It's been more than 2 weeks since I posted an update on the blog and what a fun-filled 2 weeks it was! This may be a long one, so brace Yourself and get comfortable if you intend to get through it all in one go.
New Mexico - Tennessee drive
I am happy to say that the rest of the trip from NM to TN went off without a hitch. We drove through the Texas panhandle in the middle o the night to cut down on the heat factor. Driving all night can be quite tiresome, so I pulled off the road right as the sun was about to rise and took these two Polaroid 600 images:
After Texas came Oklahoma and there The Bus was graciously hosted by our dear friend Rick. We met Rick in 2009 at the Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico. He was present at the very first Gathering in Colorado 1972 and is a wealth of Rainbow information, stories and jokes as well as a fascinating conversationalist. At his house, located in a quaint little part of Oklahoma City we had a much needed day off the road with some time to go through the mechanical parts of the rig, tighten up all of the 100+ hose clamps and just to relax for a while before a bee-line drive to Tennessee. Rick decided to caravan with us and to follow us to TN in his van. I don't blame him for not coming in The Bus as we barely had space for the luggage of two rough-and-tumble photographers and he does like to keep some comforts of city life with him when he travels.
I get pretty excited when I am on the way to a Gathering, so we made the 1000mi drive as fast as Gilli would go. It took about 20 hours of driving and I only stopped for about 3 hours of sleep - sorry Rick!
At the 2012 Rainbow Gathering
I hope You took time to read the previous update. There you can find a bit of info about The Rainbow Gathering, which is where The Photo Palace Bus has been all this time. The following section contains a recount of my first experience of having a bus at The Rainbow.
This year 40th anniversary Rainbow Gathering was held in the north-east corner of Tennessee in the beautiful Cherokee National Forest right by the picturesque (and warm) lake that provided refuge from the 100°F heat at times combined with 80% humidity.
Previously to going there I was updated by some of my good friends that parking was tough (as is almost always is for Eastern Gathering) and the meadow designated for Bus Village was incredibly small and was already filled with buses belonging to various kitchens (and those always get priority because people not only live in them full time, but also because they do have a lot of equipment and supplies that they need to haul in and out of The Gathering). About a week prior to our arrival I was informed that my chances of parking in Bus Village were slim and getting slimmer day by day. Other than that tiny meadow all the rest of the parking was along a dirt road with a sizable ditch running alongside of it. I was not about to give up my long-distance struggle and tried my best to secure a parking place in Bus Village.
To my sheer joyous amazement and relief my friends Davijon and J'ai came through and against all odds told me that there will indeed be a parking space waiting for Gilli. Pulling into The Gathering is always a bit of a stress - parking is never easy even with a car, the presence of countless hippies and their dogs on a narrow dirt road is disorienting and confusing, there are often police road-blocks or check points along the route and the actual directions are rarely clear. To an unfamiliar eye the parking scene can resemble a scene from 'Mad Max' the movie and to top it off The Photo Palace Bus arrived on site at about 2 o'clock in the morning. Davijon, a prominent figure at one of the biggest kitchens called Lovin' Ovens and a personal friend of mine for over a decade, waited patiently on the VERY LAST parking space into which my 35ft Gilli could possibly fit.
After puling off a backing-up parking maneuver job that frankly surprised even me I found myself surrounded by buses and people. They all wanted to know about the bus: how it was built, its purpose and so on.
During the conversation I discovered a very pleasant surprise. Apparently a large stack of 8x8 black and white prints, which I left with a 'Free Photos' sign one year ago at the previous Gathering in Washington state, has been cared for and made its way to this gathering on board one of the three buses belonging to Phat Kids Kitchen. I was deeply touched to see and hear how much appreciation was shown towards my work.
I must admit I was utterly exhausted after a two day marathon of a drive from Oklahoma City during which I had about 2.5 hours of sleep. However when I heard about the lake being just 20 meters from The Bus I had to leave Ryan and Rick to go for a swim with a group of random but energetic folks I met while taking a walk by the buses. Usually I am not the one to go out at night and dive into the water at a lake I have never been to before (we all know how that can end up), but this time I did a front flip off a tree branch as soon as someone who was already in the water told me where the deep spot is. The water, which was warmer than the night air, engulfed me and in an instant helped me realize the incredulity of having realized the wonderful film-junkie dream of mine. When I came up to the surface I knew I was Home.
In the morning I did re-park the bus a few hundred yards away from the other buses - as much as I loved the idea of history coming back full circle and me parking in Bus Village after a 15-year wait, I did realize that the chaotic atmosphere of the Village would not be conducive to serious concentration on art. As we arrived on site on the 22nd of June there was still ample parking along the roadside and I found a relatively flat and shaded spot for Gilli.
After this rather detailed description of the first few hours on site I will spare You the myriad details of the rest of The Gathering and will concentrate solely on Photo Palace related material.
I am happy to say that, as planned, the very first developing and printing session took place on that very same spot just a few days later. After setting up camp and getting my bearings straight in an unfamiliar and heavily wooded forest I decided that the first image to be processed on The Bus should be an image taken at this Gathering. I brought out my Rolleiflex line-up and did a short photo-walk. I must admit, after being a designer/carpenter/plumber and so on over the past 4 months my fingers were a bit rusty with the camera. After about an hour I felt I had enough to work with and retreated to The Bus. There, trembling with anticipation, I mixed up some Kodak HC-110 and developed the first roll - Verichrome Pan 120, expiration 1981. On it was a frame that I deemed to be of appropriate quality to become the first ever image to be printed on board The Photo Palace Bus.... Currently I am searching the entire bus looking for those prints - it's a bit of a mess since Ryan left The Photo Palace Bus and things had to be reconfigured.
At the Gathering arts and crafts are always appreciated. I scheduled and held the Places first workshop - it was a lecture on camera formats (from Minox to 4x5) and a cyanotype demo during which people made their own sun prints of local plants a la Anna Atkins.
Also I held the first portrait session using a 10x20ft backdrop that had to be dragged up the mountain from The Bus. It was not easy to carry it along with the stands for about a mile and a half and the lighting in Tennessee woods was splotchy and dark, so I am not expecting that every frame will be a winner.
All in all about 26 rolls of film plus 5-6 Polaroid packs were filled with content on a total of 9 cameras. This was also the first attempt of mine to shoot the new Impossible Project - 600 Silver Shade UV+. I am happy to say that it was much much better than the previous films of theirs that I have tried and now I have some hope that, with a bit of support from instant photography enthusiasts, they will indeed someday catch up to the quality of original Polaroid films. Here is one of my favorite images from that pack.
I am indeed sorry to have to inform you all that Ryan Kalem is no longer part of this journey. I met Ryan in 2007 in the darkroom of San Jose State University. He expressed interest in my prints from the Rainbow on which I was working and I was happy to share with him the information both about the prints and the subject matter. In 2009 I took him to his first Gathering in New Mexico and there I shared with him the vision for building a mobile darkroom inside of a school bus. He instantly took to the idea and has been very committed to the idea of traveling in it upon graduation. As some of you may know, I have been planning this venture since 1997 when I was only 19 myself, but it really took a promise of a young energetic partner to get ready and to finalize the decision. Last August Ryan found Gilli on eBay and I purchased it with the money I have been saving over the past few years specifically for this project. Ryan was instrumental in the building process and so was his father Lee Kalem.
It is with regret that I have to inform You, my dear reader, that we parted ways yesterday, right at the beginning of what promises to be a very exciting ride.
I wish the very best to Ryan as a photographer and look forward to his post-graduate development as an artist and can't wait to see what fascinating and original ideas he will come up with and implement.
Finally we got our California Arts Council license plates! I have to thank my mother for going to the Department of Motor Vehicles for me and turning in my old plates and mailing out the new ones out to TN. San Diego DMV is never fun and she was a trooper for going through with it.
Well, now that the weather had cooled down enough for me to concentrate I'm going to dive into the darkrom and see how many of these rolls I can process in one night (trouble is I only have one roll film washer and it fits a maximum of 2 120 + 1 35mm rolls so it's going to be a lot slower than when I work in my San Diego darkroom where I have a tank that fits up to 8 120 rolls at a time...)