Places become special to me for a variety of different reasons. Great Sand Dunes N.P. in Colorado has great memories for me. I lived in Colorado through much of the 1970s but never even visited Great Sand Dunes. In the late 1980s I made my first of many return trips to Colorado. Armed with a medium format camera and some of the first batch of 120 size Velvia film that was made, I was off to the most interesting sand dunes in North America. I returned here in 2007 armed with my digital cameras. To make a long story short (well shorter anyway) due to a variety of weather issues, that first afternoon on the dunes I made use of about ten minutes of sunshine and those shots would be the only “on the dunes” sunny shots I would ever make.
In my earlier years of taking nature photography trips, there were still other interests that I would include in my one or two-week journeys. I was still an auto racing photographer and at times I would include stopping at a race track to do the photo-journalist thing for a newspaper. I had horses at that time and a stop at a western ranch to view “the stock”, or a trip to a riding stable to rent a horse and explore those mountains or deserts were a part of my agenda. My fourth (along with nature photograph) interest usually concerned imbibing in adult beverages.
I was on a great trip in which I was exploring the southern deserts of Arizona and northern Mexico, and after a night of sleeping (for about three hours) in the car, I decided I would head for the legendary wild west town of Tombstone. I had been there (as a tourist) a few years earlier while on a trip with my father. I was intrigued by the western folklore of the Earps and Doc Holliday, but mostly I wondered what would all of those old saloons would be like after the tourists left and the local cowboys and such, took over. I decided I would find out. I rode (well, err, drove) into town out of the desert at about 10:30 am and decided to make a photography stop at Boot Hill. I used my 24mm wide-angle (35mm camera) lens and stretched “the hill” out in back of a grave marker that read “Here lies Lester Moore……nothing less……and nothing more” I intentionally underexposed the scene and then used an off camera flash to light the marker. A spookier atmosphere was created. I actually sold this image in the early 1990s.
The great thing about a place like Tombstone, is that you are able to secure a room about one hundred feet off of the main street, and every drinking establishment is on that three block long main street. No driving.
I woke up at about 6 pm and a quick shower and some clean clothes made “a new man” out of me. A large piece of local Indian Fry Bread, covered with hot peppers, cheese and a generous amount of hot salsa, settled my stomach and set the mood for the night ahead. Yes back in those days that meal could settle my stomach. I proceeded to practice my hobby of drinking alcohol, and yes it was just me and the locals, with no tourists. I finished my evening on the town…out of town, about 200 feet south of Tombstone in the desert. The saloons finally closed and the party moved out-of-doors, with a huge bonfire and an ample supply of beer and rye whisky. I usually only drank beer but when Wyatt Earp rode into this desert town the drink was called Red Eye, and how could I not experience that. The next morning appeared and so did my hangover. I am glad I stopped imbibing about 20 years ago but I would have hated to have missed that night on the town in Tombstone. I and a few newly made friends decided that I would be back in town in two days so I could help them be cowboys and cowgirls, and ride the Arizona desert. Yes, you are right. I never returned and in that era of no e-mail etc., none of my new-found friends and I ever communicated again. I have never been saddened by those facts because the night of swapping horse stories with real cowboys/cowgirls was perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing.
It was not long after this trip that I began to make nature (and human history) photography my one and only obsession on these trips. I have never regretted making that decision but I am happy for some of those earlier experiences.
Only a couple of my pix from that trip have ever been converted to digital. The image below is one that was and it gives a pretty nice example of the Sonoran Desert which if memory serves, was about 45 minutes after sunrise.
Beginning in the early 1970s auto racing photography was large part of my life. Many who I have met through nature photography don’t get what my fascination was and I understand that. I would however never trade those days of noise, speed, fumes and danger. I photographed very few races during my digital days but between 2002 and 2006 there were a few. The first two images below show pretty much how you photographed an event for a newspaper when on assignment. They were very straightforward in what they wanted. The magazines and calendars looked more for the unusual or artistic interpretations. The top photo shows the preferred way to display dirt track racing. Note that the image shows the car at speed and into a four-wheel drift. The car and driver are almost coming straight at you the viewer……and me the photographer. This open wheel car also has a more open view of the driver than a stock car, and we are looking into his eyes.
The most traditional way to show some action on asphalt is the side by side race. These are short track Late Model stock cars and of course there is nothing stock about them. Notice the cars are split apart far enough to show both numbers so that when it is published the viewers will know who they are. This particular track is banked high enough that if they had been closer together the number on the roof of the back car would have likely shown. The next image is of an Indy car at 200mph and would never be published in a newspaper. Not enough info although there are magazines and books that would like it. Car racing is sponsorship driven. One only needs to watch a post race interview or to look at that picture of the Indy car, to know that. It is definitely a sport that embraces the free market Capitalist model of life, and therefore does not suit some 21st Century Americans who prefer the government to be our model of life.
When you are covering a race on assignment you are an employee, whether you are being paid or not, and you need to make your more creative images in-between getting the “money shots”. I only had two racing photographer friends that were ever hit by race cars, and they recovered. Still it was the wild west on wheels in those days and I once had a flipping sprint car pass over my head. The driver and I were both okay, although I was frightened beyond description. Of course in that world you never showed fear, and most of the people around me would have never known that it bothered me at all. Unless of course I was forced to speak with my very shaky voice.
Most of the past 25 years of my life has been dedicated to nature photography and usually if I am sharing some nature landscapes, at least one from The Badlands of South Dakota will appear. I truly love the varied moods of this place.
For all of you North American (and European) wildlife photographers, soon those colorful migrants will be back. Beauties like this male Baltimore Oriole will have completed their journey from South America and will once again be showing off for your cameras. It is a fleeting thing and make the most of your time.
Sometimes I think that when I write about old trips and show old pictures, I give all of you the wrong impression of how I think about the subject of nature photography. We live in a “what have you done for me lately” world and that is normal and probably just as it should be. I think that nature photography needs be mainly about what is happening now, and what is relevant to our current times. If you spend all of your time thinking about yesterday, you will quickly become a living example of yesterday and only yesterday, with no relevance today. My only point to the history (mine and in general) of nature photography has been that we don’t throw out old paintings, and we continue to re-interpret old music. Photography is no different. On the other hand if you or I are only about the past, then resigning may be the only remedy. Pay attention to those who are currently moving the world of nature photography. They are the present and they will be the ones who set the future. That will be true until the next group arrives to make that current crop less relevant. That’s how it needs to be.