The 4th and final chapter of Richard E Bakers road trip. Richard E. Baker is on the last leg of the kallitype road trip. He already plans his next getaway and also gives a list of useful tips for fellow adventurers. 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.
Links to all the chapters in the Kallitype Roadtrip:
- Kallitypes roadtrip #1 – Preparation for the 4 week trip ahead can be found here.
- Kallitypes roadtrip #2 – “I am off for Indian country” can be read here.
- Kallitypes roadtrip #3 – In the Land of Rocks
- Kallitypes roadtrip #4 – Leaving the land of cactus and stickers
I am compelled to photograph like I am compelled to write and to play music. The arts help us make sense of the world, help us organized the world into manageable chunks. They allow us to not only look outward but to look inward by bringing what is inside us, into the light.
I think it was Gary Winograpd who said something like, “I photograph to see how things look photographed.” That interests me because a photograph does not look like the thing photographed. Elliott Erwitt, commenting on Marilyn Monroe, said she looked much better in photographs than she did in real life. That is often the case. So, what is the reality? The thing, or the thing photographed? Maybe neither one. Maybe it is something illusive like the way you feel about a certain song that cannot be described or the way words define a poem to bring out an emotion that remains illusive and lives somewhere that cannot be touched or explained.
These things traveled through my mind the day in Phoenix I decided to return home. The air was hot. Sun pierced the ground. Shadows stretched out like bodies in an alley. I was finally warm and it was time to go and I was reluctant. There are so many beautiful spots to photograph in the area and the scenery is very different from the northwest. There is no underbrush in the area and you can see for miles. Lumps and bumps interspersed with level land cover everything and springs of various and strange plants and cactus cover everything and clouds hover like hammocks strung across the sky.
Arizona is the perfect place for me. My father nicknamed me “Cactus.” He never called anyone by his real name. My brother John was Tack, my sister June was Fuzz, my other sister was Jugg and my two grandsons were Heckle and Jeckle.
Any kind of cactus can be found in Arizona, tall lanky ones rising like skyscrapers, ones covered with arms all twisted, short squatty ones, bushy ones with heads like lettuce, and cactus like Joshua trees that are not cactus, only disguised. You can photograph a hundred cactus and never find two that are similar. They are the snowflakes of the desert. While in Arizona I ran out of the kallitype chemicals. Fortunately, I had plenty of Van Dyke Brown so I switched to that process for the last pictures.
Developing the kallitypes from the back of my truck proved no more difficult than developing them at home. I had entered a routine. In the evening I coated paper or glass with emulsion. (I had made several prints on glass. Occasionally the emulsion started to peel in places. If I spritzed the glass with spray glue, and then let it dry, everything stayed together.) They looked the same as modern photos, which defeats the purpose. I took pictures late in the morning and afternoon. Later in the afternoon I exposed and developed the prints then started the process of coating paper again in the evening. At first, I was concerned the extreme cold or heat might affect the prints. The temperature had no effect on the process. Blowing dust caused some problems but the wind generally quieted in the evening. Because of the wind, I started drying the negatives and prints inside the cab. The wind was the biggest problem and made things more difficult than they should have been. There are few problems in the world that cannot be overcome with a little thought.
After weeks on the road, my truck becomes a vacuum cleaner sucking up everything and only gets worse the longer I stay out. The dash starts to fill with receipts, notes and notebooks, various reading and sunglasses, brochures, writing pens and pencils, gum, Kleenex, lens cleaner, and camera filters. Next is the front seat: cell phone, more pens and pencils, lens caps, shirts, socks, extra shoes on the floor, Nikon D4s, Moskva, Zone 6 4X5, unfolded maps, soda cans, water bottles, empty coffee cups, candy wrappers, apple cores, hats, film, film holders, light meters, more filters, spare change, and extra cash folded into a lump. Behind the seat sits a 5X7 view camera, film, dirty and clean clothes, printing paper, transparency paper, computer, shaving kit, an empty trash bucket, winter shirts, a sweater, towel and a washcloth. There is no way to describe the developing section of my truck except to say it becomes a disaster with lights, sleeping bags, pillows, cooking gear, stove, food, chemicals, tripods, etc. everywhere.
Let’s just say I am not neat. I get so caught up with the work that everything else becomes invisible. I become part of the landscape, part of the pictures, part of the feelings and emotions I see in photographs. I cannot help photographing like I cannot help writing and playing music. When I left home everything had a place. Now every place had everything. Staying neat and putting everything back in its place makes things much simpler. I understand that mentally and rationally, but not emotionally. All I want to do is look for pictures and see what the world has to offer. The world is much larger than we imagine and I want to shove everything into my little black time capsule. I love the contradiction of it all. Between every two things lies something else so the world – the universe – is infinite. There are as many things as there are so the world – the universe – is finite. That defies the laws of logic which is why it is so wonderful. I want to know and the camera helps me understand. The camera does not take pictures, I do. The camera simply holds them and gives me a library of what I felt and saw at the time.
The trip home took me back toward Death Valley and the ghost town of Rhyolite. Rhyolite is one of the most visited ghost towns in the West, mostly because there is something left to see. Most of the old mining towns were made of wood, a valuable commodity. When the mines were worked out, the miners took the wood with them leaving behind only foundations. Any wood or buildings left often succumbed to fires. Many of the buildings in Rhyolite were built of stone and concrete.
The site was discovered by Shorty Harris in 1904 while he was prospecting the Mojave desert. The desert consists of 20 million acres with only 2 to 6 inches of rain a year. Harris found deposits and the site was soon flooded with miners. By 1908 10,000 people lived in Rhyolite. The town had all the amenities of neighbouring towns in the area including electricity. Boom towns seldom last and by 1919 the town was almost deserted due to lack of water and because the extraction of gold exceeded the profit. The town, between Beaty, Nevada, and Death Vally makes a convent stop and inspires some leisurely daydreaming. The main street holds most of the buildings. A simple walk around the area reveals many more buildings including an old brothel and jail. Mines are scattered throughout the surrounding hillsides.
As I was photographing a building a man stopped his car and shouted from the window and shouted, “Hey Ansel, how’s the photography.” “Not bad,” I said. “Too much wind.” He laughed and said he had studied photography at university and worked as a photographer for a while. “Not anymore?” I said. “It was too hard to make a living. I wish I had stayed with it. I really enjoyed it.” We talked for about twenty minutes and he looked over my view camera. Having something other than a cell phone invites conversation and the conversation never centres around the problems in the world but is usually positive and filled with memories and smiles.
I started to think of where I wanted to camp and if I wanted to drive back through Death Valley.
You could put up a tent anywhere if you want to camp in the old town. There is plenty of space and you can get the feel of an old mining town. There is a wide range of places to camp in the west from private campgrounds to state and federal campgrounds, to BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) areas, to any open spaces you can find. Private camping costs the most because they are geared to people with motorhomes and they offer things like swimming pools, hot tubs, etc. and cost about $40 a night. State and Federal camping costs vary from free to around $25 depending upon amenities. BLM land is free because it is just land and you can camp anywhere. I seldom ever pay for camping because my idea is to get away from people, something you can’t get at a regular campground. It was too early in the day so I decided to move on.
My last stop on the trip was one of my favorites – Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills situated beside Route 395 in California. Almost everyone has seen the area around the small town of Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills. They just do not know it. Over 400 movies and television series have been shot there. The area is wonderfully unique with marvellous and photogenic rock formations.
The Round Up was the first movie shot in the area in 1920. From that point on nothing could stop movie companies and directors from filming amongst the rocks. A wide range of movies have been shot there including High Sierra, Charge of the Light Brigade, Tremors, Bad Day at Black Rock, Star Trek, The Postman, and Gladiator. Actor Barbra Stanwick so loved the area that she had her body cremated and the ashes scattered over the area. Almost any television western you see has scenes from there. Much of what you want to learn about photography can be learned from the movie Gunga Din. As a young man, I watched the movie over and over again to see what made it so visually effective.
The movie is master at diagonal lines, especially with roads, buildings and groups of soldiers. Subjects are almost always seen in odd numbers like the three main characters. Many of the shots use framing devices from actual window frames to rocks and trees. Shots are well balanced often with large buildings beside smaller ones or the elephant scene where he stands next to the smaller man. Almost nothing is in the center of the shot but always to one side or the other. When two people are filmed one stands slightly behind the other rather than side by side. The lighting is first-rate. Even small bits, like the gramophone, act as a leading line. One can do no better than study this movie to improve his photography.
Driving home my mind started to wander. One trip always makes me want to go on another, perhaps Vietnam where I would photograph everything with a Holga camera. Montana might be a good bet. Few buildings survive in the old mining towns and what is left needs to be photographed. They would probably look best photographed in various brown tones. I wondered how they would all look photographed in blue. I see cyanotypes in the future.
I have learned one thing for certain in this life. Even in the best of times, our lives are numbered. Take time for yourself. Find something you enjoy. Turn off the bad news from around the world and of all the good things you know, the good people, the great country, your family, the positive side of your health, and that you are in charge of your life and you will feel better if you make the best of it.
- Because of climate change, a better time to start a southwest trip might be the middle of April
- Of all the papers I used Revere Platinum proved the best for me
- The kallitype kits from Bostic & Sullivan and Photographer’s Formulary were great
- Camping near a town will cost. It is free in the wilderness, especially in the southwest
- It is almost as cheap to buy food at a restaurant as it is to cook your own. Take enough food and water for emergencies
- If you need a night in a motel to clean up, prices range from $50 to $300
- Be careful the wind does not blow over your camera. It can ruin your day
- The easier processing is Van Dyke Brown. It requires just one single mix developer and fixer. The kallitype requires a 2-step developer, clearing chemical, and fixer
- Wear a hat and use sunscreen
- Take a cooler for your film
- There is free parking at Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas
- Because of the changes during the trip, I travelled 4,100 miles. Gas prices varied from $3.59 to $6.00 a gallon with prices in California being the most. Adding the money and dividing it into the miles, the fuel costs of the trip were .24 cents a mile.
Links to all the chapters in the Kallitype Roadtrip: