Saturday, November 21, 2015

Published 8:59 AM by with 2 comments

Erie Street - Americana in Bisbee, Arizona

I was born in Dublin in the sixties and spent the first twenty two years of my life there. It was a relatively simple world when I was a kid and we only had a couple of TV channels where I lived. Every Saturday afternoon, on the BBC, there would be an American movie playing that kept me glued to the screen. I found myself particularly drawn to stories of the Bogart and Hitchcock era, set in small-town America. Everything about them fired my imagination.
Americana, that optimistic era of the forties and fifties, full of ingenuity, has cast a spell on me ever since. Through my eyes it was a time when cars and architecture were more like works of art than mere machines and structures of utility.
The reality, of course, is that it probably wasn't quite as glamorous as nostalgia and Hollywood would suggest. Nonetheless, it left a beautiful legacy that can occasionally be seen off the highway, in small tucked-away towns.
One of those places is Bisbee in Arizona. It has a rich and colorful mining history and resembles a European town entwined in steep hills and narrow, winding roads. As fascinating as it is, I was much more attracted to one of its lesser-known attractions in the nearby community of Lowell.
Just down the road from the massive open pit of Queen Mine sits a '55 Ford station wagon. Parked in a vintage Shell gas station, completely devoid of people, it feels like stepping into an episode of the Twilight Zone. This was my first introduction to what is known as the Lowell Americana Project.

The project is the brainchild of Jay Allen, one of a handful of people who live on the curious and otherworldly Erie Street. Its mission is to showcase and preserve a time in the forties and fifties when the area thrived. Long term plans include rebuilding and repainting all the existing storefronts. They will then be populated with authentic merchandise to create an immersive time travel experience for visitors. Don't bring your credit card, though, the interiors will be for display purposes only.

Restoration has already begun and the Shell gas station and police station/jail have gotten recent makeovers. Other buildings, like the garage, are actually functional, although the pumps are only for show.

Each year, Lowell hosts a music festival that includes a car show and work from local artists. The funds raised go towards advancing the goals of the Lowell Americana Project. For more information on the event, click here.

Down Memory Lane
An old taxicab waits for a passenger as the sun rises over Erie Street.

Preserving Authenticity
Vintage cars, coupled with restored facades, create the quintessential atmosphere of Americana.

The Automobile as Art
In our modern world of generic cars, the designs of the past, especially these magnificent fins, are thrilling to see.

Realizing a Dream
Jay Allen's vision slowly takes shape. The "new" Lowell police station and jail breathes life into the old street.

Great care has been taken to maintain the integrity of Lowell's past. Signs are hand-painted to replicate the styles of the time.

While peering through the window of the dilapidated Sprouse Reitz store, I noticed some old broken mannequins stacked up. There was something almost human about them, like they were sadly staring out at the real world. Even the expressions and gestures felt a little unsettling to me.

What's most striking about this street is the sheer detail of everything in it. Posters look and feel authentic and I had a great appreciation for the character of each door and window frame. Even the gas pumps looked like something out of a science fiction novel. During the few days I spent there, I couldn't help feeling that this kind of workmanship is just not that prevalent anymore.

I've been to many auto shows in my life and seen all sorts of vintage cars but walking down Erie Street is an entirely different experience. For me, it's all about context. If you listen hard enough, you can almost hear the voices and footsteps of those who once shopped for bargains, lined up for the matinee or treated themselves to a milkshake.

Erie Street transcends its relatively small footprint. Although it's just over seven hundred feet in length, it's easy to imagine the scope of what it once was. With the efforts of people like Jay Allen and countless other volunteers, perhaps it truly can be resurrected to remind us of a time in our culture when life was simpler and full of optimism.

My Adobe Spark (formerly Slate) presentation of this post is available here

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Published 8:56 AM by with 0 comment

All Souls Procession - A Celebration of Life and Death

I was fortunate enough to be in Tucson, Arizona visiting friends at the same time the city was expecting one hundred thousand people to gather together in solidarity. What was the unifying factor? Loss. Specifically, the loss of loved ones yet it was not a solemn event. Quite the opposite was true at the annual All Souls Procession.
It all began back in 1990, when local artist Susan Johnson was dealing with the death of her father. Instead of grieving in the expected way, she chose to create art to memorialize his passing. Her creativity inspired other artists to follow in what has become an all-inclusive yearly procession to celebrate the lives of deceased family and friends.

Although the masks and costumes are somewhat reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), there is actually little that ties the two events together. Any similarity is probably influenced by the myriad participating cultures, including Mexico.
Many of those active in the event believe that the living and the dead are separated only by the thinnest of veils at this time of year. The abundant skeleton motifs embrace this idea.

As a photographer, I expected to find image-making aplenty and I did but what I didn't expect was to be so emotionally impacted by the experience. I absolutely felt the vibrant, joyful energy while walking around. I've never seen so many photographers gathered in one place and everyone was more than willing to pose for the camera. What I noticed later, however, while culling my photographs, was a depth of sorrow in the eyes of some of the people I had captured. It was almost like I caught a tiny glimpse of what remained unhealed in their hearts.

A Perpetual Rhythm
Throughout the evening, the DJ played hypnotic music and read the names of people who had passed.

The Ultimate Sacrifice
So many stories integrated into some of the more creative costumes of the evening.

Life and Death
Both exist side by side during this celebration and perhaps it was also a reminder of how fragile we all really are.

The procession would continue into the night but we didn't stay. The couple of hours I spent there had been a learning experience. It was a refreshingly different way of thinking, especially for me as a recovering catholic. In my church-going days I was taught that death was something to be feared, certainly not embraced. On this day, I could find at least a hundred thousand people who would strongly disagree.

My Adobe Spark (formerly Slate) presentation of this post, which includes many more photographs, is available here

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Published 8:53 AM by with 0 comment

Mementos - Selected Photographs

In 2014, my wife Linda and I packed our bags, sold our house, sold our stuff and began a new life on the road in a motorhome. In the sixteen months since, not a day has gone by that I'm not grateful for this experience.
While the length and breadth of the United States can be measured in terms of the size of its physical space, the experience of traveling on its roads cannot be accurately gauged.
The older I get, the wiser I become and with that wisdom comes a new way of processing the world. As a photographer, this keeps me constantly stimulated. When I return to a place after a time, I see it with new eyes.
I have made it a point to shoot something every day. Doing this has sharpened my photographic instincts and, because I am in no particular hurry, I can take the time to experiment with new techniques or simply be really mindful to what I'm capturing.
I count myself as one of the lucky ones who, not only has the opportunity to experience so many places, but also has a perpetual childlike wonder of everything around me. Small things thrill me; the angle of a window here, a shard of light on a mountain there. Every day I find something that moves me in some way.
I never become complacent about the absolute miracle of photography itself. Seeing something wonderful in front of me and then being able to somehow seize its essence and relive that feeling again through a photograph is truly unbelievable. It's that inner child that keeps me wide-eyed and excited. It's a shame that many of us build walls around that innocence as we grow older. It robs us of the opportunity to live life to the fullest.
With all that said, I want to share some favorite images from my recent travels to California.

A perfect blend of architecture and beauty. Photoshoots are not allowed at the Salk Institute in San Diego. After some finger-wagging by a security guard, we had to leave. Fortunately, I managed to get the one shot I really wanted.

I never grow tired of photographing my daughter Tara. She is a natural in front of the lens. Funny story about the image on the right shot at the Salk Institute. I had to remove the security guard from the background in Photoshop. This was the last shot I made before we were "asked" to leave :)

The magnificent architecture of the Salk Institute.

As the light changed, so did the many moods of this place.

Another architectural beauty, this time it's the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. I decided to shoot this one with an ultrawide lens for maximum drama.

A Rose is a Rose
While this probably looks like any old flower photo to most people, for me it's a little different. I paired my camera with an old Russian vintage lens called a Helios 44-2. The result feels decidedly non-digital to me and it has a warmth I really like.

Cactus in the Sunset
I used the same vintage lens for this shot. The typical sharp edges of a digital capture are lost in favor of a more analog subtlety and colors that match the glow of the evening sun.

We returned to Borrego Springs briefly before we left California. There's something about this whole area that feels like it's stuck in a 1950s time warp. I processed this photograph using colors that evoke that era.

Large metal sculptures add a unique personality to the landscape of Borrego Springs.

Abandoned buildings at North Shore by the Salton Sea.

Abandon and decay by the Salton Sea. The beach wins the grand prize for the worst stench I have ever had the displeasure to witness. The abundance of rotting fish made it truly gag-inducing.

Sunset in Indio, CA

I really liked the dynamic angle of this photograph and the leaning, windswept palm trees.

While visiting the farmers market in Temecula, CA, I noticed this group of costume-clad individuals setting up for some kind of event. I shot it with the old Russian lens mentioned earlier. Without the distraction of anything modern in the frame, the image, for me, has a painterly feel.
My Adobe Spark (formerly Slate) presentation of this post is available here

If you would like to keep up with my travels, sign up to be notified of new posts. Peace.
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