Abandoned Railroad Camp

Railroad Camp #32. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #32. Colorado, 2014

Nearly three years ago, my wife and I visited and photographed this abandoned railroad camp for the first time. It was a strange experience. (Some of you will recognize the place, but I’ll leave its location unmentioned anyway.)

First, in the upper house, we found dolls skewered to the wall with kitchen knives.

Second, in this same house, there were still towels folded up in the bathroom…toys, stuffed animals, and posters in the children’s rooms…personal photos…clothing…a kitchen with a full complement of utensils, dishes, and such…a refrigerator still stocked with eggs, condiments, and assorted other foodstuffs…knick knacks and towels still on the walls…In short, it was a complete home with all of its homey elements present, even if they were somewhat scattered and covered with fields of rat shit. The newspaper clippings and other evidence pointed to the most recent occupancy sometime in the 1980s. Eggs, still there from the 1980s!

Why would a place be so suddenly abandoned?

I kept going through various scenarios…Maybe the father was killed in a railroad accident and the family was so traumatized that they simply walked away with the clothes on their backs. Maybe they were evicted under mysterious and extreme circumstances without being given the usual opportunity to pack up their belongings. Maybe they all died in a traffic accident. Maybe they were snatched up by a UFO. Who knows?

Very strange that so much in the way of personal effects were left behind.

I visited again just a few days ago–trudging over several feet of snow to get there. This time, the contents of the houses were scattered around even more: low level vandalism, unfortunately. There was more rat shit. Someone had spray painted witticisms on the walls. The towels we had found folded in the bathroom three years ago were no longer there. The 1980-vintage eggs, though…yep, they were still in the fridge. Bizarre.

This place warrants some further investigation to find out what transpired. Where did these last occupants go? Who were they? What was life like when they lived there? What is to become of this place?

I have built up a nice portfolio of images from the site–images that lay out a very weird, unknown, but surely very interesting story. I worked them up in both black and white and in color, and now I’m seeing that they need to be in color to transmit the full impact of each scene.

Railroad Camp #5. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #5. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #9. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #9. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #19. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #19. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #23. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #23. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #26. Colorado, 2014
Railroad Camp #26. Colorado, 2014

High winds on the Divide

High Winds on Arapahoe Peaks #4. Colorado, 2014
High Winds on Arapahoe Peaks #4. Colorado, 2014

It was pounding up there yesterday! And we (Dana Bove and I) were only up on Sugarloaf Mountain at barely 9,000’…but you could see horrendous snow plumes from the summits and ridgelines above. If anyone happened to be up on Arapahoe Peaks then, you can probably find their remains spread all over Dorothy’s farm about now!

Check out this page from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…HERE. It shows that we regularly get 70, 80, 90, and even 100 mile per hour winter Chinook winds sweeping down from the high country into Boulder. The NOAA chart even shows some gusts in the 130-150mph range.

Holy flying cow pattie, Batman! That would be in the F2 range on the Fujita Tornado Scale (F3 on the currently-used Enhanced Fujita Scale), or a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale! No wonder trees get blown over like toothpicks in the high country every year.

Luckily, we only had gusts to 30-40mph on Sugarloaf. Piece o’ cake.

Over the Continental Divide at Flight Level 350. Colorado, 2014
Over the Continental Divide at Flight Level 350. Colorado, 2014

Here are some tips for getting sharp images in high winds

1. Use the highest shutter speed you can, while still getting the minimum depth-of-field required.

2. Consider hand-holding the camera and using vibration compensation if your lens has it. Obviously, brace yourself as best you can against a rock or other immovable object (trees can sway and vibrate in the wind–be aware). Sitting down with elbows on knees or, better yet, lying prone might be excellent options.

3. Look for some area that might be more out of the wind but from where you can still get the shot. Inside an automobile might work, but realize a car will move in the wind and so is not a perfectly stationary platform. Even shooting through the window from inside a building might be a consideration (but open the window for the shot if you can).

4. Wait for a lull in the wind. Winds often behave very much like ocean waves…that is, they come in cycles. Wait for that very brief calm period (or slightly calmer period) to press the shutter.

5) Tripod use: Keep it as short as possible–don’t extend the legs at all if you don’t have to. Know that bigger lenses will vibrate more in the wind than smaller lenses–even on a good heavy-duty tripod–so maybe use the smallest possible lens. Consider bearing down hard with your weight on your tripod to keep it as still as possible. (Any type of weight hanging from the hook might simply blow around in the breeze way too much.) Finally, make sure your camera strap is secured and not whipping around like a broken electric line in a bad King Kong horror movie.

Good luck!

Problem with blog post images

Standby. It will take me a few days to restore the images to all the blog posts. The Gallery images and many of the recent blog posts are intact if you wish to go there. No website content has been affected, thankfully.

BIG lesson: Don’t ever delete your WordPress Media Library thinking you are saving space–it deletes all of your blog post images with no way to retrieve them other than doing a site restore from a backup (or manually adding the images to the Media Library again).

 

Facebook: the fans and the critics

It’s pretty standard…you post a colorful sunset photograph on Facebook and you get a pile-on of “Likes”.  Perhaps like this very, very average image, to use sort of a generic example:

Sagrada Familia Sunrise. Barcelona, 2014
Sagrada Familia Sunrise. Barcelona, 2014

 

But, if you post something a bit more esoteric and without the splashy color–might I dare say, something slightly “artistic”–you can hear the crickets chirping. This, for example:

A Walk by the Roof (The Ramp). Barcelona, 2014
A Walk by the Roof (The Ramp). Barcelona, 2014

I would suggest that the vast majority of Americans are not educated about what constitutes decent art, and I include me, myself, and I in this criticism. (“The business of America is business“, not art, after all, so art education tends to be pretty low on the American priority list.) We all tend to react positively to a pretty picture so we reactively click the “Like” button…but we have not had enough training to understand that something else less coated in eye-candy sugar might be more subtle, or more complex, or more profound.

I distinctly remember looking at photographs from famous photographers when I was much younger and simply shrugging my shoulders in naive lack of understanding. “Looks like a snapshot to me. What’s the fuss?” I remember thinking. (Here’s one such “snapshot” I can’t believe I didn’t react to when I first saw it: “Child with hand grenade” by Diane Arbus).

But…After spending a whole lot of hours studying images over the past few years I can now say that my mind has clearly evolved. I am still no expert, but I am beginning to comprehend some of the more subtle layers that can exist in a photograph (and especially in collections of photographs as a body of work) that I certainly never would have noticed before. My ability to appreciate has evolved and continues to do so, especially in the area of my emotional response.

Yes, I still like the classic Ansel Adams or David Muench landscapes for their beauty and craftsmanship…but I also understand that photographs can say other things and they can come with a great many more layers of meaning and in a tremendous variety of styles. And I am much less tolerant of yet another pretty image captured from the same tripod holes as everyone else (unless it contains some unusual twist), and this criticism includes some of my own “copy-the master” images.

What is art, then? That is the question. Hmmm…That’s pretty much like asking, “What is love.” We’ll never really quite get there. It is indeed subjective. But then again, it isn’t. It’s both?

Perhaps the test is whether or not a photograph keeps calling you back for further contemplation or inspection…it connects to you in some deeper, emotional or intellectual way beyond just being a pretty, flashy picture. It invites you in and it is hard to leave. You always find something new in it. If you grow tired of an image over a few days, it probably lacks substance.

Having said all that, I think of my own collection of “keepers” and sigh. How many of them really are high-quality “keepers”? Very few…very few.

That’s what is so lovely about this path of artistic expression…the path goes on forever. We’ll never really “arrive”, but we will always see rewarding progress if we keep up our relentless forward motion.

So, hasta mañana–until then, I’ll see you on Facebook!