“The so-called Left-Right political spectrum is our creation. In fact, it accurately reflects our careful, artificial polarization of the population on phony issues that prevents the issue of our power from arising in their minds.”
“It’s often about the simple things, isn’t it? Painting and photography are first about seeing, they say. Writing is about observing. Technique is secondary. Sometimes the simple is the most difficult.”
I’ve collected a lot of portraits like this during my bike rides and walkabouts in Tucson. North Stone Avenue is rich with old barber shops, auto repairs shops, and unique private markets. In an urban and suburban landscape increasingly swallowed-up by Levittown-style housing homogeneity and glossy corporate businesses, it’s nice to see small, privately owned businesses. Sometimes the character is rustic, and many of these businesses are struggling, but they have a salt-of-the earth quality that I will always appreciate.
“Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”
Originally known as the Willard Hotel, this property on South 6th Avenue – a stone’s throw away from the heart of downtown – was renamed the Pueblo Hotel in 1944. This weathered sign was installed in the 1950s. The hotel and apartments closed in 1984, when I was only one year old, and is currently home to a law office. The sign remains, though, even if it might be a little misleading. It was restored to like-new condition back in 2012 and I’m really pleased that I photographed it before the change.
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
I’m not sure if this place still exists. Unfortunately, I don’t even remember where it is. It’s probably somewhere on South Stone Avenue, or in the warehouse district on South Park Avenue. I suppose I could look it up, but it really isn’t important. I just remember riding my bike through the wrecked car lots, the warehouses, over the railroad tracks by the lumber yards and steel yards and welding operations.
I try to image what these places must have looked like when they were brand new. I can’t seem to conjure the image in my head. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a salvage yard or a warehouse that looked clean and new, with fresh signage and rust-free construction. These places always look like they’ve been there forever – they always look old. Old and tired.
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.
As car culture began to take root in Arizona, the Old Spanish Trail Highway was established in 1916. This route represents a massive construction project intended to thread from Southern California to Florida. Motels and gas stations sprung up from the route, and some of the old remnants just so happen to survive today.
The Old Spanish Trail merged with other routes on the north side of Tucson, creating a network throughout the city. In the 1920s, the road became US Highway 80, which snaked down through Benson, Bisbee, and onto Douglas. Another vein sprung up, US Highway 89, stretching down through Tubac, Tumacacori, and on toward to the port of entry in Nogales along the Mexican border. Highway 84, known as the Casa Grande Highway, is now called Miracle Mile – it led north to Casa Grande and Phoenix.
Miracle Mile is today a somewhat notorious stretch of road, with low-rent rooms, weekly rates, a strip club, and a bowling alley. But that isn’t news. The area began to decline in the late 1960s, and Miracle Mile became synonymous with drugs, prostitution, and other illicit activity.
Only recently has the area has begun to shed it’s negative reputation, and it may be a while yet before the old stories fade away. Reinvestment has seen renovation, but many of the motels still seem relatively neglected, and the low rates still have the appearance of attracting a particular type of clientele. I guess time will tell what’s in store for old Miracle Mile road.
This camera is closely associated with what press photographers carried during the 1950s and 1960s, although I must admit that the Yashica is a bit of a knock-off; the Rolleiflex is the original sensation. The reason these were considered more professional had a lot to do with the lens specifications and the selective-focus feature, allowing for more artful and aesthetically pleasing compositions.
This is a medium format camera – accepting 120mm medium format film – and makes 6×6 centimer square images.
Most of the latter models were equipped with a three-element 80mm lens capable of opening up to f/2.8 – this is considerably “faster” glass than many contemporaneous camera models, allowing for faster exposures, effectively giving the photographer the power to ‘freeze’ moving objects on the film plane. Earlier camera models had darker glass and slower shutter speeds, so moving objects would render as a blurry jumbled mess.
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With the discovery of Vivian Maier‘s work and the release of her books, the often ignored TLR style camera has seen renewed interest. Prices for the Rolleiflex have risen significantly, leaping from as low as $150 to figures closer to $1,000. The Yashica (and the Rollei) are relatively easy to find, and because they aren’t as user friendly as your smart phone, I’m confident this fad will die down. When the fad dies down, so will the price.
If you’re a camera freak like me, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled – get one of these as soon as possible. They’re cumbersome to work with compared to modern DSLRs, but they are reliable, sharp, and produce stunning negatives. Like any tool, a well-built camera is a joy to work with.
And if you haven’t heard the name Vivian Maier, go and see John Maloof & Charlie Siskel’s documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” immediately. It’s blasphemous if you haven’t at least heard the name.