Sunday, July 21, 2013

Minnesota Plus

  I'm going to very quickly try to recall what happened to me in the past week and then get back on the road.

  First off here is an interesting story that happened while I was still in North Dakota.
  After leaving Shane's studio in Bismark I drove as far as could before getting tired.  By that time it was the middle of the night and I was ready to pull over anywhere to get some shut-eye time.  The exit I chose at random had a very small town that stretched along the road leading away from the freeway.  I don't like to park by occupied houses because when I bleed the air from my breaks it makes a very loud hissing sound that wakes up the entire neighborhood and raises panic in the minds of sleepy residents.  With that in mind I drove almost past the town and took a road that led to the right into the fields.  The road quickly turned to gravel and there was no place to pull over with corn fields on both sides of me.  I kept driving for a couple of miles before seeing a shadow of a large tree against a night sky and under that tree was a tractor with just enough space next to it to park Gilli.  I happily pulled over and went to sleep.  In the morning I was awoken rather early by a loud banging on the door - I knew that type of a knock can only come from the cops and indeed found a nice lady-sheriff peeking into the window when I drew the curtain open.  Of course I was on someone's property and upon seeing a big yellow bus that appeared in the middle of the night the owners called authorities.  I explained to the sheriff my situation and that I was planning on taking a picture of the tree and then taking off without damaging anything or causing any more havoc. She said that she'll relate that to the residents and left.  No later than 10 minutes after that the owner of the property appeared on a 4-wheel drive carrying a cup of coffee and a warm bunt cake.  We had a nice conversation and he said that his daughters might be interested in seeing the tintype-making process, so I told him I'd wait to start till he brought them over.  He came back not only with his two kids, but with his father as well and so I made the plate while being observed by three generations of the family.  The entire experience was much appreciated with many oohs dispensed throughout.  After the father left with the two kids grandpa stuck around through the washing process and explained that the tree I just made a plate of was the only tree around when his father bought the property in 1930s.  He said that at the time the tree was only 15ft tall and that his father planted all the other trees I was around me (and there were a lot of them including the ones on the horizon).  That being so and having seen the process of creation he asked if he could buy the plate from me and I was happy to agree.  I varnished the plate and handed it over in exchange for a check - the picture below is of that tree and the original plate is now residing withing a few hundred yards of what is possibly the oldest tree in the entire area.

  After that it was on to Fargo for me.  Fargo is a neat town that lays right on the Minnesota border and so it was my last chance to get some tintypes done in North Dakota.  I pulled into downtown and made the following two plates.

  Then I backtracked a bit because I thought I saw some more industrial-looking scenery on my way to downtown, but couldn't get to it because it was on the other side of the railroad tracks with no roads crossing over.  While searching for those spots I came across a most interesting collection of random large objects on the side of the road and just had to stop and explore.  Apparently the place is a repository of vintage junk - the owner, who came out to greet me, is an auctioneer and makes a living by rescuing unwanted stuff from all across the country, piling it up in front of his warehouse and selling it off little by little.  He was very proud of the various treasures that were strewed about the yard and even invited me into the warehouse where I found the most amazing assortment of most random objects I have ever seen.  Stuffed buffalo heads, horse-drawn carriages, Native American art, model cars, pieces of old farm equipment, furniture and much more were all in complete disarray making it quite a visual treat.  Here are the two plates I made in front of the place - if there was enough light in the warehouse I could have probably made a dozen plates there too...

  When I crossed over into Minnesota it was still light and I decided that I should pull over and make a couple more images happen.  Pretty soon I noticed a large compound of metal barns and thought they would make a good composition.  I don't really remember where exactly this is, but it is right off highway 10 and not far from the ND border.

  By the time I was done with the wash it was getting pretty dark.  I decided to drive until midnight and see where I land at that point.  The towns that I encountered were extremely small.  I was really hoping to find some life and maybe grab a beer at a local dive bar, but even though the bars in towns of population around 100 or less were open they only had one car in front of them and I assumed that it was the lonely bartender's vehicles.  Amazingly enough, right as the clock struck midnight I saw a town with population listed as 250 and in the middle of it was a bar with live music.  I can't describe the looks I got when I walked in there - I was the only person that they didn't recognize and I really felt like I was back in the villages of Japan.  Nonetheless a nice older couple struck up a conversation with me a even bought me my first drink.  What a place!  Tap beer is only $1.25!  The band was not bad and played some good American rock-n-roll.  There was even a guy wearing a San Diego t-shirt that made me feel more at home.  Here he is dancing with a lady who was responsible for my first beer.

  In the morning I kept on driving until I reached Duluth.  Duluth was the place that I reached last year and took a short route going south from there, so now I was in more familiar territory.  It's a nice old industrial city and I drove about until I found a few compositions to capture.

  Just south of Duluth, in Lake Nabagamon Wisconsin lives Aleasha - a friend of mine from Rainbow Gatherings whom I met in 2009 in New Mexico.  She is a very cool lady - welder, mechanic and teacher, fire dancer, artist and animal lover and in general a great, low-stress person to be around.  Her ranch is a place I love to visit and so I decided to stay there for a while and take a little break from the road.  Here are a couple of pictures taken on Buttercup Ranch, as she calls it.
 Solorized Tintype (my first attempt at this technique)

Earth Rover (an art project built by Aleasha)

Aleasha fixing a donated Ford Fiesta
Wood Pile 

   Duluth is only 30mi up from Lake Nabagamon and I decided to go back there in search of some more compositions and with a plan to test out my 8x20 camera.  Luckily, back in Bismark, Shane has donated to me a liter of silver nitrate, so now I could finally fill the enormous sensitizing tank for those size plates.  I drove about until I found a way to access the grain elevators that are very prominent in the Duluth landscape.  The place I thought would have the best perspective of them was a salvage yard and I had to get permission to park there.  Lovely ladies at the office were very helpful and gave me a hard hat and a yellow jacket to wear and told me that I could park there for about 1.5 hours.  Well....  I ended up being there almost 3 hours and this is the resulting best plate.  8x20 in is infinitely harder than simple 4x5 or 5x7 and I'm going to need to practice a lot more before I can pull them off faster and cleaner.  I like this one though, glad I pushed on.

  While I was shooting Jillian, a good friend of Aleasha's, called me up and invited me to a small get-together on Lake Superior.  The darkroom was hot and stuffy, so I was happy to jump on the opportunity to join some folks for a swim.  Lake Superior was very calm and relatively warm and I very much enjoyed seeing Jillian again.  The only downfall was an over-abundance of small flies, which kept biting with a bite as vicious as that of a horse fly...  Still - isn't it pretty?  It's so big it totally looks like the ocean.

  This is a bit off from the timeline, but an interesting story and I'm happy to relate it.
  At some point while being in Duluth I stopped by a local camera store called First Photo and asked them if they had anything really old or odd for sale.  They said that unfortunately they didn't have anything of the sort, but gave me a number for a local repairman and said that if anyone would have anything like that it would be him.  I called him upand met him at his home/office.  He was very impressed with the bus and actually donated an odd little camera that I will do my best to use for making small tintypes.   Also he said that he recalls there having been a collector who died last year and left behind a pile of boxes filled with random old cameras.  That sounded very exciting and I asked if he had any way of getting in touch with his relatives to see if that stuff was still around.  He said that though he didn't have any numbers he did remember the last name and so I wrote down every number in White Pages associated with that last name.  There were 6 of them and the next day I started going down the list until at last I spoke to the son of the deceased photographer who gave his sister's number saying that she lives in the house where the stuff is stored.  After calling her I arranged a meeting for later that evening and soon found myself in a house crowded with boxes that went up to the ceiling.  Boxes upon boxed, in front of boxes and behind boxes - layers and layers of boxes.  It appears that her father was not only into collecting cameras, but also guns, stamps and old radio and television equipment.  There were boxes of vacuum tubes, stamp albums and envelopes from all over the world, transmitters, receivers and of course cases of guns, shotguns and rifles.  For the safety of the household I am not disclosing the name or location of this stash, but I am happy to say that after digging there on that evening and coming back the next day to dig some more I was able to find a lot of cameras and other photo-related stuff that I bought.  One of the coolest things in there was a box filled to the brim with Lantern Slide making materials and two large boxed of Lantern Slides.  It appears that the photographer was one of the last to not only process his own medium format slide film, but also to make them into Lantern Slides and I saw (though did not purchase) a box filled with what must have been a few hundred or even a thousand slides - all neatly stacked up in filing boxes, but, as usual, missing any labels and descriptions.  Now I have the supplies to make my own slides - anything from masks to cover glass and sealing tape.  The tough part is going to be actually making the black and white images on glass, but I'm hoping to take a workshop on that when the time for that project gets closer.  Oh yeah, I also did a couple of tintypes while parked in front of the house to illustrate what I do.
Back Yard Barrel

College Students - they were all invited aboard the bus for a demonstration of the process and I can't tell you how excited and amazed they were to see the image appear on the plate and then clear in the fixer....   They also were giddy with excitement to see the row of Polaroid pictures I have in the bus - it seems that a couple of them have never seen real Polaroid pictures and they were amazed at their colors.  I love what I do!

  After relaxing at Buttercup Ranch I headed to Minneapolis.  As some of my readers may remember I am in the process of researching the history of the Lantern Slides taken by John Rahill in 1917-18 in Russia, China and Japan.  Rahill was working with YMCA at the time and the larges archive of that organization happens to be located at University of Minnesota.  Once again I found myself deep in letters and field notes of the brave and idealistic men who went into a vastly complicated and dangerous situation and tried to help out in any way they could.  This time I was able to find some more interesting information including the exact dates of John's departure and return, the ship he was traveling by and much more, so it was a great day at the archives. 

  Afterward I went to meet another wet plate photographer by the name of Richard Jones.  Like Shane, Richard has no formal education in photography and started doing wet plate out of sheer fascination.  He took a workshop from Quinn Jacobs in Denver and says that it's the best investment of money and time that he has ever made.  His plates prove it - they are clean and well precessed.  Here is Richard at work in his makeshift bathroom-darkroom and the resulting plate of yours truly and Gilli-the-Gillig

This copy is a bit bark - the original is better.

  After meeting Richard I drove down toward Rochester (the Minnesota one) and met with Peggy Williams - a relative of my lovely ex-girlfriend Rachel.  She lives in Oronoco and was kind enough not offer me a place to stay here and I was happy to oblige.  Peggy, along with her husband and his 92 year old WWII veteran father lives a bit out of town on a nice piece of land up on a hill.  There are horses, chickens and apple-eating dogs here.  I have been here over the past two night and now feel completely rested and ready for more road-time.  Here are the plates that I made during the say.  After demonstrating the process Peggy expressed interest in buying a plate of the house and that made me really happy.

Peggy's home

Yet another cloud shot.  This cloud was messing with me - every time I would shoot it would cover the sun and then when I would emerge from the darkroom after developing the plate it would let the sun shine and make me want to coat another plate. This went on for the three previous shots, so when I refocused once again (in nice sunset light) and came out to see that the sun is once again covered I just pointed the camera at that cloud and shot it as to show the wet plate gods that I can not be deterred.  I think it came out rather well and after that the cloud almost dissolved leaving room for a very nice sunset.

  OK, I think this is the bulk of everything that happened in the past week.  Now I am going to explore the smaller highways if eastern Minnesota and Wisconsin.  I think I'll stop by Madison - it's a place I enjoyed very much when I was there last time in 2002 and I can't wait to see it again.


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