Kallitypes roadtrip #2 – “I am off for Indian country”

Richard E. Bakers van for roadtripPing! In my email inbox is Rickards E. Baker’s second instalment of his Kallitype roadtrip. The email said, “I am off for Indian country”. I wish I was too! Follow this series of his 3,000-mile-long road trip across the USA where he will be making kallitypes in his portable lab in his car.

Writer and photography / Richard E. Baker

Links to all the chapters in the Kallitype Roadtrip:

“On the road again…” I can’t help but sing when I first start a trip. The world opens up to new experiences, new vistas, new possibilities and new ideas. I have been slapped in the face with a smile and my eyes glow like sunlit marbles. Thirty minutes later, an emptiness slips in, enthusiasm draining out leaving a void to be filled. I am alone, and will be for several weeks. I already miss my wife and my dog. I can talk to her on the cell phone. That helps. There is nothing to be done with Rudy, the dog. In a few days the energy and excitement will return. After the first week away I don’t care how long I am gone. Once I turn around to return home, I drive non-stop, homesick again. People adapt easily.

My grandfather knew only two breeds of dogs: Airedales and Snaphounds. Every large dog was an Airedale and any small dog was a Snaphound. Rudy is a Snaphound. We rescued him from government execution at the local pound. He has thanked us by piddling all over the house. The people at the pound said he was untrainable. He was terribly abused as a pup. He has bonded with us but hates everyone else and tears into a vicious fit if anyone comes around. I have attempted to take him on trips. He is not Steinbeck’s Charley and is best left at home where he spends the day lounging on my wife’s lap.

I drove down Interstate 5 then turned onto I-84 at Portland. This stretch is the longest I take on the Interstates. The old Oregon highway 30 parallels the Interstate and takes you to some nice overlooks of the Columbia River Gorge.

The cliff walls can rise more than 4,000 feet as the forests thin and are replaced with grass and brush . A series of waterfalls tumbles from the steep cliffs: Bridal Veil Falls, Latourell Falls, Horsetail Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Multnomah Falls are just a few.

Over Two Million people visit Multnomah Falls each year. If you stop to snap a picture they will all be there that day. 

Before turning south on highway 97 at Biggs Junction and travelling through Oregon, I visited a replica of Stonehenge, dedicated to the veterans of World War One, on a hillside on the Washington side of the Columbia River. The site has a lovely view of the River and of miles of Electric producing windmills spinning white against the blue sky. I drove to the monument and sat on a rock and breathed in the fresh air.

Kallitype of Death Hills.
Kallitype of Death Hills.

Two older ladies emerged from a Lexus. One wandered through the stones while the other one read the plaque. The lady reading the plaque yelled out, “Look Martha, they’ve got one of these in England.” Witnessing the American educational system in action is always a wonder. They might be surprised to learn that not only are the Eifel Tower and the Great pyramids in Las Vegas, but also in France and Egypt. Impressive architecture travels widely.

I perked up entering Oregon. For me, the scenery becomes more interesting. Trees thin out and old structures appear to grow from the soil or recede back into the soil. Highway 97 travels through the land that time forgot. This is the land where dreams were made and then dashed. Wind has tilted abandoned structures into grotesque shapes like knobby hands raised in desperation and winds cry through yawning windows. In the distance a windmill no longer turns, the water long since dried up. Weeds grow from galvanized water tanks half filled with dirt. The roof of a barn has toppled to a wall, a root cellar an open pit. Gardens have lost their battle with sagebrush as crops starved for lack of nourishment and water.

I seldom see things for what they are. I see shapes and tones. A stone is not a stone but a shape illuminated in various ways with shadows and highlights. I want to feel the stone, the texture, the coolness or the heat. Everything in a photograph reflects everything else in the photograph depending on your point of view and where you place the camera. I am more interested in feelings rather than things.

The first abandoned town of interest is Kent with a scattering of rusted cars and several storefront buildings still intact. The faded gas pumps read .65 cents a gallon. A hobbyhorse gallops across a junk pile where rusted cans rust and nestles in broken glass. 

A half-hour away lies Shaniko, once a wool shipping center. Legend says the last renegade Indian in Oregon was gunned down in the street by a white man. I question who the renegade was. My first time there was with my son while I was writing a series on ghost towns for a motorcycle magazine. We wandered the empty streets and were caught by surprise by a man named Dave Gastman. He claimed to be the sheriff of the town. He was also the mayor, city council, and entire population. At one time the railroad hotel, in the center of town, was a mental hospital and I wondered if Dave had been left behind when the hospital closed. He wore a badge, however, so he must have been telling the truth.

Vandyke brown of Shaniko.
Vandyke brown. The wagon shed in the town of Shaniko, Oregon. The old hotel is in the background.

Two years later we visited again. Someone had refurbished the hotel. We erected our tent in a field. A man came from the hotel. His name was Jean Ferrell, a retired plumbing contractor. He wanted to restore a piece of history and he and his son had completely gone through the hotel combining each small room into a larger one and installing bathrooms. Previously there had been only one bathroom for the entire floor. He invited us to stay in his hotel. I sheepishly explained that a hotel was not within the budget. In fact, almost nothing is in the budget for any of my trips. As Blanch said in A streetcar named desire, “I rely on the kindness of strangers.” Because the night was going to be cold, he gave us the room for free, including breakfast. I returned the favor by writing and publishing several articles about the hotel. He was a decent and compassionate man and with his demise, so too went the hotel which is again in ruins.

Funny, but plumbers seem willing to part with their money. My friend, Bill, owner of Beacon Plumbing in Seattle, was helping to sponsor my trip. He had also donated money to buy several hundred pillows for children with cancer in Hanoi, Vietnam. The kids sleep up to five in a single bed and had no pillows. 50% of them die within the year.

I wandered around the town and snapped several shots. One year there will be people living in the town, another year practically no one. The town was mostly empty. There is a huge warehouse at one end of town. Two silos once stood beside the warehouse. I climbed the tubes and photographed the entire town from above. This is one reason I enjoy photography, a chance to capture the past and present. The silos have been torn down for safety reasons. Crazy people kept climbing them. Only the pictures remain.

I took the first left outside of town. The road dips into a crevice called Cross Hallow and leads to Antelope, a small stop in the road with several interesting buildings including an old green concrete school and the original newspaper office. A religious movement called Rajneesh moved near the town many years ago. Thinking the movement might be a good experience for my son, I loaded him onto my BMW and we road to have a look.

Articles often falsely claim that Rajneesh built a compound in the town. The compound, called Rajneeshpurham, was built about five miles away. We rode the motorcycle several miles down a dirt road through barren land. When we reached the bottom of the hill we were greeted by a small dam that generated power. As we drove farther we came to an airport complete with a DC3 plane, a school, a small hospital, modern buildings built on the hillsides, a town center complete with souvenirs, a restaurant, and book store, and, at the other end of town, a large covered shed packed with Rolls Royce vehicles. The followers, dressed in red, came from every walk of life and had been disillusioned with capitalism and the government. They wanted a simpler life. All you needed to join the cult was to sign over your assets to the religion. Everything went well until several followers decided to poison the original residents.

As a special incentive they believed in free love and I was offered the delights of several women as we walked around. Nothing in this world is free. I remember Guy de Maupassant writing about dying of syphilis: “My brains are running out my nose.” Ouch! Such an image is not soon forgotten. After having hamburgers at the restaurant I thought it best to leave before my son started asking me questions I could no longer remember how to answer. We drove back up the hill and stopped to shake off the dust and sit in the shade of the only tree available and discuss religion. I minored in religion and philosophy at university, not because I am religious – I am an atheist – but because I have always been curious about why people believe in anything.

I decided to bypass the compound on this trip. The road would have torn apart my possessions. A Christian organization has taken over the site and only the name has changed. They still take your money and feed people propaganda. So far, they have not attempted to physically poison anyone. I imagine the women are still free but in a less obvious way.

The John Day River flows through a lush valley. There is a grange hall beside the river and beside that, a dirt road that follows the river. I drove a mile down the road and camped beside the water. There are still places in this country where you can camp free and not be forced to camp with a mob of others in a designated and official site. I set up a chair and poured a glass of wine before starting to develop the day’s catch. I generally photograph with a standard camera in case I want to make larger prints by making computer-generated negatives. This gave me time to think about photography and seeing.

People often confuse seeing and looking. Looking comes naturally. Looking is primarily a safety device. We do not want to trip, hit a vehicle, get bitten by a dog, etc. Our eyes wander over many things and we pay little close attention to the world. Seeing, as regards photography, means to look at something you want to photograph and analyzing the subject as abstract shapes, colors, values, and textures.

We must see the subject for what it is, not what we think it is. Seeing accurately and abstractly gives us a certain exactness. Understanding the subject gives the subject soul and life, something worth photographing. Finding something to photograph is the first step in a long process.

Do not be restricted by preconceived ideas. Let’s say I wanted to photograph Devil’s Tower. Because Devil’s Tower is my goal I constrict my vision and am not distracted by other things worth photographing along the way. Unrestricted wandering is the key surprise. The world is filled with meaningful objects to photograph. Keep an open mind. Have a goal but do not let the goal blind you to the possibilities of seeing. 

The development of the film went fine. Daniel, from Freestyle, donated several rolls of Arista and Fomo film. I always pay for my materials, not with money, but with publications. I am also honest with anything , good or bad. Freestyle, B&H. and Adorama, are some of the better places to go for film and chemicals. Fomo 400 and 100 have a classic look. I have not shot much Arista. Arista is a budget film and so far it works fine. I don’t see much difference between the two. I always chuckle at online film reviews where great pains are taken to sort out the good and the bad films. Most of the reviews are based on grain size. If you have to take out a microscope to check the size of the grain, then the film doesn’t have enough grain to worry about. What counts is the print. Film and chemicals are so refined these days that it is difficult to mess them up. I am a pretty sloppy worker and fairly forgetful and often miss temperatures, times, exposures, and mixtures. Yet I still get usable prints. If I were a really fine art photographer like Ansel Adams or Fred Picker, it might make a difference. As someone who develops film out of the back of a pick-up truck, I am not that guy.

I probably shoot more Illford HP 5 than anything else. Fomo 400 comes next. For 4×5 I mostly shoot Fomo 100. I always get terrible results with Pancro. Regardless of what developer I use, I get so much grain the film looks like I am looking through a windshield at night in a hailstorm. The concept is great, two separate emulsions and I imagine the problem is with me. I just have not found the right combination.

Some films are listed as budget or student or beginner films while others are listed as professional films. These designations are silly. What counts is using a certain film to achieve the type of picture you want. Maybe you want lots of grain. Perhaps shadow detail is of no interest to you. How about a lack of contrast? Cheap film may supply you with that look. Feeling, that’s what you want. Film is just film. Use the ones that suit your needs.

I am also amused when people are told that a film is good for practice or for beginners, or for students. These people do not need the worst films; they need the best films. Why waste your time shooting pictures you do not want to keep? You might s well go around with a cropping tool and pretend to take pictures.

As the light faded I coated the paper to make some Van Dyke Brown prints the following morning. During the trip, I wanted to try several different alternative processes, but only one process at a time.

The trickling sound of river beats any kind of medical sleeping pill. Getting into the wild revitalizes a person and is a reminder that we are a part of nature rather than something that imposes on nature. No amount of bought gimmickry gives the satisfaction of a clear night whispering the sounds of nature: an owl here, a wolf cry there, or the gentle sound of a fish cutting the water’s surface. We spend our lives attempting to find happiness and never realize that happiness is all around us. We think happiness is having more stuff, more junk to worry about. We are running and grasping for something that is right under our feet. Free yourself to nature and you free yourself to happiness and contentment. Many times we buy things we think we will make us happy us happy only to discover, a few days later, we are still discontented.

The sun is a wonderful photographic device. The exposures in the morning were not difficult. Place a negative on top of a coated piece of paper, squeeze them together with a piece of glass, and let the sun do the rest. The Revere Platinum paper is 100% cotton, acid-free, and chlorine free. The paper is also reasonably priced. I especially like the heavyweight. Wet or dry the paper lays flat. The Crane’s Cover 90 pounds is also a good choice. My results with cold-press watercolor paper have not been quite as good.

A stump in Arizona.
This is a stump from a former trip to Arizona. I used it to practice the kallitype process.

People often get frustrated if they want to make a print on a cloudy day and have to wait for the sun. All the print needs is UV light. On a cloudy day, there is still UV light. A print takes longer to expose, that’s all. Do not let a cloudy day discourage you. I have seldom made a print outdoors under sunlight in Washington. Sunlight is a rare commodity in the Northwest. My exposure might be an hour long but it is still an exposure. These first exposures at several minutes on the road were a treat and the exposures would shorten as the sun continued to rise. I did not place the emulsion toward the sun but rather away, on the shaded side. I do not know if that is correct but I read that is a better way to get exposure. I was going to try the exposures both ways during the trip and see if there is any difference.

Like Washington, Oregon is divided into Eastern and Western parts separated by a mountain range. The sides are entirely different with the West lush and fertile with mild temperatures and the majority of inhabitants, and the East dry desert with harsh temperature changes, and lightly populated. Many people do not realize how much of the United States is void of people. I have often driven hours through states like Nevada without seeing another vehicle. My grandfather once said all the inhabitants of this country would eventually live on both coasts while the interior would remain empty. He was very nearly right.

The trip through Eastern Oregon consists of high desert, spots of lush farmland, mountains of lava, and forests. Snow-capped volcanoes mark the boundary between East and West and rise cool even during the heat of summer. Forgotten towns are scattered about the country and larger towns serving farming communities stand firm and resilient at great intervals. Vast lava fields blanket the southeast section of Oregon and the Alvord desert shimmers in contrast to the rock cliffs of Owyhee Canyon.

I drove to the town of Fox, a block long and consisting of leaning buildings and several tilted people tucked out of sight. A small herd of deer was crossing the road, their long ears showing them to be mule deer. Apparently, they have been treated well since they were not concerned about my presence. The town appeared to be completely deserted. I set up my tripod and slipped in a film holder. As I started to photograph a man emerged from behind the abandoned Fox store. He resembled any number of homeless people, shabby, unwashed clothes, shoes worn down on the tops and the bottoms, jeans scuffed white at the knees, a plaid shirt with a rip at one elbow, long greasy hair and smelling of tobacco.

“Whatcha’ doing?” he said. He moved in close to look at the camera. He kept one eye on me, a bit sceptical. 

“Just taking pictures,” I said.

He looked around. “Of what?” What seemed uninteresting to him seemed very interesting to me.

“I like old buildings,” I said. “Things soon to disappear should be documented.”

“We got plenty of buildings.”

“You live here?”

“Yonder, behind the store.”

He was not from the West. We never say “yonder.”

“There’s an old trailer house that don’t leak much. It don’t rain much here, anyway. There’s just me and the rats and mice lives there but they mostly live under the house.”

“The place looks abandoned.” 

“There’s a few of us lives in old shacks here abouts. The water still works.”

“What brought you here?” 

He scratched his head as if I had asked a trick question.

“Don’t rightly know. I come from West Virginia. Still got folks there. I started walking one day and next thing I know here I am. One place is as good as the next, I reckon.”

“I suppose. You don’t mind me taking pictures?”

“It’s a free country last time I looked. I just don’t see what the interest is.”

I reached into the truck and offered him a cigar. He held the stick as if cradling a newborn baby.

“This is a really fine one.”

“Someone gave me a few,” I said, so as not to be pretentious, as if I were giving away something valuable.  

I held out my lighter and he savored the tobacco breathing out the smoke in a steady flat stream.

“They still look like a bunch of old buildings to me,” he said, as he walked away.

Old wood and rust interest me. There is plenty of it along the back roads. I left in search of more. 

I had wanted to take some pictures with a 5X7 view camera. I wrote to several camera manufacturers and asked if they might loan me one. Understandably, they never responded. A business cannot stay in operation very long by loaning out its products. Before leaving home I decided to make my own camera, a very crude one, out of parts I had gathered over the years, cripples on which photographers had given up. A camera can be made from any light-tight box. I glued a broken frame back together that had a broken back. I installed another old back and then cut new sections for the front. I attached new wood to the bottom with a new tripod socket. I had saved an old bellow from years and glued it on. I had not had the chance to test the camera before I left so I was anxious to see if it worked or if it acted like a small lighthouse. A 4×5 is fine and there really isn’t any reason to have a 5×7 except I wanted to make some larger prints. 5X7 prints display nicely while 4×5 are a bit small, especially for exhibitions.

Glueing the camera together.
Building a camera is simple. You can make a pinhole camera from an oatmeal box and a piece of tin.

I had two old wooden film holders in pretty bad shape. I thought they might be more of a problem than the camera. I reconditioned those. When I use my 4×5 I seldom shoot more than 4 shots so the two holders would be enough.

I stopped frequently along the way, not always to take pictures, but just to enjoy the quiet and the fresh air. The sky appeared to be filled with hawks. They flew in ever tighter circles until diving down to snatch an unsuspecting rodent going blissfully about his business and thinking of getting home to the wife and kids. Such is life.

My venture into photography was long and unsuspected. For personal reasons, the same personal reasons many young men have with their girlfriends, I dropped out of school two weeks before graduation.

The Vietnam war was just heating up. Because I was a musician I joined the Army Band thinking I would not have to go to war. I am not exactly the killer type and I admired the Vietnamese for standing up against us so they had the freedom to choose their own destiny. Two weeks after basic training I was sent to Vietnam where I spent my first night on an ambush patrol. Before returning home I had been wounded twice. I vowed after that experience to never harm another living creature.

So, what about photography? While in Vietnam I started looking at many pictures of the war and I noticed something interesting. The pictures were not real. I had seen the real thing and I realized the pictures were a representation of the facts. With all the power of the camera, the camera could still not depict reality. Many people do not understand this phenomenon. Show a picture of a friend to someone and ask, “Is that Bob?” He might answer, “Yes, that’s Bob.” Apparently, Bob is only two inches tall and has no depth dimensions. That is a picture of Bob and not Bob, two separate things. Basic logic: one thing cannot be another. My intellectual adventure into photography had begun. Years of fermentation came next.

I stopped playing music when my daughter was born. The two do not go well together. I soon became artistically frustrated. My wife claimed I took the worst pictures she had ever seen. Trying to improve might help me artistically. She insisted I buy the best camera I could find, a Nikon F, about $400 at the time and way out of my price range. Her theory is if you get the best you do not keep spending money on inferior products and working your way up to the best. I bought the Nikon and started teaching myself photography. I am self-taught in everything I do artistically. I believe a person needs only two skills to learn anything: the ability to read and the ability to comprehend. 

Musing about my history in photography ended with a phone call. I have been a boxing photographer for 50 years and have been the personal photographer of several great champions, including lightweight champion Roberto Duran. I was also his road manager and wrote a book on him, “Heart of a Champion.” I was now working as a back-up photographer for two-time super middleweight champion David Benavidez. He had a fight coming up with Calib Plant in Las Vegas and he wanted me there. All the work planning the trip was now shot; however, not a problem. One must take life as it comes and make the best of it. I only needed to reroute my steps backwards through Las Vegas and end up at the MGM Grand before the fight. I could try my hand at city landscapes.

As I developed the film from the day I thought more about my history. Not long after buying the Nikon I heard on the radio that a large cargo ship had rammed a bridge across the James River in Virginia. There was no reason to attempt to take pictures. Every photographer in the area would be there and besides, I had only just started to learn how to operate the camera. Out of curiosity, I decided to go have a look.

Luck was with me. There was not a single photographer on my side of the river, the side where the ship struck. The river is wide there and they were almost two miles away. I grabbed some shots and rushed them to the newspaper. Knowing how the media system worked was beyond me. The photo editor congratulated me on the pictures. A week later I received a nice-sized check in the mail. The picture had been sent out over the wire and I got paid by everyone who bought one. The Richmond Times Dispatch invited me to submit pictures any time I had a good one.

From that experience, I learned two things: go to something interesting even if you think there is no reason; and decent pictures often rely on luck. If things go well you end up on the right side of the river.

I also learned that I am no newspaper photographer. Driving home one day I saw smoke in the distance. The smoke was from a mobile home fire. A woman was sitting in a police car. Her child was in the mobile home. I knew enough about people to know she would react. I positioned myself between her and the fire. Within a minute she ran screaming toward the mobile home. Two firemen grabbed her and directed her back to the car. On the way she dropped to her knees, he arms raised toward the heavens and she released a tremendous sound of anguish. I had never seen such grief in a person. I snapped the picture. A Pulitzer prize winner for sure.

I climbed into the car and rushed toward the newspaper. Visions of fame raced through my head and photographic awards through my hands. The drive to the newspaper was long and my euphoria passed, pushed out by what humanity I still possessed. I was still pretty heartless and cold from the war and was having trouble adjusting. I realized what a terrible thing to publish a picture of personal grief and tragedy. I imagined the woman seeing that shot on the front page of the paper and realized how cruel I was even to have taken the shot. People’s grief and happiness are not the property of others. I tossed the film out the window and never took another newspaper shot unless it was to illustrate an article I had written.

The sky was bright and warm and orange as the rays filtered through the tent. I often sleep in the tent, or on the ground, when nights are clear, and in the back of the truck if I have work to finish. The sleeping bag felt snuggly and I was not inclined to get up. I crawled slowly out of the tent and heated coffee and oatmeal. Getting started is difficult when hit by the lazy bug. I developed the prints and walked around the area with another cup of coffee. Whenever I don’t want to do something I do it anyway because, if I do, I soon get into the swing of things, especially with photography. If I grab a camera and just wander around, something will catch my eye and my lethargy is replaced with eagerness and joy and the world opens up.

I did not drive far when an abandoned building caught my eye. The building sat cocked to one side down a dirt road. The top of a windmill had toppled to one side and one wall of the barn had caved in. An eerie shimmer wrapped about the house with the windows broken or missing, the door pushed partly open and many shingles having torn off and toppled to the ground.

Inside, the warped floor rolled like a giant wave. Newspaper, used for wallpaper, was ripped and curled. A dark stovepipe hole hovered above a wood cooking stove, the oven door gaping like an open mouth. A sofa covered with rat and mice scats sat in one corner of the room. An unstable staircase tipped precariously from the wall. There was something alive in the house, something that did not want to be disturbed.

I carefully walked upstairs. A pile of trash littered one corner. I felt someone was watching me, someone breathing near me. The window revealed a bleak outside where crops had long since died. A bullet-riddled car sat sideways in a small ravine. Blots of rust framed the bullet holes. The hood was missing, and the carburettor and manifold. Cobwebs dripped from the ceiling. I kicked about the trash with my shoe then jumped back and tried to catch my fleeing breath. A screaming distorted face and claw-like hands, of what I thought was a dead baby, reached up. I froze for a moment. Looking closer the dead baby turned out to be a doll – a daemon doll leathery and wrinkled, her hair in patches, her gums and few teeth shining while her hands, grotesque in every way, reached toward her throat. I introduced myself and apologized for the disturbance. To make amends I decided to take her picture. I took her downstairs and prepared her for her close-up. She was no beauty. When people complained to me about their pictures in the past I always said, “I’m a photographer, not a plastic surgeon.” I complimented her on her unique beauty and uniqueness. She photographed better than most people. I put her comfortably on the sofa when I left, a leather sculpture of Edward Munch’s The Scream.

A Kallitype of the crazy Doll
A Kallitype of the crazy doll.
Vandyke brown of crazy doll
And the same shot of the crazy doll in Vandyke brown.

The unexpected is one of life’s great joys. One never knows what is out there on the road, what will spark your imagination and wonder, what will frighten and amuse you. The world is filled with wonder waiting to take up time as you wait for Godot.

Brothel sign in Nevada
This former bordello is at the entrance to Death Valley. Because women are more liberated these days, bordellos are having a tough time.

When you start seeing signs for brothels you know you are in Nevada. Nevada is the only state with legalized prostitution. There would be less trouble in this country if there were more. People should not be penalized for enjoying one of the great pleasures in life just because they are ugly, or because they do not want a relationship and responsibility. Sex and food are our two major desires. We would not deprive a person of food, so why deny the other?

The truck in Death Valley
The truck and me taking a break in Death Valley. You can camp anywhere in Death Valley or use one of their designated campgrounds.

I swung back into California to Death Valley to soak up some heat. For $8 a veteran can stay in an organized campground. There is no cost if you prefer to sleep in the wild. 

Leaving Death Vally you come to the Amargosa Opera House
An interesting old opera house in Amarosa just outside of Death Valley.

Leaving Death Vally you come to the Amargosa Opera House. Today the population of the town is two. The opera house was resurrected by one of the most remarkable and talented women in the west: Marta Becket. Marta and her husband were driving to Death Valley when they had a flat tire. At the time the town had about ten residents. Marta noticed a decaying theatre. She rented the theatre for $45 a month and completely reinvented it. Marta was a musician – piano and violin – an artist and a ballerina. She acted, danced, and played music. She danced until she was 85. There were many times when no one attended her performances so she painted her own crowd. She even painted the ceiling. When the theatre was empty she performed for her painted audience. Since there is so much to be said about her she is well worth looking up on the internet.

People say ghosts haunt the opera house and ghost-like apparitions on film. It is interesting to note that one of my shots has such a vision. 

Ghost in the opera house
A ghost of the opera house. I thought maybe it was just light against the wall but it seemed to be in the middle of the air.

I rented the least expensive room I could in Vegas: $150. I needed a hot bath. The fight was at the MGM Grand Hotel. Their least expensive room was $470 a night. At that price, I could never sleep. The Super 8 where I stayed was in a terrible place. I had stayed there before and spent much of the night listening to the fights in the parking lot, the screaming women, the obscenities, and the squealing of car tires. Every hour, or so, came the knocking at the door and a woman or man wanting to know if I wanted company. I am sure there are better ways to get a bath. There is a truck stop at the end of town where you can rent a shower for a few dollars. You can stay in their lot for free, but I was worried about my camera equipment. It may have been safer there than at the motel.

Wandering about town with the view camera made a nice change. I also wanted to try some night shots to see how they looked printed as Kaliitypes. People on the street probably thought I was just another prop, and maybe I was. 

I love the energy at a big fight. Most of the photographers sit in the rafters. Ringside holds only about six photographers and they are always for big publications like “Sports Illustrated.” One can always expect a good fight from David Benavidez. This was no exception.

Some thoughts on technique. In order to get the pictures on line I photograph the prints with my Nikon f4s. They then go into the computer where I can have a good look. I occasionally fail to resist the temptation to slightly manipulate them. The pictures come out in various shades of brown. I do not know enough about the process to know why. I suspect it might have something to do with temperature.

The unexpected – I decided to finish this first week and recount some difficulties. I had not counted on the wind. There is very little wind in Washington. When I first attempted to dry some negatives in Death Vally, the wind whipped them from the line and away they went like so many tumbleweeds. I scrambled after them only to discover they had a bad case of rock pimples. No problem since somewhere along the line my camera had developed a light leak and they were mostly black. I needed time to think and decided to make dinner. The wind blew over my camp stove and the flame immediately burned through the gas line. The stove burst into flame. Before I could knock it to the ground and get to the shut-off valve, the small inferno lit my paper towels on fire along with a map. It melted a spoon to the platform on the tailgate and the burning paper fell to the ground and blew under the truck. Lying on my belly I used a tripod to douse the flames before they burned the truck to the ground. I pour a glass of wine and laughed at the comedy. What a sight it was.

Links to all the chapters in the Kallitype Roadtrip:


Richard E. Baker is a musician, writer, and photographer. As a musician, he started playing professionally at the age of 14 and has played with Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, and Mel Torme. He has written over 30 books, and over 100 articles, and has won many awards including the Ernest Hemmingway Award for short fiction. As a photographer Richard E. Baker was named Boxing Photographer of the Year by the World Boxing Board, a finalist in the Sienna Awards, one of the international sports photographers of the year by American Photo, first place pinhole photography award, first place in the Holga award, first place Macanudo award, and each year Richard collects digital cameras and give to orphans in Vietnam.

2 thoughts on “Kallitypes roadtrip #2 – “I am off for Indian country””

  1. Very Nice! Enjoyed that & look forward to the next episode! Go easy with the cooking gear.

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