Expedition #1 : Southwest

Until now I’ve only been west of the Mississippi once. In March of 2017 I flew out to Colorado State University Pueblo for two weeks to assist with a choose-your-own-adventure philosophy/film making class. In contrast, this expedition was 40 days long (Jan. 24-Mar. 4) and over 6,000 miles of driving solo. With any luck this will be the first of many trips into the desert.

The images below will be the root of memories I carry with me for the rest of my life. In total I shot a dozen rolls of film, ranging from the tiny 110 format to 120 medium format. You’ll see a selection of film in this post as well as the best of the 1,000+ digital photos I took.

As with many things in life my primary focus was on not dying. With this being my first cross-country road trip everything was new and the obstacles were bountiful. With a slow and steady pace I ensured my home and vehicle didn’t fly off the road and burst into flames.

The other objective was practicing photography and developing an efficient workflow for using the RV as a camera truck. I had 3 film cameras, a Sony mirrorless camera, and a Gopro with me. Anytime I left the RV I usually had 2 cameras on me. I try to keep different film stocks in the different cameras so if black and white is needed I’m forced to use whatever camera already has that film. Similarly, when I leave for a hike I usually will pick 1 or two lenses per camera. These forced compromises help to keep me shooting instead of fussing with gear. As long as I plan ahead and make the correct choices before each departure I can carry a minimal amount of gear and maximize the goodness of images captured.

The next 4 pages document my trip primarily through photographs. I shot many hours of driving time lapse and you can see a bit of that below. The rest will be sent to a friend and possibly used in some projects, stay tuned for details. In the future these expeditions will be of higher production value. I hope to capture environments in more detail and formats (audio, VR). Traveling with some camera assistants might be helpful too. Consider this a proof-of-concept.

One of the first roadside attractions I stopped at was Cadillac Ranch. Placed in a field off the side of the road, old cars pop from the ground. Lots of trash and spray paint cans blow around. Click through the slideshow to see a closeup of each vehicle.

The first 4 days were a blur of Cracker Barrels and linear highway. After getting to New Mexico the RV house battery started to give me trouble. The cold had effectively killed it, not surprising given its age. After getting a new battery I checked the weather ahead and discovered it was going to be freezing overnight the next few nights. I decided to abandon my original itinerary and bee-lined south.

White Sands National Park

The following images are from the Alkali Flat Trail. Below is a good digital photo of the dunes. Not exactly the best place for large pieces of glass and 35 year old mechanical cameras.

The sand frozen in the wind was captured with these settings – f/10, 1/4000, ISO320


The images below were taken on 35mm Kodak Tri-X expired in 1998. Pushed 1 stop. Taken with the Pentax ME. Just 100 miles south of where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.

Traveling through the San Andres Mountains to Las Cruces. Song “I believe in Symmetry” by Bright Eyes

The two images below were taken west of Las Cruces facing East. Both images were long exposures, the left digital the right Cinestill 50D. The medium format film photo was taken with the Pentax 6×7 which suffered from a darkening effect on the right side of the image. In addition the negative is a bit cropped. Some adjustments were made in Photoshop to levels.

Despite lugging my new film camera up mountains and through sand dunes, very few photos turned out. A variety of issues occurred, the primary being an issue with the shutter. As a result the right half of many images shot with that camera are dark and underexposed. The machine is currently being serviced in a shop, so hopefully we’ll be back in working order soon.

From Las Cruces I traveled further south to the border before taking New Mexico’s State Road 9 west most of the way to Arizona. The drive was fantastic in its desolation. Below is over 3 hours condensed into less than 2 minutes.

Saguaro National Park

I was very excited to shoot some Lomochrome purple film in the big Pentax with my 35mm fisheye lens. Unfortunately most of the shots were no good due to underexposure and camera malfunctions. I do have one good one for you though! and in the future I’ll go back and do this setup some justice.

The color images below are digital. The black and white is 35mm expired Tri-X film.

The images above round out Saguaro National Park and below is San Xavier del Bac Mission, just south east of the park. All four of these black and white images were taken on the same expired 35mm film used at White Sands. The dark skies below adorn the oldest European structure in Arizona.

I stayed east of Phoenix, on the south side of the Superstition Mountains. You can watch the sun set on them below.

Continue onto page 2 for more pretty pictures!

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