6-1-2009 8:10pm Florida time:
After a good night’s sleep and a little rest, I went into my digital studio and made a number of prints. I think that I was able to make about 7 or 8 prints and am happy with them thus far. It was kind of nice to see them bigger than how I saw them on the computer. What I hope to achieve with the prints is showing something of the texture of the image that one might not see on the computer. Some of the images that were taken with flat, overcast light it was important to show what textures that could be shown. The contrast on the prints would be a little different than how it shows on the Flickr site.
5-31-2009 5:49pm Florida time:
It is official, I am back at home. It is amazing how the mind works because I do not think that I was ever as tired getting out of the van as I was when I pulled up into my driveway at home. I thought that you might be interested in a few facts about the trip:
Trip Duration: 17 days including the days traveling to and from Louisiana.
Total miles: 4,137
States traveled in: Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. (No photographs were made in Florida and only one in Alabama)
Number of hotels: 7
Approximate number of blog entries: 35
Average number of visits to the blog per day: 40
Number of posted images on Flickr: 65 (That is edited from close to 1,000 images taken on the trip)
I am looking forward to getting into my digital lab to start printing and do some additional editing with the work that I did on this trip. In order to give you an image to see on this blog or on the Flickr site, I had to process the images fairly quickly. Now I have the task of evaluating what I have already done and see if that is the way that I really want the image to look. For example, the image of the tractor sign near Muddy Waters’ old house location, there are some things that I just did not have the time to work out. I want to heighten the contrast between the ground and the sky. It will take a little more work, but I think that it will be worth it. The same might be true of the image of the cemetery next to the power plant that I took along the river road. I will be happy if I end up with about 30 to 40 images that will represent this project. I can see this taking me most of the summer to finalize.
This was a very good trip. I am happy with what I was able to achieve. I think that I could have done better, but then one always can. I enjoyed all the places that I went and thought that I selected good places to spend time in. The weather was good for the most part. While there were days of rain, and overcast, the change in light offered different challenges, but also different opportunities to photograph. If there was any disappointments was that I did not feel that I got to know any of the people very well. In Mississippi, I felt that I talked with more people and talked with then more in depth. I did not get this in Louisiana, but I have to say that it may have been more my fault than to say that people in Louisiana are not friendly. I might have been more outgoing had someone else came along with me. Like most trips, there is a lot to be learned, so of which has nothing to do with photography.
I have come home from this trip very happy to be back home, as I have missed my friends and family. Though I have to say that knowing that some of you were coming along with me via the blog helped with the loneliness that I felt on the road. Having said that, I was thinking most of the time driving back was how would I be able to return to some of the areas which I traveled. One promise I made to myself a year or so ago, was to take a 3 day weekend at least every term to travel to some place to photograph. This trips showed me that I could include in these trips Southern Alabama, Eastern Louisiana and some other areas that I would like to travel. The way to the best pictures is to be out in the world and that is what I hope the legacy of this project will be.
I would be remiss if I did not take a little time to thank some of the people who made this trip possible. First of all, I want to thank all those at United Arts of Central Florida. No matter where I travel the people I talk to are amazed to learn of an organization like United Arts of Central Florida. Special thanks goes to Mary, Minda and Trudy, all of whom have given me so much support over and beyond the money that I was awarded in a grant. At the grant hearing, panelist, Lauren Austin’s suggestions to have more community impact led to the idea of the blog, I am most appreciative of that inspiration. I also would like to thank Peter Schreyer, Executive Director at Crealde School of Art who has been so very supportive of my need to take time away from school to pursue my photography. Also at Crealde I wish to thank Jon Manchester, who has covered for me during my absence. Thanks for their support also goes to the Fellowship Students at Crealde for their support of my trip by taking care of things while I was gone, and for coming to the blog almost each day. Thank you also goes to all my students and friends who shared with me my writings about my trip and have given me so very supportive feedback about the blog and what it has meant to them. Unlike the words to that Door’s song, it has been a wonderful trip and I thank you for coming along.
5-30-2009 5:30am Mississippi time:
As my trip winds down I find myself with two stops to make before I will be home on tomorrow. Today my first stop will be Monroeville Alabama, which is the home town for Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Monroeville of the 1930s is the town that she used as the setting for her book. As I am sure you know the book was a big best seller, one which a wonderful career would be launched. However, for Harper Lee, there would be only one book. I have always liked the story about how she came about to write the book. She left college to move to New York to become a writer, much as her long time friend Truman Capote had done before her. In the beginning she did not do as well as Truman, and had to take a job writing for an airline company. Knowing that she never had the time to seriously write on her own, some friends of hers pooled some money, enough for her to have one year where she would do nothing but write. At Christmas, (I am not sure of the year, but think that it must have been 1959 or 1960) her friends gave her a check, enough if she was frugal, to cover her expenses for a year to free her to write. (By the way, now you all know what to give me for Christmas this year! 🙂 ) It was during that year that she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.I think that the reason she never wrote another book was that she would never have the freedom of that year again, Mockingbird took over her life. Whether or not she resented the burden that the book would have for the rest of her life, I do not know. To have written one great book and never write another, especially when your passion is to write must be a very difficult thing to deal with. On the other hand, the one book she did write became so much more than the success that it enjoyed. Maybe there only needed to be one. I contrast Eudora Whelty with Harper Lee. Whelty was a prolific writer, who I might guess few could tell me the title of one of her stories, (though I would guess many would know who Whelty was) where as almost anyone would know Lee’s one book, but might not know who wrote it. I know in photography, it is the photograph that is usually more famous than the photographer, and that is the way it should be. I do not mean to slight Whelty in this comparisons, but only to make a point. Whelty’s body of work is at the top of a long legacy of Southern writers.
In the afternoon I will be moving on to Pensacola and will have dinner with friends. While the trip is winding down, those of you who have been so kind to follow this blog, I want you to know that tomorrow or the next day I will be writing one last entry in an effort to some up what I have seen and learned while on this trip.
11:30am Alabama time:
I am writing this in the parking lot of the courthouse in Monroeville. I took a little tour of the place and it was all very nice. I can see how Monroeville was once the typical southern town, with a courthouse in the town square and various businesses and offices surrounding the downtown square. That is not how it is anymore. Except for a bank and law office or two, the downtown is not the commercial center of the community anymore. I had read that there was a cafe on the square where Harper Lee would come for lunch, but it is gone now. Such is the path of the old time southern town, and it is a shame.
I think that I would like to come back here sometime. It would not be too far for a long weekend. As I have traveled this past two weeks, I am beginning to see that I have opportunities that are not all that far from home that I could use to widen the area that I am making photographs in. I am reminded by the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, where the writer ended up in Savannah because it was cheaper to fly there than to have a good steak dinner in New York. He got started working on his book because he was taking shoot weekend trips to a new environment. I could see me taking a 4 or 4 day weekend to explore southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. It will be my goal for the next few years to make these kinds of trips so that I can expand some of the areas that I would like to explore.
Tomorrow I will be heading home. I want to thank all of you that have come along for the ride. I hope that it has been interesting, (Those of you that have written have all said that it was, and I am most grateful.) And while the trip is basically over, it is my hope that either tomorrow or Monday I will write something to wrap this up. It has been a great trip, not only for the photographs that I produced, but also because of the things that I learned along the way. I am very glad that I did this trip, but I will also be happy to be home. Which indicates to me that I was out just long enough.
5-29-2009 7:15pm Mississippi time:
Most of the day was taken heading south to Hattiesburg. I took US61 to Vicksburg, which is one of the most storied highways in the country. It connection with music is uncanny. The highway begins up north at Thunder Bay, Canada, but not far off highway 61 is Hibbing Minnesota, where Bob Dylan was born. Again not far too, is the University of Minnesota, which was were Bob went to college and gave some of his first performances before moving to New York. A little further down is St. Lewis, which is well know for it own style of jazz. Not far from there is Memphis and Beal Street. Then once in Mississippi there is Clarksdale, Greenville and other towns that grew more than cotton, it spawned some of the greatest blues musicians that the world has seen.
Driving down Highway 61 today brought to mind how the road was how musicians used this road to move from farm to farm, from juke joint to juke joint to play their music. They also used the road to head north in the 1950s to play first in Memphis and then to move on to Chicago, and then for some to come back home again. On the surface, the road looks much like any other that can be found near flat farm land, but it is somehow special.
As I drive I keep thinking about how sky meets the land. Flat land, a tree break, or a levy, and then the sky. The sky in the Delta region seems to go higher than it does anywhere else. My frustration is that I can see it, in fact I can feel it, but I cannot photograph it.
Speaking of land, it is said that in any battle the outcome is more often or not depends a good deal on the lay of the land. Usually having the high ground is an unsurmountable advantage. For most of the first two and a half years of the Civil War having the high ground overlooking the Mississippi made Vicksburg an important military outpost. But is was the land that caused its demise when Grants troops were able to attack from the east. While the Union won, it was costly for both sides. Charges and repulses were made by both sides. And it took three months before the Confederates surrendered.
5-28-2009 11:30am Mississippi time:
When I started out this morning the sky was clear, the sun was out, but not long the clouds came and rain is not far behind. I drove out to Stoval Farms, which is where Muddy Waters worked as a young man. Stoval had a reputation for being a fair boss and on Saturdays the farm was a gathering place for the workers and a number of blues artists would play for these gatherings, Waters among them. Where I drove to was the location of Muddy Waters cabin. The cabin had been long since be remove, now at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. Where the cabin was is now an open space among a tree lined wind break. There is a monument and a roadside historical marker where the house once stood. It is nice that the cabin’s space is remembered, but the space was neatly mowed and nothing like when the cabin was there. It was almost pastural in nature, and the remaining houses are clean and well kept. Clarksdale has worked hard to maintain its heritage and connection to blues music. What tourism the city enjoys is because of a musical form that was designed for the local farm workers, telling stories of their toils and hard times. Last night at dinner I sat next to a couple who came here from Ireland just to come to the land where the form of music they like so much came from. They were surprised when I told them that much of American roots music is based on Irish and Scotch Irish folk music. That country music has been influenced by blues and traditional scotch Irish folk music makes connections between different ethnic and cultural groups. They were all about the stories of life and what could be learned from those stories. I will have more this evening.
9:30pm Mississippi time:
I have just got back from the Ground Zero lounge, which was a good time. The first act to play was a black country singer. Kind of like some of the things that I wrote about today, I did not see a lot of difference between his music and the blues. After all, it is all about stories of love gotten or love lost, getting money or losing money. The stories are the same, just the twang is different. One of the things that I like about the Ground Zero lounge is that you sit at big tables so you get to know some of the other people who come to the night’s events. I spoke with this couple from Atlanta who were music fans. Actually the man was the music fan, and his wife just liked to travel. They seemed content with what each got out of their combined travels. The second act was a guy named Guitar Mike, (why would a mother do that?) who main talent was, as you might have guessed playing the guitar. He might have been a better singer, but the voice mike is always turned down too low. Mike was pretty good, (my gosh, I say that like I know how to play?) but he plays the guitar. He still have to think about playing each note, it does not come from within him. I think that he might get that good, but he is not there yet. It was a good night.
Tomorrow I am starting to drive towards home. I hope to get as far as Hattiesburg or even South Alabama. I hope that if I get an early enough start I might stop off at the Vicksburg battlefield, then turn left to go to Jackson and then head south. I am not sure how much photography I will do, but I will have an entry sometime during the day in any event.
5-27-2008 4:35 Mississippi time:
Forgive me for not writing anything sooner, but it took a good part of the day to drive from Louisiana for my drive to Clarksdale. I must admit that this is my third time to the city and it is nice to see some familiar things. The drive up was very good, the weather was nice and long track of flat land was relaxing. I played a blues station on the radio, so I got into the mood of the trip. Some things have changed. I did not see field upon field of cotton. I saw more corn than cotton, and there were some peanuts being planted here as well. Maybe they rotate their crops now days to help save some of the riches, blackest, dirt found anywhere in the world. My only regret for the day was not stopping in Vicksburg and the battle field. That can be another trip. I stopped somewhere near Cleveland Mississippi where I spoke to this man who I happened across. He asked me about where I was going and when I told him Clarksdale he then asks me if I am going to the Ground Zero night club to listen to Blues Music. When I told him that I was we talked a bit about the blues and he seemed impressed that this white guy would know what I seem to have known. He asked me if I knew of an old blues player by the name of Honeyboy Edwards, which I had. It turns out (at least according to his story) that his girlfriend was the niece of Honyboy. We had a nice talk about Edwards and Blues music in general. Whether or not he knew the famed blues artist or was just trying to impress the stranger he was talking to, (I tend to believe the former rather than the latter) he was an interesting guy to talk to. I have found the people in Mississippi a good deal more friendly than those I found in Louisiana. It is not that anyone was rude in Louisiana, but people in Mississippi seem more curious and friendly than in other places that I have traveled. More people in Mississippi have come up to ask me what I was doing, but not because they thought I was up to something, but more because I was the entertainment for the day. Everyone I have met here has been friendly and willing to take with me. Anyway, I hope to have some time either this evening or next to hear some music at Ground Zero.
Thinking again about the differences in the land that I have seen on this trip I have to comment about how open the land looks in Mississippi. The sky looks higher in Mississippi and the land wider. Towns often look like islands in the distance, the only thing to break up the flatness of level ground and sky. That is not to say that there is no beauty in the nothingness, because there is, maybe like the beauty of the Great Plains.
5-26-2009 7:30am Louisiana time:
Strange things happen when on the road. Last night about midnight the electricity went out all over the hotel. No lights, no air conditioning, no power what soever. Everything else in the area seemed to working fine, but not my hotel. The power stayed off until about a half hour ago. I had to figure out how the shower worked in the dark. I think that the hotel should compensate in some way, but I doubt that they will. I will be poking around the north east part of the state. I even hope to see something of the Mississippi River, if I can get on top of the levy. There is a bit of an overcast right now, but not too bad. I hope to have some good weather most of the day. Despite my rough night, I feel pretty good this morning and ready to get out there. I will write some more this afternoon.
12:45pm Louisiana time:
After not sleeping all night I have to be careful not to fall asleep driving. But it turned out the a good day and while there are a few more hours of shooting, I have a few things for the mornings efforts. As I thought that it might, the land was a lot flatter as I traveled more to the east. The nature of the signs I found were more religious. Unlike in the southern and western areas I am finding the more crude, handmade signs offering a message of faith. I have downloaded two of the ones I took today onto the Flickr site. One other thing I found interesting, though I do not have much to show visually, is that there are some communities that have downtown areas, unlike what I found to the west. They are dyeing and they are trying to keep the downtown alive by opening antique shops, but they are nothing but junk shops and there are no customers to by their stuff. In some cases there is the big box store, just outside of town, but not in all cases.
6:00pm Louisiana time:
Today is my last day in Louisiana. On one hand I wish that I had more time, but I am also wanting to get home and be with family and friends. However, before going home, I am going to spend two days in Clarksdale Mississippi. Tomorrow morning I will cross the Mississippi River at Vicksburg and head up the fabled Highway 61 to Clarksdale. While no longer in Louisiana I will take photos along the way. Highway 61 is one of the most cultural laden highways in the country. The history of our country that was so dependent on cotton and all that it entailed. Slavery brought Africans to America, along with their culture and music. Out of slavery and the strong religious ties and along with a life of toil raising cotton was born a truly unique American art form. An art form that influenced Jazz, R&B, Rock and Roll and Country. The Blues is where it all began and it was in the Delta Region of northern Mississippi is where the Blues began. Since I am in the neighborhood it seemed only right to spend a day or two there. In addition to the photography I also hope to go to a concert at the Ground Zero Lounge, to see some Blues music. A stop at the Delta Blues museum is also in order. There are a couple of places in Clarksdale that I want to photograph. So even if I have left Louisiana still keep looking to the blog for my latest entries. When I leave Clarksdale on Friday I will head south and hope to get close to Monroeville Alabama, the home town of Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Anyway, that is the plan for the next few days. I will be writing more and uploading more images until Sunday.
8:45pm Louisiana time:
Now that the photography of Louisiana is behind me, allow me to recap the trip. In terms of traveling, I put more than 2,400 miles on my van thus far. I am guessing that before I am done I will put on another 1,000 miles. It has always been my way of getting my images by driving a good deal poking around into as many areas as I can. I downloaded about 55 or 56 images to my Flickr site, which is a small percentage of what I took. My biggest job when I get back will be to go through and edit the work that I did. But the really important thing about what work that I did was the extended time that I was allowed to have to work on my photography. I can not say enough how important it was for me to have time to work. Looking back over the years I feel that my best work has come on the years that I received the Professional Development Grant from United Arts. While the work that I did on the past grants were important, the whole year seemed to be more productive. For example, in 2003 I received my first U.A. grant and not only did I make one of my most published photos on that trip (Jazz Feed, Baker Florida) but I also had several other important images that year that was not part of the grant funded project. In 2006, the Mississippi trip, I got a good number of better images, but also had a productive year outside the grant. In addition to this trip I have two more trips which I hope will be fruitful. Sometimes life gets into the way of making photographs and it is hard sometimes to keep it from happening. Last year I made a promise to myself that I would, at the very least take one long weekend a term to photograph on my own. I have done that for the most part and will rededicate myself to follow up on that plan. So far 2009 has been a good year, not only in the number of images that I have produced this year, but more importantly what I have learned from making those images. This trip has been a continuation of that learning process. That is the good part, I keep on learning and hopefully is shows in the work. I am very thankful of the part that United Arts of Central Florida has played in making my life in photography as enriching as it has been. When I get home on Sunday the trip will not be over as I will be spending some time working in my digital lab to make prints of what I have done. The images that you all have seen on my Flickr site is just the beginning of the vision that I have for the work produced on this trip. I hope that the Flickr images will be a rough draft of what the images can become. Once the prints are made then I will be working to see where I might show this work. I am sure that this will keep me busy for some time to come.
5-25-2009 8:03am Louisiana time:
Things are going slow this morning as I have been in the room for four days and it is taking a little time to get everything together. For the next few days I will be exploring the north eastern part of the state. I suspect that the land will be pretty much the same as I have found here, but if this trip continues the way it has, there will be some differences. The land may be more open as this is part of the Delta region. The Delta region is the land from Memphis, south to Vicksburg on both sides of the Mississippi. Having photographed the Delta region in Mississippi, I will be interested to see both the similarities and the differences.
5:42pm Louisiana time:
Actually the morning was not as slow as I thought. I was on the road by 9:00, which was later than most times, but not too bad. I got to Monroe fairly quickly and then hit a road north towards the small town of Sterlington along a river. Like many of the towns that I have visited this one looked as if it was once a pretty thriving community, but was now not doing as well. There was a plant of some sort, I think oil related, but it did not seem that busy. Of course it was Memorial Day. But there were very few actual businesses to support the people who worked at the plant. Pretty much everywhere I have gone I am left to wonder how the people who do live there get what they need, if it is not carried in some small mom and pop 7-11 type store. Even the larger town of Farmington, most of the downtown businesses were closed or not looking like they were doing well, though there was a Wall Mart just down the road. In many ways it is sad that the small town is becoming a thing of the past. Monroe, which is a fairly large city is also seen its better days. Much of the downtown is gone to ruin and what is there looks like it could be closing up soon. In Monroe Louisiana I photographed a cemetery. I don’t usually show work from cemeteries, (for not particular reason) but I thought that these contrasted the other photos that I took in the area. The statues reminded me of what Monroe once was, as to what it had become. Kirk’s weld shop was right across the street. Segregation also came to mind in that there was a jewish cemetery just across the street. Actually, if was kept up nicer, but still separate. Now, I have to admit, I am not sure who was doing the separation. Maybe it was the jewish community who wanted their own place, so that they would rest among their own. However, each had their own place.
On another note, I wanted to thank you all, today I reached the 1,000 hit mark for my blog. I know that for a blog that is nothing, but I created this blog for my friends and students and frankly I am surprised that I have so many of you come to see what I have written. Thank you. I hope to continue the blog as long as anyone seems to be reading it. Let me know what you think, and any ideas that you would like me to write about. I also hope to find new ways to use this blog to connect to my students in what I hope will be a meaningful way for them.
9:10pm Louisiana time:
Boy, time flies when you are having a good time. Now that it is a few days until my time in Louisiana is done, I wanted to let you in on my travel plans between now and my return to Winter Park on the 31st. I will be photographing in Louisiana all day tomorrow, but when I leave here on Wednesday I will travel to Clarksdale Mississippi. I will spend Wednesday and Thursday night there and then heading to Alabama on Friday. I want to visit Monroeville Alabama to see the home town for Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.” While in Clarksdale I hope to visit some places where I want to make some photographs. I also want to see some live music at Ground Zero night club on either Wednesday or Thursday night. I also want to visit the Delta Blues Museum while I am there. But there still will be time to photograph on both Wednesday and Thursday, so I hope that you will keep following along once I have left Louisiana. Heading back to Florida I hope to get as far as either Hattiesburg Mississippi or someplace in Alabama. I will be taking photos along the way there as well. I then hope to spend Saturday night in Pensacola to visit an old friend and photographer, Warren Thompson. The on Sunday, I hope to get up early and push it on home, so my last entry should on Saturday, but I hope to have a longer followup entry a day or two after I get back.
5-24-2009 10:30am Louisiana time:
I know that I am a little late getting started this morning, but I had to get a few personal things done. I am now going out to see what there is to see. Again, the weather is not that great, but I am sure that I will find something to photograph. There are some areas where I was yesterday that I want to return to as it would be easer to get the photo I want with the business closed. I don’t have to work around cars parked in front and so forth. I like shooting on Sunday sometimes for that reason. I am looking forward to getting out today. This is my last night in Shreveport, as tomorrow I will be leaving for Monroe, where I plan to stay two days. I will have more later
5:20pm Louisiana Time:
Rosie’s sign advertising the “Best Burgers in Town” reminds me of a sign I saw in a restaurant. I went to the grand opening of the place and as I walked in there was a sign on the door that stated, “Next Week Our World Famous Breakfast!” I laughed because how could a place that was just opening that day could boast that the following week they would not only be serving breakfast, but that it was “World Famous.” In Rosie’s case it was a matter that the town that she was in was so small that it may have been that she was the only place in town where one could get a hamburger. I also noticed that she was closed, though her advertised hours were Mondays through Thursdays during lunch. Too bad, I might of tested her claim had she been open. Traveling a little further down the road I noticed in the fields all these gas pumps out in the fields. Some fields had only one, while others there might be 15 or 20. I have always thought about the off shore rigs that are found in the Gulf, never giving any consideration to the possibility of drilling in shore.
Tomorrow I will be leaving Shreveport for the eastern part of the state. While it was the most difficult part of my trip so far, it was also very interesting. I should like to come back at some point. For those who have asked, I am pretty much over my infirmities of the past few days. I am looking forward to the rest of my trip.
5-23-2009 8:52 Louisiana time:
I am still not up to par, but am feeling better than yesterday. I am planing to go out in a bit and give it a try. I may end up shooting for a half day and then if I have the energy I will try to do some laundry. Yesterday was very difficult, as I wanted more than anything to get out, but it just was not going to be. I think that by Sunday things are going to be a whole lot better. However, today I plan to go to the north and west of Shreveport to see what there is to see. I will let you all know more about that a bit later.
2:05pm Louisiana time:
Good news and bad news, first the good: I am feeling much better and am happy to be out in the world again. The bad news is that it has been raining and when it is not there is a dull overcast making most of what I would have wanted to photograph less that what I would have hoped for. I am taking a break from driving to write this installment for my blog sitting by the river Bayou Dorcheat, a river I must say looks more impressive in person than on the map. Where I am taking this break is at a boat ramp, which for my photography offers very little, but it is quiet and cool, so it is a nice place to write this. While today’s photographs may not be up to what I have done earlier, after yesterday it is so good to go out into the world and see things almost anything is welcomed. I traveled north today, almost to the Arkansas border. The one thing that I saw, (but it was raining too hard) was all these crop fields with oil or gas pumps in them. I went to a town called Plain Dealing, which is a typical decaying town. It makes me wonder how the internet has an affect on the local businesses. I am hoping that the weather breaks this afternoon a bit so I will have something to show for the day. Glad to be feeling better and glad to be out in the world at least trying to make photographs. I will have more later
6:40pm Louisiana time:
Yesterday or today was not the best days concerning my photography, but that is the way that things go sometimes. In my mind I think that it is the ability of any good photographer to take any subject and make something out of it. That idea, like all things that we wish for is not exactly the case. Maybe in a commercial sense, it would be my job to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but in documentary photography it can be a little more difficult. While it has been my habit to travel around to find my subject, I stop only when I react to something. In some cases if I actually stopped more, I would have more of a chance of making more out of what is given to me. However, a lot of how much work I do get is due to the amount of ground that I am able to cover and how much I am able to see. Actually, this has not been a bad way of working for me. Most all of my best images were made this way. The irony of it is, if I move on, I might miss something, if I stay in one area I might miss something. I am reminded of a story about when Ansel Adams took Edward Weston to Yosemite for the first time. Ansel took Weston to a specific place and wanted to wait until the light was just right, and Weston wanted to move on to the place where the light was right at that time. We all have our own ways to get done what we want to get done. My way is a bit of a crap shoot and that is just the nature of my way of working. I understand that it means that there are days when I do not get much work done, and other days when there is not enough time in a day for the options that see. That is OK with me.
One of the reasons I am OK with the ups and down of the way that I find my photographs is that even on the worst days, I get something from being out in the world. For me, being out photographing is better than watching the best TV program or the best movie. There is no better way to spend a day than to be out in the world making photographs. Not everyone has to feel this way, as we all should be free to follow our passions, no matter what they are. While I did not get much today, for a number of reasons, I did enjoy seeing places that I had never seen before. While I am not happy with what I was able to achieve, I also know that tomorrow or the day after that will be better. The only really bad day was the day that I did not go out. While I know that it was better to stay in the room and feel better, it also really hurt me to waste the day. Having said that, do not feel bad for me, or think that I am too hard on myself, it is just a part of being on the road.
In the comments section if you have any questions about the trip please feel free to ask. This is a good opportunity to ask the questions that there are not time in class to ask. I also welcome any comments about the photographs posted on my Flickr site. There is about one week left, and I am looking forward to several days of good shooting and good times.
5-22-2009 8:15am Louisiana time:
I am afraid that I woke up feeling ill this morning, so I may not be getting out to do any shooting today. If I do feel better this afternoon I may give it a try, but forgive me if I do not get any pictures done. I am sorry to have to tell you this. I do not think that it is anything serious, but I think that I will be better in the long run for this day of rest. Don’t worry about me. I am sure that I will have another entry in this blog later in the day. Thank you for understanding.
4:45pm Louisiana time
I feel bad that those of you that have come to my site today just got me feeling sick. But it could not be helped. The good news is that I am feeling better and I think that I will be able to get out of bed tomorrow and make some pictures. I am not sure that I will be up to the double amount that David suggested, but I will do my best. However, it was not all bad as I was able to get up to date with Judge Judy. I am sure that I will be back at it tomorrow. Again, thank you for your kindness and good wishes.
5-21-2009 8:00am Louisiana time:
Again, it is moving day, this time to Shreveport. The good thing is that I will be spending most of my time there, so I can unpack and not spend as much time packing and unpacking. While Shreveport is about a two hour drive up the interstate I will be taking secondary roads and hope to find things to photograph along the way. So that two hour drive should take all day. Tomorrow will mark the half way point of the trip and I will then take a look back to see what I have seen thus far. The one thing that has been slowing me up is that my left wrist has become very sore. It gets this way from time to time because of over use. I brought a guitar with me to practice what my friend and teacher Dennis has been wanting me to learn. It has been a nice way to spend some time in the room at night, but I don’t usually play that much, so it has made my wrist sore. It will be OK in a day or two, in fact, it felt better this morning than it did last night. So I will rest it some. It will not hurt my photography. Looking over my shooting thus far, I hope to find some things that are a little more close up than I have been. Just one of those things that I need to keep in the back of my mind when I see something.
3:30pm Louisiana time.
It turned out to be more of a day of travel than I thought that it would. I wanted to get my room and then go out, but for whatever reason I had a hard time finding a room. It may have been OK as I was pretty tired and maybe needed the rest anyway. I am now in Shreveport and in my room and relaxing a bit before I go out and get my dinner. I will be out again on the road tomorrow and I hope to find some things. One thing that I wanted to talk about was how different the different regions of the state are. The differences are tied mostly to the land. The River Road was a much different landscape than where I was yesterday. Along the River Road is fairly densely populated, but it is a string of communities that run along the river, where as the areas more away from the river. Subject matter was more available along the river, but that does not mean that there are not things to see almost everywhere in the state. It might mean some days you get more and some days there might be less, but what is seen is worthwhile.
7:45pm Louisiana time:
Today is the 7th day of my trip and I would be lying if I did not say that I am tired. Thinking of my own burdens, I am reminded of a well known story about Dorothea Lange. When she made the photograph Migrant Mother, she drove by a sign saying Pea Picker Camp, (or some such thing). She had been on a 2 week shooting trip and was driving home when she saw the sign. She thought about stopping at the camp, but she was tired and wanted to do nothing but go home. As she drove, a little voice kept telling her to go back. After several miles of this little voice she finally turned around and went back. From there the rest is history, but there is a lesson to be learned. I try to listen to those little voices, (except when they tell me to bark like a dog or kill someone) as they often let us know that we should go back. I always kick myself when I do not listen to my inner voice, it is unsettling to think what might have been. On the other hand the little voice has led me to some really lousy photos, OK, to be truthful, also some of my best. Maybe it was not the little voice that let me down, it was how I handled the opportunity that it whispered in my ear. Damn, my fault! Tonight I will get a good night’s sleep and be ready to get on it tomorrow.
5-20-2009 6:00am Louisiana time:
I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who have “come along” with me via my blog site. I am appreciative of your good wishes and support with what I am doing. I hope that you will continue to tag along.
What I hope will be a little different from the past few days, I plan to spend most of the day in Alexandria. I want to get a more in depth feel for the town. From my visit yesterday I can see it has many opportunities for good images. When traveling the country side it is a given that I would move around a good deal, spending a good amount of the time in the car just driving. That is not a bad thing, as it has been a large part of the way that I have found my subject matter for a number of years. This approach does have two sides to it; traveling here and there and relying on the serendipity has allowed me to find things that I might have otherwise overlooked. On the other hand, in some ways there might have been opportunities lost because I was not in a location longer and may have missed something. This is not a matter of going about it in a right way or a wrong way, it is just that one has to understand that ether approach has its pluses and minuses. One of the things that I had hoped to do on this trip was to blend the two approaches. Some days would be spent almost aimlessly driving around relying on chance to find subject matter and some days picking an area to explore more fully. Each approach has its advantages and setbacks and it is my hope that blending the two will offer some new insights to the areas that I do photograph
11:26pm Louisiana time:
After shooting all morning in Alexandria, I took a short trip outside of town to a recreational park near Hot Wells. It is mainly a boat dock and picnic area, with some camping. It has plenty of trees, so I thought I would take a break and write for a bit. The weather has been cool, so now that I found me some shade to park under, it is a very pleasant place to be. I went into town this morning as planed. I got maybe a half dozen images, we will see more when I get back to the room and have a chance to work on them a little bit. When it comes to photography, I never count my chickens before they hatch. Sometimes the worst pictures are the ones where I thought I had a winner when I took it, but in the end the actual photograph does not live up to what I thought it was going to be. Then on the other hand, some little image that I forgot taking jumps right at me off the computer screen and is a best seller. Maybe the best thing to do is to make the best image that you can and try not to get too excited about it one way or another until you get the image in its final form. When in Alexandria I saw a lot of signs that were kept on the building though the building was used for something else. I photographed the back side of a building that had a sign saying, “Happy Trails Lounge.” The building was now being uses as a beautician shop, but the old dilapidated lounge sign was still there. I could not get around to the front of the building as the street was closed off due to road construction. The light was better anyway from behind the building, so I hope that I pulled it off. It is time to get back to work.
11:26pm Louisiana time:
After shooting all morning in Alexandria, I took a short trip outside of town to a recreational park near Hot Wells. It is mainly a boat dock and picnic area, with some camping. It has plenty of trees, so I thought I would take a break and write for a bit. The weather has been cool, so now that I found me some shade to park under, it is a very pleasant to be. I went into town this morning as planed. I got maybe a half dozen images, we will see more when I get back to the room and have a chance to work on them a little bit. When it comes to photography, I never count my chickens before they hatch. Sometimes the worst pictures are the ones where I thought I had a winner when I took it, but in the end the actual photograph does not live up to what I thought it was going to be. Then on the other hand, some little image that I forgot taking jumps right at me off the computer screen and is a best seller. Maybe the best thing to do is to make the best image that you can and try not to get too excited about it one way or another until you get the image in its final form. When in Alexandria I saw a lot of signs that were kept on the building though the building was used for something else. I photographed the back side of a building that had a sign saying, “Happy Trails Lounge.” The building was now being uses as a beautician shop, but the old dilapidated lounge sign was still there. I could not get around to the front of the building as the street was closed off due to road construction. The light was better anyway from behind the building, so I hope that I pulled it off. It is time to get back to work.
8:50pm Louisiana time:
The afternoon session was nice enough. I went a little bit out in the country from where I am staying. I sky was a very nice clear blue and the light was very clean. I took what might be considered a little more of a traditional landscape. I take these images more for fun, but anything else they keep my vision fresh. Tomorrow I will be heading towards Shreveport and I will stay there for three nights. The days seem to be passing by so fast. I will have more tomorrow.
5-19-2009 4:30 am Louisiana time:
Today is moving day. Which means that it will take me longer to get out of the room this morning. Not a whole lot longer, but I will have to empty the room this morning where before I would get my camera bag and computer together and be out the door. I will be going to Alexandria where I will stay for the next two days. My brother says that there is not much left of was once a fairly important town, but then he does not see the things that I might be interested in.
One thing that has intrigued me has been the casinos. They are everywhere. They are small, sometimes attached to a gas station. I have not gone in one, I am guessing that due to their size there is not much more than slot machines. I will want to make an image of one of these places, but have not found the right one yet. One thing that I have a problem with, (I am not sure that it is really a problem, but lacking a better word) is that there are things that I want to show, but do not find something that is visually interesting for me. I need to have something more aesthetically in my subject matter beyond just being a subject that I thought that I might include. How does a photograph fit in with the other photographs that I have made if it does not have the aesthetic considerations that I have with my other images. It doesn’t, but then it is my job to make if fit. But I have not seen the casino that has touch my vision. In the end, I may just need to find one and somehow make it work.
3:11pm Louisiana time:
Today was not what I hoped it would be. The drive up to Alexandria was lacking in anything that I was particularly interested in. I got a couple of things, but nothing that I am truly happy with. I will go out a little later this afternoon to see if I can pick up anything more. I am spending two nights here in Alexandria and I hope to spend a good chunk of time in the city. I saw some things coming in, but either the light was wrong or I was too interested in seeing about a motel. Maybe if I take it a little easier this afternoon I will be in better shape tomorrow. I know that when one has this many days to be out in the world, there will be good days and bad days. What is important is to have something in mind that gives you something to look for, or a sense of purpose. Like one day fish jump in the boat and other days when there is nothing. On those days you spend more time thinking about the bait and the location and the tide. That is part of the game. The nothing days makes me think a little deeper. We tend not to appreciate what comes too easy. Tomorrow my plan is to spend more time in a limited area and look deeper for the possibilities. The main thing is that I enjoy the process, both on good days and bad. Yes, I may yell a lot more on the bad days, but it is because I care. I hope to have some more interesting work for you tomorrow, please keep checking in with me.
5-18-2009 4:54 am Louisiana time:
I knew that I would see things that were from the Plantation days, some of the old plantations houses are preserved and are now museums. I also knew that I would see poverty that would be reminiscence of the 1930s. But J. A. Barthel’s Store was the type of general store that was often owned and operated by the plantation owner and was just another way to in debt the workers to the owner. The plantation owner would give the workers credit for their supplies, so they could get by until the crops came in, but it seemed that most of the time the cost of what they bought there was always more than what they could earn, so that would keep them tied to the land. Only when mechanized farming came into practice and there was not the need for the workers did this systemized form of tying the workers would end. These stores were also a meeting place for the workers and it was not unusual for on the weekends the store would “roll back the carpet” and use the store for dances and a make shift bar where music was played. Musicians such as Robert Johnson, Sun House Sonnyboy Williamson all got their starts playing for such places. It was in one such place near Greenwood Mississippi where Robert Johnson was poisoned by the husband of a woman who Johnson was “romancing.” Beyond the use of the store as a juke joint on Saturday night, the porch was a meeting place where workers would meet to exchange news. It is amazing to me that these buildings still stand and give reminder to a darker part of our history. The end of tenant farming that impoverished workers both black and white has been a mixed blessing. On one hand it brought the end a system that exploited the worker to one where there was no place for the thousands of worker that had worked the fields. Some when north for factory jobs, some stayed ion the farm. In some ways it is good to see a place like J. A. Barthel’s in its original setting as it makes the reminder of the history seem more real.
12:15 pm Louisiana time:
I parked along the side of the road in the parking lot of a bar that has been long since closed. There is a stiff cooling breeze which is welcomed even though it requires me to use a faster shutter speed. That is OK as for the most part depth of field has not been that much of an issue. I wrote this morning that I would be heading to Manou and now I am here. I have taken about 2 dozen photos here, though I am not sure if any of them are worthy. We will check tonight to see if I put any of them on my Flickr site. One of the images that I took was a sign for a snow cone stand near the downtown area. All over the state there are snow cone and ice cream stands. More so than I have noticed in any of the other areas that I have traveled. I hope to explore visually some of these signs. I am falling into a slower pace of moving around. The first day or two I had great anticipation of the things that I would get. Now have been here a couple of days I am slowing down and looking a little more deeply and thinking more about what is unique to this area. Like with any generalities I will be wrong a certain amount of the time, but that is OK. For example, The land around Slidell is very different than the other areas that I have traveled. But then again, so was the area north of Slidell, and so was the terrain along the river road. Each area has its own unique features. They grow a good deal of rice around Manou, I noticed large fields that were flooded. Park along each of these fields were little john boats with a cultivator attached to the back. The people are friendly. When I get out to make a photograph and someone drives by I wave to them, and they wave back. I find if you ignore them, that is what causes suspicion. A wave and a smile seems to allay their fears, or they just don’t care in the first place. While the day has been a little slow at the beginning, things are looking better for the afternoon. We will see with what I have to write this evening
7:30 pm Louisiana time:
In the time since I left home I have put over 1,500 miles on my car. I know that you might think that most of if was getting here in the first place, but I have been traveling a good deal. Before I go any further I should say that it is not the miles that make good pictures, but it is a way that I have been finding images for the past 30 years. Anyone going down that many country roads will in the course of that travel will pass a good many crossroads. I am reminded of the cross road (Highway 61 & 49 near Clarksdale Mississippi) where Robert Johnson was said to sell his soul to the devil to gain superior ability with the guitar. While I think it makes a great story to sell a song, I do not take the story too seriously. This Faustian tale does have some relevance in that we all come across cross roads, either literally, as in my case today, but also metaphorically. Johnson’s cross road was not his deal with the devil, but rather, whether or not to give the time to practice and learn from a master like Blind Lemon Jefferson. He just made the commitment to get good. I had to make some decisions about what cross roads that I would take, as there were so many options. I tend to be fairly fatalistic about it, as I tend to follow the teachings of that great zen master, Yogie Bera, who said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Good advise, as when at a cross roads it is easy to be overwhelmed by the possibilities. But in the end it does not make any difference, because whatever you decide, you will never know how the other options would have come out. Maybe I have too much time in the car by myself?
There is a certain logic, (though known only to me) in the way that I search out images. I try to avoid 4 lane highways, as the pace is too fast and most of the town’s businesses along the main highway is of the big box variety. With the smaller 2 lane country roads there will be more interesting subject matter, but it may be fewer and further apart. Small towns can be a problem. A good many of the towns that I have been to this week are a type that has no downtown business district, usually pointed out with a sign saying “Historic District.” They were just a wide place in the road with a 7-11 type store and a closed business of some sort. Whenever a sign says “Historic District” that means that all the businesses were put out of business by the big box store out by the highway. The downtown area is usually left with law offices (if it is a county seat) and garage sale stores advertising themselves as antique shops. I am sorry if I sound cynical, but I guess it is part of the natural order of things for small towns. The town that I spent most of the time today was Mamou, Louisiana. For all the closed buildings I have to say that there was a lot of action downtown. I was glad to see it. People were friendly, as most have been in Louisiana. There were a good number of cars on the street and people were milling about. It is not hard to understand why most of my images came from there today.
5-17-2009 7:25 am Louisiana time:
One thing that I did not write about yesterday but wanted to, was one aspect of the way that I plan my day of shooting. Whenever possible, I try to start the day going either driving west or north. The reason for this is that in the morning the sun is coming from the east and if I am driving west then the sun is to my back and the subjects that I see along the road will have the sun to my back. The sun will always be to my back traveling north. For example, I am thinking that most of my photographs this morning will be towards the river. So my traveling down the River Road will be first taken down the east side of the river, so that the sun will be to my back going down towards New Orleans. In the afternoon, the light should be even better as I will be heading north and will again have the light to my back. I also try to drive to the east in the afternoon so that again the sun is to my back. This practice allows me to see what subject I might be driving towards in the best light. This is not true all the time, but enough that I have found it a good way to work if I possibly can. Now no plan is fool proof, but it does give me a way to plan my trip and have some sense of purpose of how I travel. As always it is important to be flexible and react to the opportunities and problems presented. Reacting to the opportunities and problems is one of the things that makes photography interesting and fulfilling.
6:45 pm Louisiana time:
Murphy’s Law was in full force to day. From the very beginning there was a light choking overcast and then there was rain most of the day. There were not a lot of opportunities. Still, I did get a couple of shots that you should see on my Flickr site, but I was not nearly as productive as yesterday. Well, it happens — it is a part of photography. As planned I traveled along the River Road on both sides of the Mississippi River, though you could not prove it by me, as the levy blocked any view of the river. Not a real loss, really, as the light would have precluded and meaningful landscape that would have included the river. Added to my problems I got lost again. For some reason I get turned around easily in Louisiana. I am not sure why, as my sense of direction is usually pretty good. One would think that if the river is to the right heading south and to the left heading north, it would easy to follow. Of course, the way the Mississippi meanders, one could travel in all four directions in the course of a mile. However, my GPS did a great job of getting me back on course. I just told it that I wanted to go back to the hotel and it told me that it would take 2 hours given I was about 20 mile west of New Orleans and about 40 miles south of where I thought that I was.
One thing that I found interesting on my travels on both sides of the river was the contrast of life on each side. The east side of the Mississippi was very poor. Except for a few plantations, the area looked very poor. To be fair, I took a road that hugged the river, and did not see the whole community. On the other hand, the west side of the river looked more prosperous. There were poor areas, but there was a wider range of housing that indicated more diversity of income levels. I don’t think that there are any conclusions in this observation, just an observation. I did see some juke joints which I may go back to tomorrow, if the light is better. Actually, in what I wrote this morning I said that I wanted to travel east and south in the morning, so the light would be on the river and west and north in the afternoon for the same reason. But I thought have thought about it a little more as most of the good subject matter was on the opposite side of the road from the river. I should have reverse the way that I traveled the River Road. Still, with the weather it did not make that much difference.
Tomorrow I am traveling to an area west of Baton Rouge. Not long ago I gave a talk at a camera club in the Villages near Leesburg. On of the members gave me a tip to go to the town of Mamou, Louisiana, so I am going to go to check it out. Thanks Ed! We will see how it comes out. Here is hoping for better weather.
5-16-2009 6:45pm Louisiana Time:
I wanted to start writing this before now, but I just could not find a place to stop and write while I was on the road. It was a good start. I got our fairly early and started making photos almost from the beginning.
I first went down along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. There was not much to see from the Hurricane, but what impressed me was that I did not see any old buildings, they were all brand new. As I moved further north I began to see more and more older buildings that would pre-date Katrina. It has been 4 years. I covered some 300 miles today.
The way that I work is that I wander around poking my van down some random road just to see what there is to see. I sometimes get lost, which I did this afternoon, but that is when I often get my best work. After moving along the coast from Slidell to Mandeville I headed up north working my way up to Bogalusa, where I cut west to Franklinton and then to Baton Rouge. Along the way I went through many small towns, but very few of them had what I would call a downtown area. The bigger towns did, but the smaller towns would have a larger version of a 7-11 and an auto repair shop and that would be about it. The towns that did have downtown areas were in decline. While I did not see them, I gathered that there was a big box store and all the fast food that goes along with them. It is a shame that these towns often lose their sense of character.
Of the photographs that I did today, I feel that the better images are to come. What was good today was getting out and seeing things. It will take a day or two to get into the flow of the traveling and to see what the possibilities are. I am now in Baton Rouge and will stay here for three days. Tomorrow I will go down each side of the Mississippi River along what is called the River Road. It should be interesting as there will be a mix of the old plantation and oil refineries. My hotel is on the west side of the Mississippi from Baton Rouge and the influence of the oil business is very present. I am looking forward to tomorrow.
5-15-2009 6:30pm Louisiana time:
While today was not much of a day for photography, (I took nothing serious) I did put close to 600 miles on the van. Today was good and bad. The bad part was traveling nothing but interstates which is a lousy way to see the country, but the good part was I left Winter Park at 7:30 this morning and was in my room in Slidell Louisiana by 6:00pm.
The drive was uneventful except some heave rain between Pensacola and Mobile. It was heavy for a time, but cleared up quickly. I really enjoy a day of driving, especially the rolling hills driving through the middle of Florida and again in the mid part of the Panhandle. Being alone I also bring a book on CD to keep me sharp. I got through most of the book, Brother Ray, the autobiography by Ray Charles. I was also kept company by a very nice voice on my GPS.
Tomorrow I will poke around the area north of Slidell and east of Baton Rouge. In and around Slidell is an active fishing and hunting areas and I hope that I will find some interesting things along the lakes and rivers in the area. This weekend I also hope to spend a day on the River Road, which runs on both sides of the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I may spend the evening in New Orleans to see some friends.
Anyway, I am going to spend tonight going through the camera equipment to make sure everything is in working order.
9:00pm Louisiana time:
Looking at the maps, the areas to the north of Slidell look promising. Both the areas along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain and areas to the north. I am thinking that I will spend some time in the morning long the lake shore and then move north towards afternoon to see if I can work my way to Baton Rouge where I hope to spend the next few days. It is hard to say exactly where I will be going as there is a serendipitous and random way to the way that I find my photographs. While I try to be open to all that I might come across, there are certain things that I look for. In smaller towns for example store fronts can offer comments on the communities where the stores are found. Local businesses are often reflected in the needs of the community. Downtown areas in older towns give hints of the health of the town. Are there many viable stores, or is there the big box store at the edge of town. I will see what there is to see.