Miles From Nowhere

Mile 13 on Navajo Land. Monument Valley, Utah, 2017
Mile 13 on Navajo Land. Monument Valley, Utah, 2017


“Miles from nowhere…I think I’ll take my time…

Miles from nowhere, not a soul in sight…

Oh yeah, but it’s alright…”  

Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam)

Back in the day, this classic tune (1970 release) was way overused as musical accompaniment to our hiking and climbing slide shows.

Overused or not, I still like it.

I would argue, though, that when you are in a place like the one above that you are not at all “miles from nowhere”. No, not at all. In fact, in these places, you are exactly in the middle of everything that is truly important in this world.

I would even add that if you ever happen to find yourself at the corner of Seventh Avenue and West 42nd Street in New York City, then–in many respects–you truly are “miles from nowhere”.

Henry George Cigars

Behind Mom's Cafe #2. Salina, Utah, 2013
Behind Mom’s Cafe #2. Salina, Utah, 2013

I found this old and decaying wall advert behind Mom’s Café in Salina, Utah. A building had been torn down, revealing this mural that was probably painted a hundred or so years ago. A quick Google search on the net revealed some interesting facts…

–These ads are also called “fading ads”, “brickads”, or “ghost signs” (the latter, as many of them fade away into history).

–Those who painted these ads were called “wall dogs” probably due to the hard work and lack of safety rules involved. Some were fine art painters, others house painters. Some even signed their work.

–Sponsors of these ads were either the compnay itself (like CocaCola, or Lee Jeans) or the building owner him/herself (like A. J. Grossman Mercantile or Meridian Hotel).

–They can date from the 1890s through the 1950s, but most were put up in the 1910s into the 1930s.

–The paint more than likely contains lead. That’s why it lasts so long.

–There is a movement throughout the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Europe to preserve these historical commentaries.

–In Spokane, Washington, there was some initial debate about whether their Henry George cigar sign ran afoul of the regulations on outdoor cigarette advertising. Luckily, the preservationists won this one.

–Henry George cigars were decent quality, cheap (5 cents!), and popular with the working man.

Henry George was a noted writer, economist, and politician of the late 1800s–only slightly less well-known than Thomas Edison, Mark Twain and Teddy Roosevelt–thus his countenance was used to market this “cigar for men”.

–The sign pictured above, from Salina, Utah, is interesting for a couple of reasons: 1) It takes some work to decipher the entire wording (“It speaks for itself. Henry George. A Great 5¢ Cigar”), and 2) the demolition of a building has revealed some of the paint in its near original condition. I don’t know what plans the town of Salina might have for this sign, but it would be nice to try to preserve it–although that may be difficult due to its location within a surrounded building lot.

Want more info? Dr. Ken Jones seems to be an expert on ghost signs, but I can no longer access his website. For a good blog site dedicated to ghost signs, try Tobaccoania.

Oh, and for some good eats in Salina, Utah…yes, it’s Mom’s Café right there at the main intersection:

Blizzard at Mom's Cafe, Salina, Utah, 2013
Blizzard at Mom’s Cafe, Salina, Utah, 2013

I worked hard for it, so it must be a great image!

Sunrise at Mesa Arch, View #6. Canyonlands NP, Utah, 2013
Sunrise at Mesa Arch, View #6. Canyonlands NP, Utah, 2013

You planned for weeks…months even. Then you and your significant other packed up and drove the eight hours to some far away National Park. The two of you then spent the night in a cheap motel with a broken neon sign…a roach palace that apparently recycled their cigarette-burned sheets every three visitors, whether the sheets needed it or not. Strangely, you found an eight-inch steel nail resting atop the ancient, dusty TV console.

Continental breakfast? Ha! Of course not. In fact, you got up the next morning way too early for anything to be open–a 3 a.m. alarm. So you ate a few Fig Newtons. It was winter and the forecast said an overnight low of 4 degrees Farenheit, so you put on your long thermal underwear and three layers of heavy winter ski gear, thick gloves, winter boots…you were out the door with your camera gear by 3:30 a.m.

Then there was the long drive on a rocky-rough 4-wheel drive road–in the dark, with patches of snow, and steep Roadrunner-Coyote cliffs on each side…followed by an hour of bushwhacking by headlamp through brush, cactus and unfamiliar terrain. You got lost just as the first light of dawn told you that you needed to be there and set up already. Then (stroke of luck!) you found the route again. Your hands were freezing as you quickly set up the tripod to catch the first rays of a cold and distant plasmic meatball. After the first few shots, your hands went numb and your toes went there, too. You lost a lens cap. The remote didn’t work–battery dead. And so on…and on…and on…

But, you survived it all and got the shot, right?! Or did you???

Just because getting the shot was a harrowing, death-defying, epic sufferfest doesn’t necessarily mean that the image you walked away with was any good. There is no direct mathematical relationship between the difficulty of capturing the photograph and the quality of same.

MORAL: Learn to judge your images separately from whatever conditions or personal emotional state existed at the time you pressed the shutter release.

Understand that this is a very, very difficult thing to do (I certainly speak for myself here)–so, you may need to enlist the aid of that impartial judge who stayed back in the warmth of the roach palace and slept in until 10:00 a.m.

P.S. No, the above travel account is not an accurate description of what it took to get the posted image of Mesa Arch at sunrise…I will say, though, that my story does include at least 10% truth…I gar-on-tee it!

Wednesday Photo Critique #12, 02/27/2013

The Potash Plant. Near Moab, Utah, 2013
The Potash Plant. Near Moab, Utah, 2013

For this week’s image I have chosen a recent color image that I’d classify as a landscape–despite the inclusion of a huge (ugly?) metal structure.

And my standard call before I proceed: If you have been lurking about this web site and you’d like me to use your image for a Wednesday critique, just send me an e-mail (see Contact tab). That way, you can save me from critiquing my own images–which would be a welcome relief! Oh, and no names will be mentioned–it will be an anonymous critique.

OK, back to the photo o’ the week…I have my critic’s hat on and I am pretending this is the first time I’ve ever seen this photograph…here we go…

The metadata: Nikon D90 (1.5x crop factor sensor) with Nikkor 70-300 f/4-5.6 zoom at 125mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO200, handheld, outdoors with clear sky and late afternoon light.

And following my 7-Step Critique GuideClick here for the full critique!

What makes an image a good candidate for B&W conversion?

Norris Cox Drill Truck. Cisco, Utah, 2013
Norris Cox Drill Truck. Cisco, Utah, 2013

I really like black and white images. I like to think that a monochrome image helps focus the viewer on the composition, the story, the subject. Sometimes color can actually distract!

To that end, which of your digital images would be good candidates to convert to black and white? It can be a tough decision. With time, though, your eye will begin to “see” in black and white as you shoot. In the meantime, as you learn how to see the world in monochrome, here are a few things you might look for in a potential color-to-B&W conversion (and I’ll throw out a useful learning technique at the end): Click here to learn more about B&W conversions.