In this episode of the Fine Art Photography Podcast, some of the photography projects and adventures that have consumed my time this summer
Episode 77: Full Podcast Episode Transcript
In this episode: What I’ve been working on this summer
Hey everybody welcome back to another episode of the Fine Art Photography Podcast.
I know I’ve been falling down on the job here in terms of consistency, but I’ve had a busy summer. How about you?
As always, I spent my time making photographs.
I hiked to a cave. I traveled to Virginia to shoot the ghost town at Union Level (which is an amazing destination but I had terrible light), but on the way to Virginia I stopped in North Carolina to shoot a collection of historic buildings around a rural intersection – it’s a traditional configuration for that region, with businesses collected around a cross road and surrounded by a smattering of homes with farmlands further out.
While I was there I made some photographs of the beautifully preserved C.H. Pender grocery store building that’s been there since the 1880s and operated continuously until at least the late 1990s.
My photo of that old grocery store is the featured image for this podcast episode.
While I was there, I also shot the grocery with some medium format film — and that’s another thing I’ve been doing over the summer. I’ve been rekindling my relationship with analog photography. I’ve been using my Hasselblad 500 C/M and thoroughly loving it. It seems like the film photography resurgence is a real phenomenon, and I’ll have to admit, I love the way the film photographs look.
Speaking of film, I tried Cinestill Double X black and white film and I can’t recommend this film enough. It’s pricey — I guess that’s obvious though — film photography is expensive — but the Double X is sharp and rich and contrasty and it’s going to be my personal film of choice for the near future.
Cinestill recuts movie filmstocks into medium format and 35mm formats and repackages them into its own brand. Cinestill Double X is the classic Kodak Eastman Double-X 5222 cinema film stock, that’s still used in Hollywood and has been since the 1950s. According to the Cinestill site, this film stock has been used in the productions of some of Hollywood’s greatest black and white films (movies made since the 1950s anyways), including The Lighthouse, Raging Bull, Schindler’s List, Memento, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Manhattan, and Young Frankenstein.
While the film is rated at 250 iso for daylight, I metered it at 200 iso, and it still seems very nicely exposed to my eye.
I found the Cinestill black and white film to be extremely sharp with strong contrasts and a pleasing fine film grain. It gives crisp images but not clinical — they retain that warm, special look that distinguishes film from digital.
By the way, this podcast is not sponsored by Cinestill or any other brands that I might mention in this episode.
This summer, I learned about a local town that was razed to the ground in the 1960s in the belief that it would be submerged beneath a reservoir created by a new dam. Caves soaked up more water than the Army Corps of Engineers anticipated, meaning the townsite remained high and dry and was demolished for nothing. But apparently, the general belief was that the town was under water, until the Native American History Association began researching a lost route for the Trail of Tears that ran through the town using Google Earth, and realized the site of the old town of Jefferson was still there.
The town was established in 1803 and was a county seat for a short while. Well, this was more than I could resist. I packed my camera bag and plenty of mosquito spray and hiked out into the town of Jefferson to see what I could find. The roads still exist, although they are overgrown, but I did find some evidence of the bulldozed town in the woods there and I hope to go back in wintertime when the ruins will be easier to see.
Let’s see, what else did I do this summer. Oh yeah, I also visited the small community and partial ghost town at Hollow Rock, Tennessee, where I photographed an abandoned downtown and a beautiful white farmhouse that’s in beautiful condition despite being abandoned.
I also made my third or maybe it was my fourth visit to Old Car City in north Georgia, to shoot some rusty antique cars — again using the Hasselblad with an 80mm Carl Zeiss lens and the Cinestill Double X.
If you don’t know about Old Car City, it’s a really old junkyard about an hour north of Atlanta filled with thousands of classic old automobiles that are rusting away in the pine forests. The owners of the property have opened it up to photographers for a fee, and you can wander the woods for hours looking for compositions amidst the rust, chrome, and decay. They have vehicles organized into clusters — so there’s an area with 57 Chevys, and a long alley with antique pickup trucks — you get the idea.
And Hahnemuhle contacted me to see if I wanted to test their Natural Line of sustainable fine art photo papers. They sent me 20 sheets of the paper, five sheets each of Sugar Cane, Agave, Hemp, and Bamboo. These papers are made from sustainable fibers that require less water (than traditional paper components like wood and cotton), they require no pesticides, and they have shorter growing cycles which means they can provide higher yield on equivalent acreage.
I enjoyed testing the papers and I posted a video on YouTube showing the paper surfaces and some print samples. Check that out if you are interested in printing. Hahnemuhle papers are very expensive, but I’ve tried a lot of papers and in my opinion, Hahnemuhle papers are the best. Even though I enjoyed the Natural line and I value the effort to make photo papers more eco-friendly, I’ll continue using the baryta surface papers for the time being. I prefer the more traditional fiber-based black and white photo aesthetic.
Summer isn’t my favorite time for photography, so these hikes into Jefferson and to the cave represent me struggling to stay active when it’s hot and humid and buggy. I saw two poisonous copperheads along hiking trails this summer, and walked through countless spider webs on hiking trails.
I prefer to spend my time in the air conditioning, and one of my favorite guilty pleasures is searching antique shops looking for old photographs. When I find a good one, I will make a YouTube video about it, partly because I like to provide a modicum of immortality to these faces from the past. In the 1800s, getting a photograph made wasn’t as frequent as it is now and in some cases, these photos I find in dusty boxes in antique shops may be the ONLY photo of that person ever made. The photograph may even be the only tangible proof that the person ever existed!
I love the idea that perhaps thousands of people can see the face of these people — like I said — a modicum of immortality. I’m a bit of a research nerd, and I also enjoy digging into the past of the photographers if their logo is imprinted on the photo. And in some cases, if there’s a name written on the photo, I will look for information about the sitter — but that pretty rarely uncovers much detail.
Sometimes I find a lot of fascinating details about the photographers though! Carl Thiel, a photographer active in Minnesota in the 1890s got sued for stealing another man’s wife. Another photographer named Benjamin Lochman — whose circa 1885-1890 cabinet card I discovered in an antique store in Tennessee — was married to a woman who happens to be a distant relative of mine from my Mother’s side of the family. And still another photographer named W.S. Lively was the founder of just the second ever school of photography in the United States, and it was located about an hour from me in a small town in Tennessee. The school was rather progressive in one way — it was coed — welcoming male and female students and providing them with training in photography as a profession, and apparently it pulled students from around the country.
When you research these guys, you never know what you’ll find.
The great American historian and writer David McCullough died recently. He wrote a number of great books including 1776, and the seminal biography of John Adams. He was also the distinctive narrative voice in Ken Burns’ documentary series about the Civil War on PBS. I saw a 1995 interview where he said, “I found that Contrary to the notion that the past is a dead thing that in fact, wherever you scratch the surface, you find life.”
I love that. It sums up how I feel about my photographs of abandoned places too. They aren’t just photographs of ruins and detritus. They’re also photographs of places people lived and worked and loved and laughed. Sure there’s waste and decay there, but also stories of lives lived — if only we can hear them.
Well, that pretty much wraps up all the things I was doing when I wasn’t publishing new podcast episodes.
Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you again real soon.
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