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 19 – Liberty

02-19 Liberty postOne of the little tricks film photographers sometimes employ is known as “cross processing,” in which slide film is developed using chemicals designed to for regular color film. The results vary, but are characterized by a dramatic color shift, with punched-out contrast and deep tonal saturation. These effects can be applied to digital images with relative ease using editing software like Photoshop; the film photographer, however, is forced to accept the final result rather than having the opportunity to endlessly tweak the effect in post production.

Basically, cross processing is controlled chaos. It’s a method of embracing “happy accidents.”

This photograph was made in Jerome, Arizona, a small mining town outside of Prescott Valley in the Black Hills of Yavapai County. The copper mining operation saw a huge boom in the 1920s, pushing the population to around ten thousand. Today there are only about five hundred people, but it gets a lot of traffic from Phoenix – it’s a wonderful weekend getaway. I’ve always enjoyed walking around and looking at the old buildings, the narrow alleys, and the wrecks of brick rotting on the hillsides. It is a quiet place with a rich history. If you’re lucky, you might even bump into Tool and Puscifer front-man Maynard James Keenan, who moved to Jerome to start a winery in the early 2000s.

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January 23 – Arizona Winter

01-23 Arizona Winter post

While a wall of snow pummels the east coast, it’s customary for Arizonans to post memes about how nice the weather is in their own neck of the woods. I must admit, I did my fare share of that, too, and I know I will in the future.

We live in a world of comparisons. The east coast has culture and history that the southwest can’t boast quite so easily. The east coast has mass transit that would slap a smile on anybody who’s ever conducted battle on California’s 405 Freeway. There are upsides and downsides, and nobody’s existence is ever really any better than anybody else’s. That’s just the damn truth. The trick is finding the dysfunction that we, individually, can roll with – and run headlong toward it.

For me, I’ll take the heat and political madness of Arizona over anything else. Bad public schools, rogue governors, perpetual arguments about immigration. I’ll take it. The hills have stories to tell, and the desert landscape is beautiful for its surface simplicity, and it’s deep, volcanic complexity. These hills provided lead for the civil war, copper for the stock market, lawlessness for the lawless. The adventurous spirit of this nation’s early years lead straight out into these hills, among warring tribes, labor camps, and a relentless, fearless draw toward independence.

Most of the mines are gone. Most of the camps were never built to last, so the thoroughfares sank back into the ground and were reclaimed by nature. The shacks the workers lived in had no foundations – they, too, sank back into the earth. In the Mule Mountains, we can today look out into a wilderness where, just a century ago, industry was thriving. Once wars ended, once the ore gave out, the communities vanished and moved onward toward the next venture. Only sparse skeletal remains can be found today, of sunken shafts and splintered timber. The path of the short-line railroad still exists along the San Pedro River, even though the steel rails have been plucked back up and reassembled into a fence along the Mexico border.

Open spaces are hard to find, but not in the valleys of southern Arizona, where my heart resides.

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January 16 – Those “Creative Types” We Know…

01-16 Creative Types post

Artists and egos go together like milk and cookies, now, don’t they? Where you find the one, you’re likely to find the other. It’s as though creative people are perpetually prepared to defend their work. And we all know what defensive personalities can do, don’t we? That’s right. They can lash out viciously like frightened wild animals. Bisbee boasts a wonderful arts scene in Southern Ariona, and that wouldn’t be a lie. But the happy-go-lucky vibe Bisbee also likes to boast about itself? Well, that’s not entirely correct. The fact is, the economy there is contracting and the town has gentrified significantly from the dirt-cheap 1960s of yore. Rents are higher, fewer dollars are flowing into the town, and there’s greater competition for a seat at the winner’s table. Sometimes there are hurt feelings when you struggle to promote your work, and sometimes you get thrown under the bus. Sometimes our melt-downs are very, painfully public.

That kind of thing happens in a small town, I guess.

During my tenure, I created enough problems for myself with this big old dumb mouth of mine. I’ve also quietly watched other peoples’ struggles unfold like a great big dusty rug on social media, ready for a thorough beating. We take our licks and hopefully learn something from the experience. We also discover who those people are that never seem to enter the arena, but always sit on the sidelines like carnival barkers, ready to cut you down to size, and ready to help fan the flames of a small conflict into a dangerous firestorm. Having a creative passion is something of a spectator sport, especially in a small town, but heck – criticism is part of the game, too.

People that can’t handle criticism should never pursue a career in the arts. Period.

In my humble opinion, when an artist is surrounded only by cheerleaders who celebrate each attempt as though it were the Mona Lisa itself? That’s absolutely freaking wonderful! We all need positive support. But it also means that the artist may be in the perfect position to experiment with something new, to try a new subject, style, venue, audience. The real danger of a town like Bisbee is that it’s such an incredibly small and insular place, and there are a lot of big fish. Things can get ugly when resources are scarce.

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I say all of this not to stoke the flames of malcontent. It appears as though the most recent round of conflict in the Bisbee art scene has played itself out (at least in social media). I say all of this in relation to the image above, made by a gentleman who used to live in the brick building on Brewery Gulch across from the dog park. That is, if anyone ever really recognized it as a dog park. At one point or another, I think I remember people jokingly referring to it as “parvo park,” which didn’t inspire much confidence. Nevertheless, the brick building was festooned with mesh wire, painted mannequins, Christmas lights, and other random, presumably “found” objects. Some viewed it as an eyesore, others loved it. Visitors could be seen taking pictures of it with their smartphones every weekend.

I can’t pick sides. I don’t know the whole story. I just know that the eccentric old beast who decorated that building doesn’t live in Bisbee any longer. He may have brought it upon himself, or maybe somebody just didn’t like the cut of his jib. The extent of my knowledge is that he was run out of town. The right mixture of hubris, ego, madness, creativity, and drugs will always yield interesting results – and I’m confident all of those elements were at play. When creative types collide, sparks fly.

It’s my understanding he lives in Jerome now and he’s happy there, so there’s that. I don’t miss the dog park, but I do kind of miss the crazy decorations on that old building.

Oh well. Time marches on.

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