Tag Archives: travel

A Movable Feast

Railroad Crossing and Barn, Highway 17, FL 2013

Railroad Crossing and Barn, Highway 17, FL 2013

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Buddha

My personal approach to making photographs has always been to poke around the back roads of the South to first see what there was to see, and then to photograph. It has been this way since the late 1970s when I moved to North Carolina and fell in love with the landscape. In many ways, photography is an excuse to go out for a day of wandering. Even on those trips where I do not make many, if  any photographs, the fact that I am out in the world seeing things makes any time traveling  fulfilling.

Yesterday was pure joy, as a friend and I went out for a day of seeing what there was to see and to photograph. The air was cool and clean. The sun was bright and the light was good for making images. Rather than coming home tired, I came home refreshed.

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A Stone’s Thoreau.

Dulcimer, Ft. Christmas, FL, 2013

Dulcimer, Ft. Christmas, FL, 2013

“It is not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau. Who knew that Thoreau was a photographer?

For me photography has been more about how we see things and relate those experiences to larger thoughts. Both technically and aesthetically, I like to think in terms of relationships and how everything is interrelated. Just as a F-Stops relates to Shutter Speeds, what we see today relates to other things that we have seen or felt in the past. What I have read about the Mississippi in Mark Twain’s book, Life on the Mississippi, has added deeply to my understanding of the river today, more than a hundred years after the book was written.

Edward Weston’s photography seemed to be always more about the larger meaning of the subjects of his photographs than it was about the literal depiction of the subject. True, his pepper was still a pepper, but in Weston’s hands it became a metaphor of the human form, which in turn became a metaphor of the universality of shape and form.  The photographs that I am most attracted to are those that I can look at and see more than what the picture is actually of.

A former student of mine once complained that there was no new subject matter to photograph. I told him that was true, but there is still an unlimited number of ways to present any subject and an unlimited number of ways to see even the most common subjects.

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Unscramble

Farris Wheel, Daytona Beach, FL 2013

Farris Wheel, Daytona Beach, FL 2013

When I think that I have it well in hand, something always comes up and bites me. When I feel complacent about the work that I am doing something, there is always something that lets me know that I am not as in control of things as I wish I were. When it starts to break down there is a period where I feel an empty place in my creative soul. I feel unsure, and when I go out to make a photograph a hole in your soul is not what you want to feel. Writers call it “Writer’s Block,” but artists of all bents have periods of doubt. Why do I have these periods of down time? Who knows, and it is not really important.  Regardless, of the reason, that feeling that I cannot just go out and make a decent photograph is not a happy time for me.

For me the solution is work. I often joke to myself, and maybe there is some truth to it, but I say that there are a certain number of bad photographs manufactured into any camera and the only way to get to the good ones is to make photographs. It channels the reasons for my lack of productivity to the camera and not my heart and mind, but that is OK as long as I don’t really believe it, but use it to get me going again. During these times, I will look back at a list of quotes that I have on my I-Pad from books that I read. These quotes often jerk my thinking in a direction that is more productive.

In his book, Imagine, Jonah Lehrer made a passing comment that resonated with me at the time and also now at a time that I can really use it. He wrote, “We need to leave behind the safety of our expertise.” Ah ha, the value of risk! All of my better images have to some element of risk. The funny thing is that one area of risk that I think about is telling the truth. I can make a photograph that follows convention all day, and I might even be able to make a decent photograph that way. However, at the end of the day, the images that speak to me the most, and that often speak to an audience the most, are those where I took a chance. It is difficult to explain, but taking a chance leads to images that expose a personal truth that makes my images stronger. Along that line, I am also drawn to what Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” To me, prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness exist when there is an absence of truth. I do not have to travel far, but the act of traveling, if even for half a day, allows me to see and think more clearly.

Maybe now with a clear head, and good light, I will be able to make a worthwhile photograph. I will let you know what I find.

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Reflections:

My Brother, Doug Lang, 2008

My Brother, Doug Lang, 2008

This past week a quote by Mitch Albom from his book, Tuesdays with Morrie spoke to me more deeply with the passing of my brother Doug; “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” As I learned with the passing of my father several years ago, my brother will not truly die as long as he is in my thoughts and memories. Almost every day I have some thought about my life with my father and now I am sure that it will be the same with Doug. While he is now gone, I also know that he leaves behind many, many people who’s path he crossed who will remember him for all the good qualities that he had.

Living now in an age of photography we have a visual aid to remember those who have passed. We now can keep images of love ones at a time when they were at their most vibrant or at the very least at the time which we wish to remember them most. A large part of my life and passion in photography has been centered on the idea that the things that I photographed are being preserved for future generations. While I have always thought that making photographs that record something of the history and culture of the areas that I travel to be images of importance, I also realize that our personal, family photographs are always going to be the most important. The three most important photos that my mother has are three portraits that she has of my father, my brother and I that were taken when we were each in our early to mid 30s. In the recent natural disasters that we have suffered as a country, the one thing that most of those who were left homeless by the destructive powers of hurricanes and tornados, it was family photos that the survivors lamented most. The one thing that they search for among the rubble are the family photos.

The photograph that I featured along with this blog post is a photograph that I did not even take, nor was I even there. It is a photograph of my brother when he was on vacation. I chose it because this picture represents for me Doug in his element. Every year he took a trip to somewhere in Europe. His interest in history and culture fueled his love to travel and it was a highlight for him to see the places that he read about. And while we liked to travel to different areas, a love of traveling was something that we have in common. I thank Ken Carman for providing me with this image.

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Under the Boardwalk

Boardwalk, Daytona Beach Florida 2013

Tilt-a-Whirl, The Boardwalk, Daytona Beach Florida, 2012

While I often go back to areas that I have photographed before, the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach is one that I have not been to in a few years. In the mid to late 1980s, when I was studying photography at what is now Daytona State College, I would often come to the Boardwalk to do what I thought of at the time as Garry Winogrand inspired “street photography.” I could count on the Boardwalk to offer a menagerie of people ranging from bikers, to college students, to retires, to homeless people, and to tourist. In the week after Bike Week and the week before Spring Break there would be bikers in the southern, older end of the boardwalk. This was popular with them as the pizza was cheap and the beer flowed freely. As you went north there would be an infusion of college students who, flush with their parents’ money would be staying and playing at the higher end hotels located toward the amphitheatre where there would be an assortment of contests including the ever popular, (at least with the males, but with the willing participation of the females) wet t-shirt contest. Both of these groups took advantage the warmth of spring and the fact that they were far from home.

Over the years the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach had gone through several upgrades. It has long ago, even before I started to go there, lost it’s wood planking, replacing it with colored concrete imprinted with relief sea gulls and pelicans on the walkways that took you from the pier to the south and the amphitheater to the north. Despite these occasional upgrades, there was always a sense of tackiness and history to the place. Over time I photographed unsuccessfully the famous diving woman that was atop the swimsuit shop. There, as it had been for many years the saltwater taffy machine churning, what I can only guess, the same blob of taffy as I saw all those years ago. Many windows would be covered from floor to ceiling with tee shirts printed with sayings that one would not wear in public, except in Daytona Beach. Then there were the arcades with games that were so old they were last popular before the days of video games, offer tests of skill and manliness to those looking for an ice cream, hot dogs and a beer. However, for all its tackiness and questionable cleanliness, there was also a sense of tradition and history to the place. So despite its rather sorted charm, it was a popular location for both grizzly bikers and families with kids.

The boardwalk always seemed somewhat sad to me. Here was a place to be a haven for fun in the sun, but no one seemed that happy. Workers seemed bored, fathers and mothers where short with their children, and teenagers trying to look cool in this somewhat seedy environment by trying to look both hip and aloof. Still it is my guess that they will go home happy with stories of time in the waves and with t-shirts that they cannot nor will not wear when they return home. I too came home feeling happy that I was still able to get some photographs as I did in 1986. In the end, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk was in many ways like my memory of it, some things the same and some of it missing, but still with a sense of what it once had been.

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Ideas:

Old Dixie, Orlando, FL 2013

Old Dixie, Orlando, FL 2013

In his very worthwhile book, View from the Studio Door, Ted Orland wrote, “When it comes to making art, our intuition is often light years ahead of our intellect.” I know personally that when I am photographing I do not fully realize why I find a particular subject is meaningful. Most of the time when I see something that I want to photograph it is more a reaction to the scene rather than some deep thought about meaning. I feel that I make photographs using two levels of my mind. First is the photographer in me, who is thinking about F-Stops and Shutter Speeds, depth of field, and what direction the light is coming from. There is another side of me when I am making a photograph that recognizes something of the importance of what I am photographing. While in the act of making the photograph I do not think about why something is important, I just feel it and I have long go learned to go with those feelings. I may explain the meaning of a photograph later in writing or at a lecture, however the act of making a photograph is somewhat on auto, and I have to trust it. Trust is a good thing when you are an image-maker, because trust is, in many ways, the road to truth. It is the truth of an image what makes it both a personal expression and a universal one.

This past weekend I passed by a place that I had photographed before but wanted to again. The chicken restaurant opened in the early 60s. The name, Dixie Chicken alone might be enough to bring to mind some strong feelings about the dichotomy of a being proud of one’s heritage versus what that heritage means to some people. The chicken is wearing a Civil War era forage hat that has on it’s flat top the stars and bars that again represents a proud heritage to some, and the oppression of a people to others. It is that difference in the symbolism that defines the differences in the culture that I find interesting and why I was attracted to the sign. The symbolism of what signs means is deeper than what the sign says. If there is a connection between the two cultures it is cuisine and maybe that is the universal truth in the sign.

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Time Travel

Alligator Farm, US27, south Florida, 2012

Alligator Farm, US27, south Florida, 2012

Yesterday, a friend and I spent the day out looking for things to photograph. It had been some time since we had been to South Florida, especially on the east side of Lake Okeechobee, so that was the direction we headed. Our idea was to head down Highway 441 around the great lake and then catch Highway 27, over to somewhere north of Miami where we would then return north on Highway 1. I have written before about the trips that my father and I made to the western side of the Everglades to fish, but when we first came to Florida in the late 1950s we often took day trips to various parts of the state, including the east side of Lake Okeechobee. There was one trip to this part of the state that we made when I was maybe six or seven, where we stopped at a gator farm. There were many of these gator farms, especially near the Everglades, where male Seminole Indians would be on hand to wrestle alligators and the women would sell Seminole handicrafts.

Unknown to me at the time, the gators were kept very well fed and were most lethargic and in truth the man wrestling them was in little danger. But that was not how it seemed to a six year old. My brother, who at the age of twelve, I am sure was worldlier. The man would get on the gator’s back and pull it’s head up from behind. The gator’s mouth was wide open and one, if positioned in the right spot, could see deep down the gator’s throat. To me I was looking down the abyss, to what would be my final resting place if the gator decided to break through the seemingly flimsy chicken wire fence that separated the tourist from the predator. While all this was happening my mother and grandmother were off to the gift shop where they bought dresses for my mother’s nieces. My Grandmother, who owned a fabric store bought Seminole made fabric and was interested in how the dresses were made. My mother bought handmade crafts for my father’s brother who was a collector of Native American artifacts. Now, more than 50 years later, I remember those trips clearly, almost as if they had happened yesterday.

Yesterday while driving down Highway 27 from Belle Glade we past an old building almost hidden among the weeds. We stopped, as we tend to do when looking for “rusty gold.” While I have no idea if it was the one that we went to all those years ago, it had a very familiar look to it. A heavy growth of weeds and trees kept us from exploring deep into the property, but the front was fairly typical of what I remember as a kid. In some ways it was like looking at a ghost. The front building was all that was left for the most part. The words painted on the front of the building told of its glory days as a pre-Disney Florida roadside attraction, the “Finest Collection of Everglades Animals.” The animals are now gone, as are the wrestlers and the women who made the crafts. Gone too are the tourists. The building, at least for now, still stands as a reminder of a not too distance past in Florida’s history. I am glad that we stopped to make a few photographs and when days like this happens I am glad to be a photographer and time traveler.

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