Ah, Joy

Oh, the joy of sleeping under the covers with the windows open. We’re in Eagar, Arizona – about four miles west of the New Mexico border. Outside, the temperature is a crisp fifty-two degrees. In Phoenix we won’t see these temperatures until Halloween. Queen Anne is still contentedly snoring in bed, so all’s quiet in the world. I see a cloudless sky through the window and the sun is about to clear the next door trailer which will make it all but impossible to type, so I’ll be quick about my report.

Yesterday’s trip was a pleasant and uneventful six hours. Two of those hours we spent traversing the Phoenix Metropolitan area to Fountain Hills where we stopped to top off the tank and buy some road food. We phone-waved Jeff as we passed his Scottsdale house. Not expecting our call, he offered to put shoes on and meet us for a bite, but we declined because we were already moving.

Fountain Hills is the point where I feel we’ve finally left town. From there we drove the Bee-Line Highway, climbing out of the Valley of the Sun to Payson’s 6000 foot elevation. We noted each time Fritz’s outside temperature indicator dropped from the low 90’s to the high 80’s. That doesn’t seem like a lot until you factor the hour and a half driving time. In Payson, we headed east on Arizona Route 260 and made the last ascent up the Mogollon Rim, and breaking through the 7000 foot elevation. From there, the rest of the way was a gentle descent. Our next way-point was Showlow and back on US Highway 60, ironically the same highway we took out of Wickenburg.

It was almost 3:00 pm when we reached Round Valley — a five-mile circular flat at the foot of the White Mountains — containing the yin yang towns of Springerville and Eagar. Springerville is on the north along US 60 while Eagar is on the south along AZ 260 with Main Street connecting the two highways (Yes, I know they’re the same roads, but there’s a method to my route madness that I’ll ‘splain someday). We stopped at the local Safeway for provisions and a bite to tide us over until dinner before checking into our campgrounds.

About our campgrounds … all I can say is that I’m glad that I went to Alaska last year. This place is somewhere between Watson Lake and Peace Park Gardens in Vancouver, but that’s a very large spectrum and I consider this in the bottom percentile. It’s certainly not a resort like where Fred and Deb are working. It is small and quiet with mostly permanent residences and few spaces for us transients. We picked it for the WiFi reviews and the price. The price reflects the lack of facilities (no showers). When we came in, the hosts had just finished helping a guest with a grand fifth-wheel (“The largest we’ve ever had,” he told me), before helping us with The Ritz (“The smallest one we’ve ever had”). Thanks … I guess. Anyway, behind The Ritz, we have a lovely private space under large Ash trees for sunset cocktails; how could things be better?

This morning. we’re going to spend time to lay out an itinerary for the week. We have a lot on our list and we need to rank it. One item on the list is the 2017 Great Mexican Food Springerville Shootout. Springerville has two restaurants that we like and we’re going to offer up our two cents on (last night’s dinner was at one of them — more later). We also need to spend the morning knocking off the rust on our camping skills, a fact that became obvious to us during set-up yesterday. The adventure awaits and I’ll have lots of photos for you.

Till then … jw

Springerville, Here We Come

It’s almost the middle of August. Queen Anne and I got our monthly allowance and paid the bills, but we have a couple of bucks left over and they’re burning a hole in our pockets, so we’re getting out-of-town for a week. The plan is to head for the hills … literally. To be precise, we’re off to Springerville and the White Mountains. Once again we’ll be camping in the trailer, or as my friend, Jeff once said, “We’ll be taking the Mercedes and spending a week in the Ritz.” That joke won’t be funny anymore if we ever get a different truck.

Normally we escape the desert’s heat at the north rim. We love going there because there’s nothing to do. So we pack all of our crap and do nothing for a week … except for sleep in the cool air, eat, snooze, drink,  slumber … and then take a nap. That was before we were doing this blog, and there’s no Wi-Fi up there. There’s also no radio, phone coverage, television or any other form of communication … well, maybe smoke signals, but I’m lost without auto-correct.

We picked Springerville — actually, the town of Eager which is next door — because it’s central to a lot of touristy stuff. We found a campground that (in reviews) has decent Wi-Fi, so we’re going to go play Tommy and Tammy Tourist and write about it … just like last summer. Won’t that be fun? I hope you’ll join us.

Rich Hill Rainbow
As an afternoon storm moves north, a rainbow touches a peak in the Weaver Range known as Rich Hill. Hmm.

PS: This is a new picture that I put up on my site a few moments ago. I hope you’re not tired of these storm photos because I’m having fun with them. It’s just a phase I’m going through, I’ll get over it.

What a Doozy

I’ve been reporting about this year’s monsoon season, how afternoon storms roll through here every other day, how they put on a great show, and how they have distinct personalities. Today I want to tell you about last Tuesday’s storm. It was a doozy!

August Storm
The clouds from Tuesday’s storm ran the full gamut of gray, from white to black.

The day started off normal enough, the Queen and I ran into town to do some errands and grab a bite of lunch. As we drove home, we noticed clouds building up in the west and south. We ignored them, because it’s rare that weather comes in from those directions. Since there wasn’t a lot of activity over the mountains that normally affect us, I figured that we’d have a quiet evening. When we got home, I laid down for a nap, but when I woke an hour later, the house was dark. The sun wasn’t streaming in the windows, so I stepped outside to check the skies. Everywhere I looked were storm clouds in every shade of gray; white to black. The most menacing patch was over the pass where Yarnell is. As I watched for a few minutes, I realized it was heading in our direction.

From Yarnell
As the winds pushed through the pass, they began to form vortexes like you often see on aircraft wing tips.

I’ve been having fun and some success shooting storms as they move in this summer. I was playing junior storm chaser and already had a couple of, as I call them, Mitch Dobrowner—light images, and here was another chance at dramatic weather shots. I grabbed my camera and walked down the street to the open desert. As I began clicking off frames, the darkest section of the front cleared the mountain range and began behave oddly. As it forced its way through the pass, it formed a vortex and began dropping in elevation. It looked like the spirals coming off Formula One wings during rain races. Behind the main thrust, the mountains disappeared in a curtain of black rain. Since the storm was closing fast, I started walking back to the house. Half way home, I turned for one last shot, and as the wind picked up, I could feel drops on my skin. When I got back to the house, I told Anne that we have to think about finding a safe place to hide should the storm spawn a tornado.

White House Before the Storm
As I made my way back to the house, I turned to take this shot. After I got home, I told Anne that we may need to find a safe place to hide.

The full force of the wind hit just as we were checking out the kitchen pantry. We watched the front tree blow back and forth brushing its limbs against the porch for a few minutes before we heard a pounding on the roof and kitchen sky light. It was too loud for rain, and we went out on the back deck we confirmed that hail was pelting the house. In a matter of minutes, the hail began to turn our red-rock drive to white, then just as quickly, a heavy rain started and washed the hail away. Even though we were on the leeward side of the house we got soaked because the wind whipped and swirled so the rain was coming in under the roof.

Lake What-a-muck-a
That’s not grain, it’s rain. In minutes the back yard went from rock to covered in hail and finally to Lake What-a-muck-a.

For a moment, I thought about getting my rain jacket and microphone out so I could pose like one of those idiot Weather Chanel reporters do in a hurricane, but I decided not to because I’d have to stand out in the wind, rain, and lightning. Besides, I don’t have a waterproof microphone. In a matter of minutes, the back yard turned into Lake What-a-muck-a.

Meanwhile, out front the streets were fast flowing, knee-deep rivers from curb to curb. The swift flowing water would have knocked you down if you attempted to wade across them. The streets were designed to drain to a wash that cuts through the park, but it was running beyond capacity and couldn’t take any more run-off.

Within an hour the wind and rain stopped. The thunder and lightning continued for a while but finally died as the storm moved south. Anne and I ventured out on the front porch and watched the water slowly recede uncovering sand bars. Neighbors ventured out of their homes and compared notes. Those that have rain gauges said they had 2-2.4 inches for the hour-long storm. I would guesstimate the wind gusts a conservative 60 mph. All of our water ran down the dry creeks to Wickenburg where the evening news had flooding stories.

While out walking the next morning, we were surprised there wasn’t more damage in the neighborhood. A handful of trees had broken limbs, some ocotillos were knocked over and some of the wash’s engineering suffered, but there wasn’t much structural damage. I had to mend some skirting, but that was it. Mostly the people we saw were busy shoveling dirt from the streets back into their yards. Not bad for the storm of the year.

Till then … jw

On Display at National Bank

I’m pleased to announce that my premier print Mt. Hayden is on display in the lobby of Wickenburg’s branch of the National Bank of Arizona. At 24 x 30 inches, it’s the largest framed print in my collection. It’s also notable because it’s entirely analog. That’s right, it was shot on film and printed the old fashion way; in a darkroom.

Mt. Hayden
Taken from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, Mt. Hayden, at over 8000 feet in elevation, is one of the most recognizable canyon subjects.

I’d be pleased if you’d stop by National Bank and tell the folks that you came to see the Mt. Hayden print. The bank is at 540 West Wickenburg Way; just west of the railroad bridge, and they’re open normal banking hours. The print will remain on display until September 1st. Just for fun, ask if you get a free toaster with a new account.

Till then … jw

The Face of Mother Earth in a Sand Pile

As I wrote earlier this week, we’ve had a pretty good Monsoon Season. The afternoon storms have brought rain every other day. A couple of the storms were short but intense causing a lot of run-offs. The amount of rain is too much for the soil to absorb and so, most of it runs into the street. If the flow is great enough, it will drag sand off the lots on to the street.

On our morning walks around the trailer park, Queen Anne and I come across these sand trails all the time. One of them, however, stopped me in my tracks. I saw something that I recognized and as we examined it, we realized it was a pretty good map of the North American Continent. Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Cuba, and Mexico were all in their places. Missing in the map was Florida, some of the Aleutian Islands and parts of the east coast. With climate change and all, maybe it’s a sign of things to come.

A map of North America in sand run-off
A pretty good map of North America that we found in sand run-off while on our morning walk.

What do you think?

Till then … jw

ps: After three storm cells move through the area last evening, it washed more, sand onto the street. On this morning’s walk, the shape was completely different. Only the Alaska part remained recognizable.

Photobooks

I enjoy a fine photographic print as much as anyone but in all my years, I have only ever paid for one photo print — Jody Forster’s gorgeous print of the east wall of Shiprock — taken by another photographer. Sure, artists gave me a few prints over the years (including several from Jim) and I have traded prints with a handful of photographers whose paths I’ve crossed. I have also purchased a small number of platinum/palladium contact prints on eBay for no more than $25 each.  I don’t count those because the prices I paid for them effectively round to zero.

Knowing all this, it probably will not shock you when I say that it’s my belief that, in today’s art market, individually produced photographic prints generally cost too much and deliver too little in terms of value. And I say that despite having sold more than 50 prints of my photos through several galleries over the years. Unfortunately, the math just doesn’t work for me.  As much as I enjoy viewing and collecting the work of other photographers, which is a lot, the fact is that I am just not willing to pay the prices that most photographers ask for their prints. Which isn’t to suggest they’re not worth those prices, of course, only that they’re not worth those prices to me.

Fortunately, there is another way to view and collect the work of many photographers besides buying prints.  It’s a better, more cost-effective way that is potentially even more artistically successful too. I believe that photography books (or ‘Photobooks’ as they’ve become known in some online photographic circles) are a better option than individual photographic prints and very much the way of the future.  At least for serious photography, that is, because we all know the way of the future for general photography is to view photos as jpegs on a computer monitor or Smartphone screen and skip printing them on paper entirely.

Photobook Collection
A small sample of my photobook collection.

In fact, I’m so convinced that I’m correct about this that I’ve voted with my wallet and purchased several hundred photobooks over the past decade, averaging roughly one book a week over the last few years that my finances allowed me to actively collect them. Mind you, it wasn’t always this way for me.

When I was just getting started with photography in the mid-70s and continuing through last decade, I didn’t pay much attention to photobooks, because I generally found the image quality reproduced there abysmal compared to a proper photographic print, made using wet chemicals in a dark room. This was especially true of the handful of books that contained color photos, which were then still a new medium in the fine-art photography world.

However, this started to change for me around the end of the last millennium, when my parents gave me a signed copy of Christopher Burkett’s Intimations of Paradise as a 40th birthday present. Burkett’s landscape photography was sublime, as was the photo quality reproduced in his book.  Surely much of the credit for this belongs to Burkett himself: after all, he had worked for many years as a press operator before becoming a professional landscape photographer, during which time he surely learned a thing or two about how to reproduce photos well using the offset printing process. But regardless of where the magic in his photos originated, the results were visually stunning and very much a revelation to me. That’s because, until that moment, I didn’t know that photos printed in a photobook — and color ones, at that — could look so good!

Inside the Covers
One of my photobook collection showing the layout of story and images.

Of course, by then, I already knew that photos printed using paper and ink instead of paper and gelatin could look great because I had made them myself at home from my medium, and large-format film transparencies for a few years.  Between the prints I was making myself and those I had started buying buy off the shelf (in the form of photobooks), I quickly came to realize that photographic prints made digitally using paper and ink were the future … well, my future at any rate, where traditional prints were clearly doomed to become the past, and very quickly so at that.

More than 15 years have passed since my eyes were first opened and not surprisingly, what I believed true then is proving even truer today, as the two technologies (inkjet printing and book publishing) have moved-in together and are now happily cohabitating. While photobooks printed on a sheet-fed, offset press still have an edge over those printed on demand using a large-scale, high-volume, inkjet printer, the small differences between them matter only to those who have a very discerning eye or photographers who make their own prints and are picky about such things, such as Jim and me.

These days, the quality of a well-printed photobook is quite remarkable and their prices — even the expensive ones — are actually quite reasonable when you divide the cost of a book by the number of photos that in it.  The typical $50 photobook has at least 50 photos (and often multiples of that) so the cost per photo is almost always a buck or less. And many (most?) photobooks can be purchased new for less than $50, which makes them even more of a bargain.  At the other end of the scale, I have also purchased used photobooks for as little as 25 cents at garage sales and thrift stores, which makes the cost per image infinitesimally small. Tell me: When was the last time you saw an art gallery selling photographic prints for a buck apiece (or for that matter, even 50 bucks)?

The large number of photos contained in a typical photobook leads me to my next point, which is that most photobooks are projects, where the photographer presents many photos of and on a subject, then careful and thoughtful sequencing tells the viewer a story visually, or a visual story (which isn’t the same thing). When this is done well, the result is absolutely fascinating and far more so than is possible with just a single photo.

Although many photographers also use photobooks the way that musicians use “greatest hits” albums (i.e., collect their most successful/popular works from across their career into an easy to sell, easy to digest package) and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The most successful books, artistically speaking if not also financially for the book’s publisher, are monographs that focus on a single topic. In my experience, there are very, very few single photos that are fully self-contained and able to tell a complete and compelling story without some added context, be it in the form of a written caption, an accompanying narrative text, or more supporting photos.

Collecting photobooks instead of individual prints has allowed me to broaden my photographic horizons and knowledge by a large margin, as well as affordably explore the work of emerging photographers and established photographers who are working in genres that are quite far afield from the type of photography I do myself. When they’re done well, photobooks are like mini-exhibitions. But instead of me having to go to a gallery across town or a museum across the country to see them, the mailman conveniently brings them to me!  I mean, how great is that?!

If I have somehow managed to piqué your interest (it’s always possible, right?), but you don’t know where to start, might I suggest one or both of Jim’s photobooks?  There’s a link to them somewhere on this page and as I own copies of both (bought with my money, in fact!), I can recommend them enthusiastically. Another source I use for new photobooks is the daily email I get from the Photo-Eye Gallery/Bookstore in Santa Fé. It features several photobooks each day. Better still, it offers a sample tour of most of the books featured, so it’s a quick and easy way to familiarize one’s self with both new and old photobooks. The sign-up page for it is here: http://www.photoeye.com/EmailNewsletter/index.cfm .

Happy hunting … JG

Check out Jeffrey’s photoblog here – Ed.

Lunch on the Front Porch

It’s raining this morning, a steady gentle shower that’s driven the outside temperature down to 73°. That’s the lowest reading I’ve seen on our outside thermometer all month. The rain postponed our morning walk until it let up. We made it through most of our route before Queen Anne felt a couple of drops and began screeching, “I’m melting.” By the time we made it back to the house, the point on her black hat flopped over into her face. I’m afraid that she looked like a bit of a cartoon.

It’s been a decent monsoon season so far. We’re getting rain every other day. There’s enough to fill Lake What-A-Muck-A until the waters lap onto the pavers out back. The ground is damp, the saguaros have plumped again and some of the cacti have begun to bloom for the second time.

There’s enough moisture coming up from Mexico that the thunderheads form over the plateau behind the Weaver Range each afternoon. We watch them as they boil in slow motion until they anvil out and spread in their direction of travel. As the hot air rises down here on the desert basin, it acts like a vacuum, sucking the thunderstorms off of the mountain. Here at the house, with our views to the horizon, we watch as the lightning and rain cells pass to the north and south of us. But sometimes, we’re in the path. It’s like playing dodgeball while standing still.

Thunderhead Over the Weaver Range
Each afternoon, thunderheads form above the plateau behind the Weaver Range.

First, come the outflow winds which can gust over 60 mph. That’s why we keep the tree out front trimmed up, so the wind can blow through the top canopy instead of breaking off limbs or blowing the tree over. In the neighborhood, we’ve had nearly a half-dozen century agaves bloom, with a 20-30 foot phallic center shoot. The Christmas tree like stalk gives the wind enough leverage to rip the roots of the four-foot blue agaves right out of the ground.

Skull Valley Monsoon
Monsoon clouds move down from the Bradshaw Range in Skull Valley.

Following the wind is rain. Sometimes it’s only a drop or two that leave spots on your dust-covered car. Other times it’s a gully washer and the streets fill like rivers. Out on the desert floor, the washes run with fast-flowing muddy red water; those are the flash floods that are dangerous even if your miles downstream. Every once in a great while, Mexico sends up enough moisture that you get a long-lasting gentle rain, like today. It’s slow enough that the ground has time to absorb it.

Mesquite Pods
Ripe pods on a mesquite tree will be dispersed in the winds of a monsoon storm.

Conveniently, the rains usually arrive in time for sunset cocktails, and we sit out on one of the covered porches while enjoying a glass of wine. It’s a popular summer past time in Arizona. The temperature drops 10 to 20 degrees below the century mark. The lightning show is always spectacular and can last for hours. With a stiff breeze and the moisture; it’s pleasant outside, besides you have to hold down the furniture somehow.

Mesquite and Monsoon
A mesquite grove is about to get drenched in an afternoon thunderstorm.

It ends abruptly. Shortly after the rain stops, the sweltering black top evaporates the last of the street’s water like hot sauna rocks. The wind dies and the humidity closes in. When it becomes intolerable, you retreat back into the air conditioning, if the power’s still on. There’s time for a TV show before watching the weather. It’s important to find out how the rest of the valley fared before calling it a night.

Till then … jw