Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chippies and Shooting Wabbits

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

During road trips, I have a tendency to drive into the night. Being on the highways mirrors my normal waking hours.

I sometimes have more trouble staying awake behind the wheel when the sun is up, than I do in the darkness.

I left Southern California on Black Friday. Here, a Los Angeles ABC News crew’s van from KABC TV covered a shopping event in Ventura County.

As I left Camarillo, the sun was already getting low over the Pacific Ocean.

During my second to the last leg home, I felt a slow drowsiness creep up on me. I combat sleepiness by pulling off and grabbing a nap. However, when I get the first soporific touches, I engage in a little ritual to stay awake. I have adopted an ad-hoc rendition of the Warner Brothers’ cartoon character, Elmer Fudd, who use to go “Hunting Wabbits.”

I yell at myself, “It’s time to shoot the Wabbit.”

I have been working on a personal photographic project, since leaving the police department, which is divisible into three separate parts.

I call the project, “Drive-by Shootings.”

It started simply enough, when I would raise my camera and depress the shutter release while pointing the camera’s lens at police vehicles while passing them, or their passing me. It started with traffic stops and expanded to my passing any police vehicle; it expanded to include fire and other emergency vehicles. The second part of the project was documenting Fed-Ex green trucks. The final aspect of the project was taken at night allowing the camera to record the lights of 18-wheelers to register on the electronic image pick-up device at night.

I refer to these night shots of 18-wheeelers as “Shooting Wabbits,” because of the way the images often hop from the bumps in the road.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

University of New Mexico Associate Professor of Photography Jim Stone taught me in a Departments of Art class that photography could become art simply based on an obsessive-compulsive or repetitive nature of the work. Stone with his son at University of New Mexico Art and Art History Department’s Regent's Professor of Photography Patrick Nagatani, right, at a 2001 Santa Fe opening of Nagatani's one-man show.

So I guess these are works of art. Please note my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.

As I pulled away from the Los Angeles basin last Friday, I was passed by a California Highway Patrol pickup truck near Soledad Canyon.

I try to avoid LA freeways as much as possible and I drive north of Los Angeles along the San Gabriel Mountain range from Palmdale east. In Palmdale, along Sierra and Peachblossom Highways, the maximum speed limit is 70 MPH along a four-lane undivided roadway that has residential areas backing up to it.

The road crosses the California Aqueduct.

This stretch of road’s speed limit is one of the few places I believe is too high by 10 to 15 MPH. California has so many vehicles and traffic is so intense that maintaining speed is imperative to the continued orderly flow. However, these few miles seem exceedingly dangerous. An LA County Sheriff’s unit blasted by me.

The trip across the Mojave Desert has views of Edwards Air Force Base on the horizon.

This is the sun setting amongst Mojave’s defining vegetation, the Joshua Tree.

When I got to Interstate 15, north of Victorville, I came upon a CHP unit on stationary patrol, probably running radar. This twilight series is indicative of a combination of a couple of aspects of the “Drive-by” project’s philosophy.

A California sunset as seen through the rearview mirrors.

“Shooting Wabbits,” is an exercise in color, light and accident. It’s photography, but not anything I normally publish. I know that the light will react with the electronic sensing device; just am not sure how. Throw in the facts that: the long exposure time, bumps in the road, distance from the opposing traffic, the speed and number of lights all conspire to produce the occasional interesting image. Focus, or lack of it, may or may not enhance the outcome. It’s fun and it drives off the drowsiness.

From the top of a hill looking back towards Barstow, the dense traffic to Vegas reminds me of a string of pearls.

The only traffic moving above the normal flow was this CHP unit.

I pushed through Las Vegas, staying on the freeway. It reminded me of the differences since the first time I visited Vegas in 1977, about 8 a.m. on the Fourth of July. We drove down US Highway 95 into town from the Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, now  Creech Air Force Base, where my father, younger brother and myself had spent the night. Indian Springs was part of the Nevada Test Site and provided an airfield for Nellis Air Force Base. It was little more than a runway and a few support buildings. When my father pulled into the base asking if they had a Visiting Officers Quarters, the Air Police gate guard directed us to an activity center instead. The presence of a vacationing Lt. Col. caused quit a stir; it seemed that my father outranked the base commander who showed up to make sure every thing was OK. We were glad to just have a place to lay our head. My dad was a bit chagrined to have inconvenienced the Major, in command, who showed up. However, not that chagrined; he had been known to follow the military protocol himself.

Indian Springs was about 45 miles from downtown Las Vegas and I recall driving down a deserted Fremont street. Nothing moved on that bright Independence Day morning, except the lights.

The population of Clark County was a little over 150,000 then; today it is more than two million.

The tallest building was probably no more than 10 or 12 stories; now it’s the 1,149 foot Stratosphere Tower punctuating the skyline.

Pulling out of Las Vegas, traffic was down to a fraction of what it had been; the crowd must have stopped to place a bet.

Driving into the night, I passed through St. George, Utah, then back into Arizona, as I crossed the “Strip;” a desolate area of the northeast corner of the State, isolated by the Grand Canyon to the south. I crossed back into southern Utah at Kanab, where I spent the night.

The next day I traversed Kane County and skirted the southern boundary of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

I drove to Lake Powell, which is backed up behind the Glen Canyon Dam.

Page, Ariz., which is a bustling vacation community when the weather is warm and the lake is filled with water sports enthusiasts, was virtually deserted the weekend after Thanksgiving.

I arrived at Tse'Bii'Ndzisgaii, the native name for the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley, just before sunset.

As the sun set, the light changed.

The place was inundated with young Japanese tourists who were engaged in a serious American road trip. They were traveling in cars and went out of their way to speak English, even amongst themselves.

The rocks glowed.

The post sunset and rocks were dramatic.

A crescent moon began to set as Venus and Saturn were close by.

Once I got through Farmington, there were no police on New Mexico roads until Cuba, where there were a couple of Sandoval County Sheriff’s units hanging out at the 7-11.

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