May 08, 2017 – Deadwood

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Near the intersection of Stone & Ft Lowell in Tucson, Arizona is this heap of rotting bricks, right across the street from a family owned Indian restaurant and a gas station. Al’s Deadwood Place has been closed for a long time, probably close to ten years, but it still sits here, the ‘cocktail’ sign slowly fading, the cloth long-since ripped from the awning. I only set foot in this establishment once, but the experience was memorable enough.

Deadwood was the darkest bar I had ever been in, before or since. My girlfriend and I sat down at the bar, a chatty woman behind the counter excited to share her high-school son’s academic successes with us. The place was dead silent; no jukebox or radio, just the humming of the electricity and the crunch of ice when our drinks were being mixed. We were probably two rounds of tequila deep before I noticed that there was another man at the far end of the bar, clinging to the shadows, not noticeably conscious. He was slumped over, head down, reminding me of some kind of bar-fly a caricature.

There was nobody else at the bar. Just my girlfriend and I, college-aged and curious about the bar down the street, the chatty-Kathy, and the figured slumped over in the shadows. He reminded me of a generic cartoon drunk, like something you’d see at Moe’s Tavern in The Simpsons.

Who knew how long he’d been there? Who knew how long he’d remain after we left
Only the barmaid, I suppose.
This was easily the dingiest, darkest, dirtiest little hole-in-the-wall I had ever patronized.

I kind of liked it. I’m bummed I can’t go there again.

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May 01, 2017 – Vintage Tucson

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We’re beginning the new month with a theme of ‘interesting places,’ but this will be a loosely interpreted theme. I don’t always uphold the rules of the month entirely, but there certainly isn’t a a dearth of interesting, weathered, creative, or otherwise unique little corners of the world.

There are a lot of interesting old buildings in Tucson, as the desert city rose into greater prominence in the middle of the 20th Century. State highways were lined with service stations and motels, and American ‘car culture’ was alive and well. In some ways, Tucson was something of a stopover as people made their way to California, and that’s precisely where many of the old motor lodge neon signs come from along the Old Benson Highway.

This image, just south of Downtown Tucson, has recently been rehabilitated and the neon sign has been repaired and re-lit. I’m happy that the structure is being preserved, but I also have this strong affinity for these old, rusty, rickety buildings. I guess there’s something to appreciate on both sides of that coin, and there’s definitely something to appreciate when an old relic of a building is once again inhabited, rather than vacant and in danger of demolition.

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February 24 – The Mule Mountains

02-24 Bisbee post“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction. As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

~Henry David Thoreau

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February 14 – Stone Avenue Garage

02-14 Stone Ave Garage postOne of the things I enjoy most about photographing using traditional film methods is the aesthetic. The ease of digital photography has ushered in a new era of thoughtlessness; we are free to machine-gun the shutter and then pick-and-choose which images we like after the fact. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s a time-consuming approach. I genuinely believe that the time, limited frame-count, and money involved with film photography naturally motivates the photographer to be more thoughtful regarding what to photograph and how to photograph it.

I made today’s photograph of the day using my twin-lens Yashica-D vintage view camera.

There is also a built-in aesthetic that comes along with black and white photography. Removing the color element, the photograph is more focused on the architecture and balance of composition. These photographs appear more “classic” or “timeless” because of the reticulation of the film grain and the lack of vibrant color. I’m reminded of a lecture delivered by one of the best professors I ever had, Mr. Keith McElroy.

I’ll paraphrase:
“If any of you are interested in your photographs being important, remembered, recirculated, studied in text books, there’s one sure-fire way to help your chances. Go to the grocery store, the shopping mall, the warehouse markets. Go up and down the isles and photograph a catalog of all the merchandise on the shelves. In fifty years, the global marketplace is going to be different. Many of those products will have changed, will not exist, will be antiquated. People will be interested in seeing what they were like.”

It doesn’t sound like a glamorous project, but there’s so much truth to this. Photographs of turn-of-the-century Main Street, of general stores with apron-clad mustachioed men with monocles, New York street scenes with horse-drawn carriages, or street scenes with early model Ford cars and horses both navigating the thoroughfare – these are interesting photographs, even if the skill used to execute them is pedestrian. It’s the document that’s important and, in conjunction with the happenstance “aesthetic of age,” these photographs become unique (and sometimes important) historical specimens.

We never know what’s going to be considered important or interesting to future eyes. For all we know, a snapshot of t-shirt wearing shoppers at your local Wal-Mart will be republished in a History of Photography anthology at the dawn of the next century.

With the proliferation of photography, I expect to be reminded that such a snapshot would be but one of millions floating around. But computers crash and hard-drives fail. Not nearly as many photographs are printed as we might imagine. Digital file formats change, and can be corrupted; they disappear. Physical prints that survive the ages will be somewhat more significant.

Take a close look, too. Your one-hour photo prints are usually printed improperly, with exhausted film chemistry  by unskilled technicians. You may notice your old family photo albums are filled with fading coloring prints. And do-it-yourself printing is even worse. Inkjet prints fade faster and are highly susceptible to water damage. But then look at great-grandpa’s album. Those black and white albumen prints probably still look pretty darn good.

If I were you, I would scan and re-print all of your cherished prints before they fade entirely.

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February 13 – Paul Bunyan

02-13 Paul Bunyon postIt was entertaining to learn that this statue of Paul Bunyan has a Yelp! review, which is about as nonsensical as the statue itself. I never looked into why or how this fifteen foot fiberglass statue arrived at the intersection of Glenn & Stone, but I definitely had to photograph it – this time with my Fujica Half vintage camera, on vintage film stock from the 1960s, on vintage photo paper from the 1960s. The film and photo paper was fogged from age, but I rather enjoyed the distressed look of the final print. Not a lot of trees for a lumberjack in Tucson, but he’s definitely become a landmark.

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