Friday, July 4, 2014

Captured on Film, Part 1 -- Four-wheeled Ghosts

I spent the better part of this last winter creating high res scans of every image I'd ever committed to pro film that I thought might someday prove useful. That was quite the task.

I did that to better clear the path for my transition to digital capture and because given the pace of technological change in revolutionary times, there's no guarantee I'll be readily able to do that later and I needed to part with my commercial flatbed scanner for to get a new whiz-bang Mac and move forward.

Now my nearly twenty years in the making portfolio of 4x5 and 120mm chrome is finished: cataloged, duplicated and secure both on disc for the files and in library binders for the original images. If I've ever the time, I'll pull a couple hundred selects from my collection of vintage 35mm chromes  and digitize those too. I held on to the Nikon scanner for that, as it had no resale value.

Film is dead, long live film.

You might think that hundreds of hours spent scanning was drudgery and you'd be right, it was all of that. It was also a process of discovery because there were things I didn't remember and my understanding of image assessment has evolved. Then when we were together on the Odyssey, all I ever did was pick out a handful of hopefully useful selects and move rapidly on to shoot more, never looking back. Now for the first time I can view my entire body of work on film as an unchanging and completed whole, a useful perspective that not long ago would've been impossible were I not retired or dead.

I got a fair price for the flatbed scanner, though not enough for the Mac. That means I can't yet fully capitalize on the work I'm doing with the new Nikon, or even fully understand it. Which means I don't have much to show you.

So rather than try and fake it, I've decided to honor my creative legacy on film by delivering up chunks of it here, while I continue to swim the fast currents of technological change as best I'm able, behind the scenes. Please excuse the intrusive (and as it turns out rather indifferently sized) watermark on the images. Since I'll be putting these up in bunches, it seemed only prudent.

Anyway, nothing like a good 'ol American car show over the 4th of July, sez I...

Called F.O.R.D. (fix or repair daily), this old truck belonged to a friend and was captured on 4x5 transparency, while grinning at me in perfect light:

That same friend later acted as guide for a visit to an obscure wreck of a stamp mill in Ontonagon County, as there was something there he said I should see. The site itself was no great shakes as ruined stamp mills go and we'd have to climb down the attendant ravine to reach our goal. About halfway down, slipping and sliding with my 50# of gear, I was thinking This better be stinkin' good...

At the bottom was a classic Ford, from back in the day. As the ravine was immediately below the stamp mill, the trees that eventually crushed it weren't even seedlings when first someone'd managed to leave that car all the way down there. My friend was disappointed that the thing'd been crushed since last he'd seen it, but I damned near came right out of my shoes at the sight.

That afternoon I captured my favorite all time image of an abandoned vehicle, called Fit to a T or A Creek Runs Through It, which image I believe is likely already floating around on this blog somewhere, though I can't quite locate it to link to, imagine that.

But a rich trove of alternate images is part of what all that scanning bought me:

A bit up that same creek and mostly out of the ravine, we found this. Then instead of climbing back up the way we'd come in, we took the newly discovered easy way out and it turned out to be a really good day indeed.

I found this old Plymouth in Gogebic County and revisited it through the years, waiting for everything to be perfect. Finally it was and I captured a full set on 4x5 chrome that includes the image below. It turned out to be providential that I did that then, as not long after this Black Beauty was gone:

This next was a roadside curiosity also in Gogebic County and while it's situation didn't allow for satisfactory capture, there're so many bullet holes in this hulk that I simply had to throw a roll of 120mm chrome at it:

I'd travelled along the road between Ontonagon and the Porkies repeatedly over the years. But it wasn't until November of 2011 that I was there when the forest that hid it had dropped all pretense sufficiently for me to see this next. I recall driving right by, with my peripheral vision wide to each side of the road as always, then thinking Say what?!? before making a quick u-turn.

Captured on 120mm chrome with the Mamiya, because by then I was already using the last of the 4x5 and was jealous of it, a no longer winged messenger Mercury:

These last three have appeared on these pages before. They're selected from among the many 120mm images I took at the site during the last couple of years I shot on film. I've plenty on 4x5 too.

I'm not telling specifically where I found this pair, but offer the set as proof that if you wander along the back roads of U.P. and look around closely enough while you do, there's just no telling what sort of treasures you might find...


  1. Holy cow, Frank. Those are awesome images.

  2. Thank-you, that's kind of you to say. Shooting old cars is fun. It's like finding modern sculpture left lying around...

  3. Beautiful photos, Frank. Whenever I see old cars or old houses or old trees or old anything, I think of the stories they could tell.

  4. Yeah, it's about the mystery of narrative. What's cool about old cars is that they're mostly just fun (though you've gotta wonder about bullet holes). Abandoned homesteads, farms, schools and the like, their narratives are often less mysterious and decidedly more nettlesome. Thanks for the kindness and for stopping by.