Saturday, October 31, 2015

The season of the graveyard

Over the years I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve strolled through a graveyard taking shots. From all the way back to strolling through Mount Olivet in Nashville with the Sisters of Mercy blasting on my headphones to wandering through Saint Louis Number One in New Orleans. If Denver has a shortcoming, it’s that it is not old enough to have an really interesting grave yard.

shoot-456It’s the season of grave yards. All Hallows Eve.  Although, in my neighborhood, if I want to go to the nearest spot people are buried in, I don’t go to a grave yard, I walk Cheeseman Park. Every time they repair the sprinklers, they find more bodies in that place. It was originally a graveyard before it became a park, and the people hired to remove the bodies didn’t. They just pocketed the money and left most of the graves in place after removing the markers. There’s a rumor some of the bodies were just moved under the marble band stand, but I don’t know if that is true.

shoot-457I do love the small towns out in the mountains, though. Their graveyards have character. Some are still in use and a source of civic pride. They will be perfectly maintained and some even have large monuments like Cripple Creek. They have a Huey helicopter over the graves of the Vietnam War dead. Others are left in a state of benign neglect, like Central City.

I love the Central City graveyard. The roads are mostly gone, and there are just winding social paths through the aspen trees where gravestones jut from the ground at drunken angles, marking the random resting places of the dead. Nature is reclaiming the place and the buried souls within.

shoot-458I don’t walk graveyards and take photos much anymore. I do like the peace of those places, offering quiet and isolation even among crowded cities. Maybe it’s because as I get older I realize I’ll be there permanently soon enough, and so the allure of my amateur taphology has waned as a result.

Still, it’s hard to resist a graveyard photo walk this time of year.

Blessed Samhain.

The season of the graveyard

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Seasons change, the road does not

Abruptly, it seems like fall. Warm weather was late to arrive this year, and it snowed all the way in to May. Late to the party, the heat didn’t want to leave on time, and it’s been in to the 80s more days than it should have been in October. So the arrival of rain, temps in the 40s, and a freeze warning all at once felt like an eviction notice for summer.

I love fall. I love the turning of seasons. If this season could be made a few months longer, I’d love to see it happen. I’ve written how I look to the mountains and wait for fall. This year I felt like I was racing it, somehow.

I’m working on a project and it seems like I can never get enough time to go out and shoot for it. Too many hours at work. Too many days tied up in a thousand other things. But when I do get out, I’m off to a forgotten place, to try to remember it.

I’ve taken to the back roads, and spent more than I usually do on gasoline this year. Everywhere I’ve been has been too far to bicycle. Well, not too far to bicycle in miles, but rather in time. I have to fight my schedule to make a hole for the freedom to go. I’d love to revisit some of these places on a bike, taking advantage of the flat road of the eastern part of the state.

shoot-455But for now, I keep a bag packed and ready. I keep film and camera close to hand for when I can escape. The road is calling me now, but I’m in for the weekend, I think. The next one is up for grabs, though. I should burn some vacation time, since it’s overflowing.

I frequently think of the Tolkien quote about the road being dangerous. That you put your feet on it, and you never know what will happen. You may well get swept away. The attraction of that particular danger, though, is very strong.

Seasons change, the road does not

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Toward Tangible

I’ve got an odd quirk most photographers don’t have. Little tangible evidence. I live in a loft with piles of cameras and a few photo books spread around. The living room contains the typical furniture, but a good chunk of the floor space is taken up by bicycles. Every bit of storage space available- closets, shelves, foot lockers, under the bed- is taken up with gear for getting out there. Backpacks, shoulder bags, camera bags, panniers, seat bags, frame bags all waiting to be filled. Stoves, food, water filters, compasses, maps, and a thousand other things you need when far from civilization are there as well. It’s pretty obvious what Stephanie and I like to do with our time.

But, aside from the camera storage shelves, you can’t really tell I’m a photographer. You don’t see one thing: any of the photos I’ve taken hanging on the walls.

That is changing.

The great photographer Michael Dunn once said, with equal parts wisdom and pith, “Print yo shit.” The hashtag #printyoshit has made the rounds on twitter thanks to him. It’s popular because it’s right. Our work, as he said, isn’t supposed to be pixels on screens, but rather real, tangible things. If you can’t touch it, hold it in your hands, or put it on a wall, the image isn’t a finished product.

I’m awful at hanging things up. I have prints in binders and hidden in the closet, and I’ve sold prints to others, but none are hanging on my own walls. The only thing hanging on the walls in the adventure loft is a hand printed quote of three words: “Dare Mighty Things.” Theodore Roosevelt said it, and it’s priceless advice. But there’s not a single image I’ve taken hanging with it. It’s time to fix that.

MonstroCity, where Steph slid down slides

MonstroCity, where Steph slid down slides

I’ve always had a twofold problem with hanging things. One: it seemed somehow like bragging to hang your own stuff on the walls. I’m not too much in to bragging about what I’ve done. I always liked Imogen Cunningham’s answer when asked what was the favorite picture she had taken. She always said “the one I’ll take tomorrow.” Which leads to number two: I’ve always only seen the shortcomings in my work and not the positives. I always look at my stuff too critically and fail to see anything of value in it, so I really have nothing to brag about.

So I’m setting aside both of those concerns. Things are going up on the walls. Nothing too much to begin with, a shot from the Andes of Peru, some from the Rocky Mountains, one of my beloved going down a slide. Nothing major, but a start.

I’m daring a little thing. I’ll add more tangible things as I go, and see how I like it.

Michael Dunn

Dare Mighty Things

Toward Tangible

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Interstitial space

Summer has passed at breakneck speed. The fall is upon us, and I’m already getting pictures from my more adventurous friends who hike up high of snow fall on the mountains.

I love fall. It’s my favorite season, and if someone could make if a few months longer, I’d love them forever.

I adore the times when seasons change. When you are through and done with one, and beginning another. But I like those times in my life as well. There’s an element of uncertainty to them, but always excitement. There’s always an element of discomfort, but always focus. Everything I’ve even done that has been worthwhile in my life has been done on the cusp of a new season as the previous one has ended.

Architects call it “interstitial space” and I long for it, and desire it more than anything.

I’ve already been hard at work making some of the changes. I’m on the verge of purging my camera collection. I’d rather rid myself of shelf queens and concentrate on those I can consistently produce good work with. I’m becoming more thoughtful with my shooting. Branching out some and thinking about what I want from an image more thoroughly before I make it. I am always asking myself “What am I saying here? What do I want to say here?” before I go forward with an image. I’m liking the approach much more.

shoot-451I’m also working on some other projects that will bear fruit a year or so down the line. I always wanted to be a novelist, when I was a wee sprout, but I never became one. I asked myself what was truly stopping me, and when I realized nothing was, I banged out six thousand words on what I hope to have finished as a novel by early next year.

Even though I’m pretty far detached from the G.A.S. I used to have, I’m going to add some more cameras in the future. I’m treating my shelf space as sacred, pricey space going forward. Nothing that is a quick fix to a need. Nothing that is not going to give me the result I want. Only proper equipment will take up space in the future. If you’ve noticed, my Gear Wednesday posts have already stopped being so frequent. This will continue, but when they arrive next, they should be far better ones.

I’m making the most of my interstitial space this year.

Interstitial space

Saturday, October 3, 2015


I prefer to go out on hikes that have their climbing on the first part of the hike. Climbing, it seems, is not always my favorite thing to be doing. But it’s always unavoidable. I’ve never lived in a flat part of this country, and I’ve never been able to experience a hike that led me out and back without changing my elevation. Colorado, it seems, is especially lacking in flat places until you drive a few hours east in to the plains.

So I’ve spent a lot of time climbing on foot and on bicycle since I made Colorado my home. At first, I wasn’t a fan. I’d set out up a mountain with a two-day or bigger pack on my back and I’d have to spend time huffing and puffing. I’d try to keep up with the group, pushing till my heart pounded in my ears and sweating. Exertion, weight and altitude together put a pretty good strain on you. As time went on, it got easier. Although it still gets hard when I spend too much time behind the desk and not out climbing.

But the end of a climb is always worthwhile. Mountains spread out as far as you can see, or a view of a valley, or even sometimes just a spot where a nice cool wind flows over you after climbing in the harsh sun for a while. Always a nice spot to stop, and catch your breath, and have a sip of water while you take it in and enjoy it.

shoot-449I don’t mind the climbing so much anymore. I know it has a reward. But I still am slow, and I kind of feel bad that I make Stephanie wait for me to catch up. She doesn’t seem to mind too much, but I still feel bad about it. I used to be involved with a woman who hiked far more than I did and when she would get to a climb, she would go as fast as she could to the top and then berate me as I slowly caught up. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last. It put me off hiking for a number of years. But now that I’m back, and I have the best hiking partner in the world, the climbing doesn’t seem nearly as bad as it used to.

But I still prefer the climbing to be done in the first part of the hike. Hiking ten miles or so and then having to climb up to get back to the car is just sadism on the part of the trail builders, I think.