Thursday, November 30, 2017

West Coast Trip - Part 2

  On Sunday morning we left Ukiah early in order to be able to make it to the airport and then have time to shoot before Ishtar’s flight.   It was only about an hour and a half drive, so we should have had plenty of time.  Well...  Gilli-the-bus had other plans for us.  Gilli is never too sprite going uphill and by now I can usually look at the grade and estimate that this is going to be one of those 25mph hills or 35 or all the way down to 18 or so for really steep ones.  About 10mi from where were had to exit highway 101, right before the town of Healdsburg, there is a little hill.  It looked like a 25mph hill to me, so I was surprised to see Gilli slow down past that.  I was even more surprised to see her slow down more and more and more and basically run out of fumes.  Luckily, my surprise didn’t turn into a brain freeze and I had enough time to pull off onto the shoulder of an exit (freeway exits are pretty rare on that stretch of 101 and so we really did get lucky there).  As soon as she came to a stop an oil pressure warning light and buzzer came on and she refused to start back up…  Not good.  I came out, opened the rear motor hatch and looked around, probably hoping to see a red arrow pointing to where I needed to turn a valve or something…  Seconds after as I began my aimless survey I heard voice over a loud speaker behind me – “Is she totally dead?”  Turning around I saw a highway patrol SUV – where it came from and in such short time I don’t know.  I motioned for permission to approach and after being granted such explained that while technically Gilli wasn’t ‘totally’ dead, she wasn’t about to move anywhere soon.  The officer stepped out and briefly examined the engine compartment.  I think he also didn’t know what to look for, it’s just the thing that men have to do I guess – look at a dead engine perhaps with the aim of restarting it purely by the power of glance.   Since that miracle didn’t occur he said that at the exact spot where I was parked it probably wasn’t safe, but down the exit ramp the shoulder widened and he proposed pushing me over the little part of the hill that was left and then I’d coast down the ramp and pull over to a safer spot.  I couldn’t fathom that such an armada as Gilli could be pushed, but the officer seemed confident that his souped up Chevy could do it and so we gave it a go.  Ishtar guided the officer as he inched up to my rear bumper and gave me a sign that the pushing is about to commence. To my astonishment, the Chevy pushed me up to 5mph or so really easily, the final 150ft of a hill were conquered and I coasted another 300ft or so to where the shoulder was extra wide and I could be walking around Gilli without concern for safety.  The officer bid us farewell and we never saw him or any of his brethren again.  I am still not sure if that was a real policeman or a messenger from spirits watching over all photographers.  First off I have no idea where he appeared from and so quickly after we came to a stop.  Secondly, he spoke extremely softly, so softly in fact that I had to get closer to him in order to hear his voice and there weren’t any cars passing us on the highway.   In either case I am very grateful for his intervention as now we were in a much less precarious spot.   Not knowing what was wrong with Gilli though was disheartening and having to get Ishtar to the airport weighed on my mind.  A bit of a panic mode set in.
  I got onto social media and connected with a couple of folks.  One of them, Steve Watkins, called me and we tried a thing or two centering on the override switches that communicates oil pressure info and shuts down the engine if it runs low.  No luck was to be had.  Since it was still early in the day Ishtar pulled out her chemistry set and started practicing a bit more by shooting some industrial close-ups of Gilli’s engine (her plates all came out absolutely perfect by the way and she was super stoked about that).  There was a little hill right next to where Gilli was stranded and upon climbing it a little I saw a very nice view, so I decided to make an 8x10 plate marking the spot where I was to spend the night.    Here’s that plate with me pretending to examine the engine via my 4x5 camera (Ishtar pulled the cap off for the 5sec at f22 exposure with Dallmeyer 3B lens).

  When time came closer to her flight Ishtar called Uber and we said our goodbyes.  She was a great traveling partner and I was sad to see her go.  Hopefully we get to have some more adventures together in the future.
  Left alone it was time to start thinking of settling in for the night. I varnished the plates done that day and ones from the day before.  Cleaned up here and there and then it started to get a little cold, so I fired up the stove and made some tea.  I don’t use the kitchen in Gilli often, but I tell you what – that cup of tea was heavenly!  It made me think of some other memorable cups of tea I’ve had.  One was in some basement hangout back in Moscow when I was just 15 or so.  It was shared with a couple good friends and a rare recording of one of my favorite artists was being transferred from reel-to-reel onto cassette (I still have that cassette somewhere, need to digitize it as the content there is pretty great).  Another cup that came to mind is one I had in south-eastern Nepal, in a village house of a family I spent a week with.  They lived a beautifully simple life and the cup of chai they wade was heavenly.  To honor those cups and all the spirit-healing cups of tea had by people all across the globe I took this picture..

  Next morning a fellow wet plate photographer David Soska drove all the way from Pleasanton to help me out while looking for a mechanic.  It’s great to have good friends!  We tried a few places in Santa Rosa, but none of them wanted to take on a task of making Gilli better.  After a while we were given a number of a mobile mechanic who was up to the challenge.  He said it’ll take him 1.5-2hr to get to me, so we had lunch and went to check out a winery, after all Gilli was planted within a mile of two of them.  Luckily the closest winery to us was closed and so we went to the second one, which happens to be owned by Francis Coppola, the famous Hollywood director.  I’ll admit that up to that point I have never actually set foot in a winery, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Now that I went to the Coppola one though I kinda doubt that my future winery visits will live up to my first experience.  The building was magnificent and interior decorated with props from iconic films Coppola directed.  We didn’t spend too much time there as the mechanic was supposed to be arriving shortly.  Well, it actually took him an extra hour to get there, but in either case, we wanted to be ready.
  When the mechanic finally showed up he rather quickly figured out that it was a very simple issue of a clogged fuel filter.  Apparently, the super-pro guys at San Diego 
Freightliner, who were supposed to change all the filters and do a full lube job, overlooked the second fuel filter (which hides behind the gas tank).  Mechanic ran over to get the right filter, swapped it out and in under an hour Gilli and I were back on the road.  
  I was about 3hr ‘Gilli-speed’ driving distance from the San Francisco Bay Area and so I headed there to visit Matthew Kurtin, who has a nice little studio in Alameda, as well as a darkroom.   We haven’t seen each other in a while and so after a little catching up we exchanged portraits – he made an 8x10 Polaroid of me and I returned the favor by giving him an 8x0 tintype. 

  After shooting and cleaning up a bit I still had some energy left and so I headed out on the road in the southward direction.  I guess I didn’t have quite as much energy as I thought I did and so rather quickly upon reentering Central Valley I felt sleep setting in and found a quiet little exit to pull off on and sleep.
  I awoke to find many bushes of really neat dried flowers right outside the bus door.   After picking some to use as props in the future I started heading south again.  From there to LA is not that far and so I decided to take a detour.  Instead of driving on the extraordinarily boring interstate 5 I got off a bit north of the town of Lost Hills, went a little west and drove Hwy 33 – a slightly more cicturesque road with some photogenic urban decay alongside of it.  In one place I stopped and made a plate of an abandoned house and the flowers that I picked that morning (they are REALLY hard to shoot – yellow and contrasty..., I’ll have to play around to see how to shoot them best).

  At Lost Hills I hopped back into I-5, but it wasn’t long till I noticed some industrial stuff off to the west from the highway.  The next exit wasn’t that far off and so I decided to make a couple more plates while there was still some light out.

  Despite all the distance I had to cover and my photographic tangents I was still making great time and realized that I could be in LA area before it’s way too late at night.  I messaged a very nice guy with whom I’ve been keeping in touch for years, but never crossed paths.  Chris Rini lives in Huntington Beach and does all sort of vintage-related things including, every once in a while, wet plate (I’ve been nagging him to get back into it and I’ll continue doing so because I think it will be good for not only him, but for the art in general as he has a great eye).   It was great to finally meet him face to face.  We drove down to the waterfront to look at what we could shoot in the night with collodion.  There wasn’t much there which was lit enough and we didn’t truly feel the place exuding creativity.  However, we were there and had chemistry, so I couldn’t just leave without making a plate.  The only thing with enough light on it was a beach volleyball court and so that scene was selected.   Exposure was a total guess – the lights were bright, but they were at least 150ft…  my lens was f5.6….  the air was a bit warm and dry…  Based on those factors I decided to give it 9min exposure.   To my delight the very first plate came out nearly perfect.  There was a little fogging on top in black area, but that was quickly taken care of by some Farmer’s Reducer I always have at hand.

  Don’t know where all the energy was coming from, but after saying my adios to Chris I found myself driving all the way to San Diego County, where in the morning I was to meet with my local friend Corad Young. 

  The night was uneventfully quiet – just like I like it.Conrad is a great guy and always is looking to improve his skills.  When I met him 3 years ago he was struggling with old chemistry, inadequate lenses and so on…  It has been a real treat to see his steady progress over the time we’ve known each other and now his plates are sharp, clean, bright and well composed.  In search of photogenic locations, we drove down to a local little river in Oceanside and decided to make a plate or two.  Unfortunately, Conrad wasn’t feeling too well and so after one plate each we decided to pack up and head home.  Here’s the last plate of the trip, after which I headed home.

  Looking back at it now this was a slightly hectic, but very wonderful little trip.  I know it may have sounded like mechanical issues dominated the time on the road, but in all honesty Gilli is 39 years old and after leaving her in storage for a couple of years with zero maintenance the fact that she performed as well as she did was a blessing.  If she didn’t decide to throw me her little curve balls on Sundays there would have been a lot less time in waiting…
  Now I’m thinking of taking at least one short trip every month to keep her up and running and just to have some fun while making new work.

  Thanks so much for reading this!

1 comment:

  1. Anton- What a pleasure to read your blog. He makes wet plate photos AND he's a great writer.