Without being  paid to shoot a canyon trip, it just seems too risky to drag a high end DSLR along.  I'd like to take better photos on these trips, but mostly I want to participate in them.  Those two goals don't always coincide.   

Jim Akers pondering the downclimb into the head of the 1st technical section.

Steve Millard, Lower Blue John.

Larry Scritchfield, eying a log that apparently was also in 127 Hours.

Larry, working his way down.

The Great Gallery pictograph panel in Horseshoe Canyon

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Portraits by Miguel Angel Sanchez

If you haven't seen the work of Miguel Angel Sanchez, check it out because it's incredible.  He was featured recently in the NYT Lens Blog (worth a daily look) for his portraits of Egyptian protesters.  The portraits are carefully designed to evoke the style of Renaissance paintings, and they do.  According to the Lens Blog each image takes about a week to produce. 

In the words of Sanchez (from Lens):

“Each person is like a poem that has to be synthesized, always searching for the best metaphor that represents what each one of them evokes in me, without losing the connection with the reality that is presented in front of the camera.”

I'd love to learn how he does it.  The light that pours in from out of the photographs is fantastic.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adobe Town

                                            Fence, Adobe Town, SW Wyoming

Adobe Town, in the Red Desert of SW Wyoming is one of my favorite places.  I've hiked amongst the spectacular badlands, camped near a coyote den and watched the pups play, found arrowheads and a medicine pipe, found a wooden crib and a plastic Big Wheel at an abandoned ranch house, photographed wild horses running across a dry lake bed, carried my daughter on my back when she got too tired to walk, and gotten my truck hopelessly stuck in the mud, only to engineer a way out using a cheap jack (I've GOT to buy a better one) and a lot of rocks and sticks.  Each trip reveals some new aspect of the place that surprises me. 

One of last year's finds was a natural corral below the rim amongst the badlands, where cowboys had used old drilling cable to construct an elaborate fence to block the only exit.  When you are a photographer, the remains of odd human endeavors like this can occupy you for hours.  The cable that forms the spine of the fence is probably 3/4" in diameter and heavy as hell.  It's also rusted to a beautiful brown orange color, and wrapped around all sorts of interesting posts, bits of thinner cable, and in one place, an antler.  I can only imagine the determination necessary to even stretch the cable enough to get it off the ground. 

At Adobe Town you can still sit on the rim at night and see no sign of humans.  The badlands are as spectacular as those in any national park.  Nobody is there.  And yet, it's a microcosm of the endless tension between preservation and development.  Periodically offered salvation from oil and gas development, new threats always emerge.  Protection is never permanent.  Every time Adobe Town is recognized as deserving of wildness, some company tries to gnaw away at it from the edges. Too few people realize how rare it is now to have such a place, and how easy it is to lose it. 

                                          Antler fence tightener, Adobe Town

                                          Fence post, Adobe Town

                                          Fence and rock, Adobe Town

                                          Wire loop and fence, Adobe Town





Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cousins in Austin, Texas

                                            Bei and her cousins at Pedernales Falls near Austin.

My daughter, Bei (farthest left in photo), and just spent a long weekend in Austin, Texas, visiting my two sisters and their kids. The weekend was a whirlwind of BBQ ribs, brisquet, and margaritas, with a couple of trips out into the Hill Country thrown into the mix.  The highlight for me was a days spent at Pedernales Falls State Park, an hour or so NE of Austin.  The infamous drought has left the river low, but still beautiful, lined by bald cypress trees and riddled with crystal clear swimming holes for the kids (yes, you can swim in Austin in November).  I shot the portrait as we hiked back to the car at the end of the day, in time to have dinner at the Salt Lick, a sprawling and famous BBQ restaurant on the SE side of Austin.

Photo info:  Nikon D700, 28-75 Tamron lens at 40 mm, f 8.0, 1/125 sec., SB800 flash camera right, diffused.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Unable to Resist the Aspens

                                            Fall, Happy Jack Road, Wyoming

Like millions of other photographers, when fall comes I'm unable to resist the color, even though I know that every conceivable photograph of Rocky Mountain aspen trees has already been taken, often by  more patient landscape photographers than I (an aside -- did you see the discouraging news piece about an art installation that filled several rooms of a gallery with small prints of every single image uploaded to flickr in a 24-hour period?).  Still, it's beautiful out for those fleeting few weeks, and those of us that live in the Northern Rockies know that when that color is gone, we face a black and white world of wind, blowing snow, and cold fingers for 6-7 months, depending on the year.  So out we go, just to enjoy it while it lasts.  The image above is from one such outing, and a passing thunderstorm set off the landscape for me.  It's nice when the sky cooperates by filling itself with something other than crystal blue skies.

Photo information:  Nikon D700, 28mm lens, ISO 400, 1/160 handheld, f16

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pig Wrestling, Albany County Fair

                                           Pig wrestling, Albany County Fair, Wyoming

Last summer, we took my wife's sister and her twin daughters from New Jersey to the Albany County Fair to see the popular pig wrestling event.  The wrestlers, along with an unfortunate pig, are released into a round pen filled with slimy bentonite mud and a plastic barrel.  Their mission is to capture the pig and deposit it in the barrel as quickly as possible; the team with the fastest time wins the event.  I spent some time wandering around behind the grandstands, looking for the quintessential small-town summer event image, and the one above is my favorite. 

When I returned to the stands, one of my nieces, horrified by the frantic squealing, remarked, "This makes me realize that it's not so bad living in New Jersey."

Photo information:  Nikon D700, 17-35 mm lens at 17 mm, ISO 1600, f2.8, 1/500 sec.

A few more images from the event:







Sunday, November 6, 2011

One School at a Time Sponsorships

                                           Brenda at Coal Bin, Kampala, Uganda 2009

I returned to Laramie from Boulder, Colorado last night, where I attended a Board of Director's meeting for One School at a Time, the non-profit that I photographed for in Uganda in 2009.  One School partners with individual schools (one at a time) to improve educational opportunities for rural Ugandan kids.  They're small and they do a fantastic job of working with the school community to make sure that any improvements made to the schools will continue to function long after One School has left.  Lots of NGO's drop money into projects in Africa without ever really engaging with the people they are trying to help.  The result is a surprising legacy of decaying infrastructure, unusable or in disrepair.  When I was in Uganda I saw  textbooks on the history of Robert E. Lee in the South in donated "libraries" at rural schools, and an articulating hospital bed in an empty concrete room at an unstaffed "clinic" among banana trees.  One School is remarkable in that 96% of their funds go directly to their projects (tiny overhead for an NGO) and the projects continue to function on their own, thanks to carefully crafted community buy-in.

Early in the history of One School several of the directors traveled to Uganda where they met individual children, like Brenda, in need of support.  Later, they decided that individual sponsorship, though badly needed, was not the most efficient way to use their limited resources, so they evolved towards the current school partnership model.  Nevertheless, several of the directors personally took on sponsorships of a handful of children, including Brenda (above) and her sister Agnes, whose mother worked in a coal bin in Kampala selling coal for the owner for less than a dollar a day.  The girls were living in a nearby shack with their mother and suffered from crushing poverty and frequent illness.  Thanks to the sponsorships, these girls are now thriving and eager to attend secondary school, which costs more money than their original sponsors can afford alone.

One School is looking for a few people willing to commit to a long-term sponsorship (5 years) of one or more of these 5 or so children to get them through secondary school.  A commitment of $500/year for 5 years for each child would be ideal to cover all of their costs, although $100/year for 5 years would make a difference.  For these particular sponsorships, the directors are not looking for small donations, though you are certainly encouraged to donate whatever you can to One School at a Time to contribute to their school partnerships.  If you'd like to take on a long-term sponsorship, contact Bay Roberts, the One School director.  If you are interested in making any kind of donation to One School, you can do so at this page.

I'm hoping to put together a proposal to return to Uganda in 2012 to do a story on the issues and challenges associated with educating girls there.  Stay tuned for more information on this as I begin to plan for this project.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Red Desert Weekend

                                          Abandoned Trailer, Red Desert, Wyoming

I recently spent a weekend in the Red Desert between Superior, Wyoming, a historic coal mining town, and the Jim Bridger Power Plant, a not-so-historic coal burning power plant, both just north of Interstate 80 not too far from Rock Springs.  Ed Sherline and I wandered around with our cameras looking for human detritus and Red Desert landscapes with a preference for the former.  One of my favorite piles of abandoned junk is just north of Jim Bridger, where strip mining machinery has been left to rust beside the road.  I'd photographed here before years ago, and it was fun to return to find that new stuff had been added to the pile including an odd yellow pyramid and the sky-blue frame of an enormous steel cube.  While we photographed amongst the scrap, we were serenaded by a cacophony of weird sounds from the general vicinity of the power plant but also areas around it -- everything from what sounded like automatic weapon fire to dangerous harmonics, like what you might expect to hear if you could play high tension power lines like guitar strings.  The sounds made for an eerie and disconcerting experience in the middle of an otherwise mostly silent desert on a perfect fall day.


Photo info:  Nikon D700, 17-35 mm lens at about 19 mm, f16, ISO 200, 1/200 sec.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Listening to Nature: UW Berry Center


I'm showing photos on Friday night, October 28, at the University of Wyoming Berry Center.  The program is called Listening to Nature, and includes readings by scientists and artists, and photos by myself and two other Laramie photographers, Ed Sherline and Brett Deacon.  The image above was taken below the Skull Rim in SW Wyoming while on a photo and camping trip with Ed.  Ed and I were wandering around under a stormy sky, each capturing almost at the same time very different images that we will be showing on Friday.  If you're in Laramie, the event is at the Berry Center starting at 5:30. 

See the Creative Writing program website for details.