Archive for Apr 2010


April 26, 2010

From time to time I am asked how I go about finding photo ops. Do I ever have a set destination in mind? Yes, albeit rarely, and then ordinarily only when I set forth from my home base east of San Francisco. Most often, I have only a vague idea of where my travel will take me. I assemble my gear, toss it (gently) into my trusty 2005 Mazda wagon, and shove off. I have yet to return with an empty memory card.

barn blog 1 Reflections As mentioned in my bio, I’ve been at this in earnest only since fall of 2008. What occasioned the pursuit initially was the desire to have some on-the-cheap photographs to hang in our vacation home north of Lake Tahoe. When the builder handed us the key the summer following, I had taken innumerable pictures of old barns. I felt that many merited consideration by our Art Selection Commission, which consists of my wife and me. Guess who makes the final dart throw? I jest; it’s always a joint decision, and, to my surprise, we often are in ready agreement.

Initially, I was interested only in barns. In search thereof I would often happen upon what I came to label “abandoned art” — old, rusted motor vehicles. Mostly, these are widowed pickup trucks and cars. Also in the viewfinder crosshairs are school buses, tractors and other farm implements. Not infrequently, circumstances willing, do I enter a barn, looking for artifacts of interest, including hand tools — shovels, pitchforks, saws, etc. — and the like. One such photograph, of a shovel leaning against the wall, won a best-in-show blue ribbon in the first competition I entered, in 2009. Two other photos won prizes in the same competition. Three bell ringers in a total of five subject categories. Not bad for starters, if I do say.

Barns may ever attract me, but my first love is shooting old cars and trucks. Since I was in knickers I have been an ardent “iron” buff. When still in elementary school (don’t ask when), I could identify virtually every vehicle on the road in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Granted, it was much easier then, when there were far fewer makes and models, but even so, few kids my age were as car-ID savvy as was I. Even though I still go to auto shows to see what’s new, the models of today aren’t nearly as visually alluring to me as those of the 1960s and earlier. Following the first oil embargo in 1973, they came to look more and more alike, hence less and less interesting to me.

Do I Have A Shoot M.O.? Depends

I can’t think of a shoot to date that hasn’t put me on private property. Do I ask permission? Heck no. I figure, better (and quicker) to ask forgiveness than permission. I am so oblivious to turf ownership that were trespassers ranked like military personnel, I would be a four-star general.

truck blog 2 Reflections1) While motoring about one day not far from home, out of the corner of my ever-surveilling eye I spotted an old truck parked in the distance, perhaps a couple of hundred yards from the road. Although I was able to crawl unscathed over a barbed-wire fence, I found myself thwarted by a creek I deemed unwise to attempt crossing. (The governing credo here is that it costs nothing to pass up any given photo op; replacing water-damaged camera equipment, not so. In other words, I have learned that discretion is the better part of pictorial valor.)

In the distance I espied a man I assumed to be the property owner, or, if not, at least someone who might offer advice on how to reach the truck that beckoned. I yelled, “How do I get across? I’d like to photograph the truck, if I may.” “OK,” he replied, cupping hands to mouth. “Drive across the bridge ahead of you and you’re in like Flynn.” No sooner was I across the bridge than I was greeted by a growling, barking and otherwise-unfriendly-looking pit bull. Baring his incisors, he laid his long-nailed paws on the windowsill. Fortunately, the window was closed, and I was in no hurry to roll it down.

The man walked over and, looking the Chief of Security square in the eye, said, “Calm down, Francie. It’s OK.” “Francie?” I said to myself. Bland, unprepossessing moniker for a dog perhaps awarded extra Kibbles for each trespasser devoured. “It’s safe for you to get out,” he offered. I did, haltingly, as he gripped the still growling Francie by the choke collar. “Can you see the truck over there? Help yourself to as many pictures as you want.”

The truck in question, an old flatbed Ford, was a beaut, festooned for the Christmas holidays with garlands of Mylar tinsel. Rare visual enhancements, and without need to employ PhotoShop for the desired effect. Once done with the decked-out truck, I took shots of another, newer (1950s) GMC pickup partially hidden alongside a steel storage barn. Although not nearly as remarkable as its holiday-decorated counterpart, it lent itself to some good shots of its own.

tractor blog 3 Reflections2) Another time, I wanted to take pictures of several antique farm tractors parked in perpetuity in the side yard of their owner. Because the entry gate was locked, to gain access I had no choice but to ask permission. I knocked anxiously on the rickety door of the doublewide. No answer. I knocked again, this time louder. Finally, an elderly, shirtless man opened the door a crack and demanded, “What do you want?” “I’m a photographer, and I was wondering if I could take pictures of the tractors.” “Sure, go ahead. Here’s the key. Be sure to bring it back.” “Yes, sir, I will.”

Unlocking the gate, I wandered into what appeared to be a benign yard, uninhabited by nothing but the tractors. I was perhaps 20 minutes into the shoot, oblivious of my surroundings. Suddenly, I heard a loud snorting. I turned around and not more than three feet away stood a not-so-benign-looking bull. He’s here to eat me, I thought, ducking behind one of the tractors. Thankfully, however, as suddenly as he appeared did he leave. Declaring the shoot to be over even if it was not, I bolted out the gate and knocked at the door to grandpa’s doublewide. “Here’s the key,” I said, nanoseconds after it was cracked open. “Thank you, sir, but you didn’t tell me about the bull.” “Oh, I plum forgot. I take old Jake for granted. Wouldn’t harm a flea. Did he frighten you?” “Not at all,” I lied, placing the key firmly in his paw.

Don’t Mistake Me for a Paraphernalia Nut

Although I take photography seriously — something I would not have guessed when I started not that long ago — I am by no means a nuts-and-bolts geek. Every time I go out on a shoot I say a prayer to the cybergods that my computer-chip-laden DLSR camera will remain “smart,” meaning that I can set the dial to “autofocus” and, as Ron Popeil might say, forget it. The camera, classified as a so-called prosumer model, is a Nikon D5000. Body alone was $750 new, a fraction of what one would pay for any high-end DSLR with all the bells and whistles. I see ads for some costing $5,000 and up. I cannot afford that, and for my purposes, I don’t need a Rolls Royce. My Ford suffices nicely.

plates blog 4 ReflectionsLike virtually all DSLRs on the market, it has a manual override, allowing the operator to bypass the autofocus settings and dial in whatever he may wish to program. I have taken thousands of photographs, and not once have I shot in manual mode. I say this not as a boast, but rather as a matter of fact. This is a testament to how “intelligent” today’s DSLRs are, even entry-level models.

My mantra is “point and pray.” I exaggerate, of course, although I rely heavily on the camera’s brain calculating the correct exposure. If I don’t like the results, I simply delete the image and shoot again, and, if necessary, again and again until I am satisfied. Although I don’t keep track, and I doubt that anyone does, I would guess that no more than one shot in ten finds its way to a SmugMug gallery for public viewing.

Another factoid, offered in the same unboastful vein: Even though I own two, I never have a used a tripod. I won’t pretend I’m a kid, hardly so, but – knock on wood — so far my hand remains sufficiently steady that ordinarily I don’t need one. Furthermore, all of my lenses feature built-in image stabilization, which, as called for, magically sharpens the focus as the shutter is being depressed. Although image stabilization (Nikon calls it “vibration reduction”) won’t make a badly out-of-focus shot acceptably sharp, I am constantly amazed at the performance. Image stabilization comes at a price, however. Actually, a twin price. First, the lenses cost more, and second, generally speaking, an f-stop or more is lost. What this means is that a) more ambient light is required to capture any given shot and b) you cannot capture fast-moving action as well. Since I rarely shoot in low-light conditions and since everything I shoot is stationary, for me the trade-off is inconsequential. (Famous last words.)

Rotary Afforded Me Early and Regular Practice

Most of the shooting I did early on was as the fill-in photographer at the weekly Rotary club meetings I attend. Shortly after Santa delivered me my first DLSR (a Nikon D60) in 2007, the club member who had been taking pictures moved out of town, leaving us with no photographer, save for someone who might squeeze off a few grabshots with a cell phone camera. Guaranteed result: Lousy image.

Welcoming the opportunity for practice, I hadn’t finished reading the owner’s manual when I bravely volunteered to take over. I figured that my pictures couldn’t be any worse than those taken with a camera phone, and, who knew, they might even be better. To my utter astonishment, indeed they were. Soon I came to find that I was enjoying my new role as the club’s “official” (read: default) photographer.

lantern blog 5 ReflectionsAfter doing this weekly for several months, a fellow Rotarian who is a professional photographer took me aside and told me he thought I might actually get pretty good at this one day. I thanked him for the flattery, but shrugged it off. “I’m not really serious about this, and I doubt that I ever will be,” I told myself. Nevertheless, Paul kept telling me I ought to “get serious.” To this end, week in and week out Paul took it upon himself to critique my work. After seeing some of my early Rusted Relics and Rustic Relics shots, he declared, “Tom, you really ought to try selling this stuff. It’s good.” What’s good, I thought to myself, was the camera, not me. “No, no,” he corrected me, “You have an eye for composition. The mechanics are easy to teach. I’ll help you.” Help me he did … as he continues to do … all of it out of the kindness of his oversize Rotarian heart.

After studying a series of Rusted Relics shots I had taken, Paul said, “I like these, but you need to develop a recognizable style, a way of differentiating your work from that of others. You’re probably not the only one taking pictures of old cars and trucks.” He was right, of course. But how to accomplish this eluded me. Suggested Paul, “Learn PhotoShop so you can manipulate images, make them look different from what the naked eye — or the camera — sees.”

Easy for him to so recommend. Paul is past master at PhotoShop, highly skilled. Dutifully heeding his counsel, I took a couple of PhotoShop classes, bought DVD tutorials, the whole enchilada. Frustratingly, and, in my opinion, unduly complicated software. (Think rubic’s cube.) Becoming proficient at golf at the age of 100 would be easier, I told myself. So, as I did golf, I said goodbye to PhotoShop and started looking for something else to fill the bill. Largely by chance, I did.

Toward Developing a “Recognizable Style”

Mindful of the advice from my mentor, Paul, to develop a “recognizable style” of my own and having thrown in the towel on trying to gain even passing proficiency with the farm windmill blog 6 Reflectionsmind-boggling complexities of PhotoShop, I felt stymied, at an impasse. Surely, I told myself without knowing the answer, there must be other photo-editing software that doesn’t require a doctorate in computer science to master. Just as I was about to say uncle, I mentioned my plight to another photographer friend. He recommended that I give a different software program a go, a proprietary product available by subscription. I won’t mention it by name. Good grief, I can’t reveal all of my trade secrets. icon smile Reflections Suffice that try it I did, and, to my delight, found it to be light-years easier to use than Photoshop. It’s nowhere near as sophisticated, but it offers all of the editing tools I need to render the end results desired.

Discovery of this “savior” software marked a milestone, a genuine ah-ha moment. Now, I could manipulate camera-generated images to my heart’s desire and without spinning my wheels trying to master the intricacies of Adobe’s sadistic, braincell-destroying product. (If you think I exaggerate, I invite you to visit any bookstore and see for yourself how many shelves are devoted to PhotoShop how-to books. Dozens roll off the presses each time a new version is released. I found one tutorial tome devoted expressly to Layers, an editing feature created by Lucifer himself that is central to image manipulation.)

Employing this godsend Photoshop alternative, I am at liberty to do virtually endless things with any image my camera generates. With Rustic Relic photographs, it’s usually light editing. With Rusted Relics subjects, however, the changes usually range from moderate to drastic, as the spirit moves me and as I deem to be artistically appropriate (a phrase, I grant, that is open to unending argument).

Equipment I Do Own

As already mentioned, I’m not given to amassing camera paraphernalia. My equipment is relatively barebones: a pair of entry-level DSLRs, both Nikons, barn door blog 6 Reflectionstwo tripods (neither used thus far), one monopod (used once), one bag (backpack style) and two lenses, both zooms — a Tokina 12-24mm and an 18-200mm Nikkor (Nikon). Both were purchased second-hand for total cost of roughly $1,000, well below MSRP new. I use the 18-200mm almost exclusively. Although there have been occasions when I wish I had a longer focal length at the far end (say, 300mm), I figure the cost, even buying “pre-owned,” doesn’t warrant the investment. The wide-angle Tokina zoom — excellent optics at a price perhaps a third less than a comparable Nikkor — gets used 10 percent of the time at most. Far more often than not, on any given photo foray, it sits in the bag, untouched. In addition, I own a Nikon SB600 external flash, which I use only indoors and, to date, only for immortalizing my Rotary club events archived at There is a separate gallery for each year.

In observing that I am relatively minimalist in my gear arsenal, I do not mean to boast. The point, rather, is that to do what I do, one need not make a huge investment in order to get started. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that I will buy nothing further in the foreseeable future. That said, as technology continues to develop, I may well find down the road that I want to upgrade the camera itself and/or add accessories, although I do expect that two tripods will suffice.

Local Military Vehicle Catches My Eye

Of the thousands of miles I have traveled already, resulting in thousands of keeper photographs, ironically, two of my most fruitful missions took me no more 15 minutes each in drive time from my home. Purely by chance, each outing involved taking pictures of trucks.

rusted car blog 7 ReflectionsThe first did not so much as require me to depart the city limits of Lafayette, Calif. Running an errand one day, out of the corner of my eye I saw what appeared to be an old military vehicle parked forlornly in a private driveway. I drove home, grabbed my camera and step stool (needed because truck cab unusually tall) and headed back. I was not to be disappointed. No one was at home save for a Golden Retriever “guard” dog who came up and licked my hand, good lighting conditions (what is called “open shade”), good ruralesque setting, especially the background, which consisted of image-enhancing foliage. I spent perhaps an hour there, shooting salivatingly from different angles, different distances and, thanks to my step stool, different elevations. Later would I learn from the owner, whom I subsequently contacted by phone, that this was indeed a military vehicle, a bomb-transport flatbed from WWII. The owner said he had purchased it a year earlier from someone in Fresno at a cost of $600. Of all the trucks I have photographed, this one — but a stone’s throw from where I hang my sombrero– yielded what I consider to be among the most visually arresting images found in the Cars and Trucks album. Tell me if you agree. If not, I’d like to know which of the truck-image series you like best. From among the more than 400 all told, surely you can find a favorite.

Trifecta of Old Chevy Pickups

The other short-travel sortie took me only slightly farther afield, a distance of no more than 10 miles, to the semi-rural hamlet of Briones. This shoot was rare in that it was occasioned by a lead from a friend who knew I was interested in “abandoned art.” Over coffee one day, he told me that a trio of vintage pickups, queued in a row, presented a golden photo op. “You’ll see the city limit sign as you head down the long hill past the reservoir,” he said. “Off to the left, at the bottom, you’ll see three old Chevys. They are some distance from the road, and the property is fenced, but you may be able to get in.”

The very next day, a Saturday afternoon, I got in my car in search of what by now had gotten my artist adrenaline percolating. Sure enough, as promised, there they were, the three pickups, lined up check by jowl, front grill 7 Reflectionsbeckoning me forth. And, sure enough, the property was not only fenced on all four sides by don’t you-dare barbed wire, there was a farm-style steel gate, locked tight and operated by electronic keypad. Adding to the uninviting tableau was the very visible presence of two don’t-you-dare dogs, both barking their heads off. Not exactly a come-hither environment.

I walked along the fence on two sides, hoping I might raise someone inside the house, which sat a good 100 yards away. No one home. Rats. As I was getting in my car, disappointed by the not-to-be photo op, an SUV emerged out of nowhere and approached the gate from within. The driver, a woman, pressed the remote from inside the vehicle, and, voila, the gate opened outward, barely missing a fender of my car. Whew! Can’t afford what the military calls collateral damage.

As I tentatively approached the driver door, the window rolled down, and a 40-something matron, two kids in the rear seat, asked, “May I help you with something?” “Yes,” I said, “I’m a photographer,” underscoring the obvious, as I had a camera hanging around my neck. “Would you mind if I took some pictures of the trucks? I like to shoot old cars and trucks, and these are marvelous specimens.” “Sure,” she said. “I’ll leave the gate open. Just hit “O” on the keypad as you leave, and the gate will shut automatically.” “What about the dogs? Will they get out? Are they friendly, or will they eat me?” “They won’t run off and both are friendly, trust me.” With that, she was off to let the kids see a neighbor’s just-born piglets. I did not see her again that afternoon. Would that this were true regarding one of the dogs.

Over-The-Top Canine ‘Poses’ Tall Challenge

She was right. Both dogs were friendly. Soon would I learn that one of them, an American Staffordshire (kin to pit bull breed) named Max, was affectionate to the max. gate blog 8 ReflectionsThe other dog, whose name I never did learn, wandered off, seemingly indifferent to this stranger allowed in by dint of no vote of his. I got down on one knee to start taking close-ups of one of the trucks. Before I could squeeze the shutter release, Max was literally on my back, and immediately commenced making love to me. Either woefully confused or celibate for way too long, Max was not to be denied the demonstration of his lust. Commands of “Max, get away, Max, scram,” proved futile. Max was determined; so was I. I did my best to dissuade him, but wagging my finger at him seemed only to increase my attractiveness. The only way I could keep him from attaching himself to me was to stand erect (mimicking Max, as it were) and, from time to time, wave my foot at him. He never did get the message that he was just not my type.

After spending an hour or so there, all of it standing unmistakably upright, I concluded that I had taken enough shots of this marvelous trio of resplendently rusted pickups. As I would learn later from the man of the house, there was a 1949 model sandwiched between a pair of 1951s. He said his father taught him how to drive in one of them. I also learned from him, to my relief, that Max had a thing for me not because I looked like a dog but because Max was yet to be “cut,” as he termed it. “I think Max needs a girlfriend,” I replied, hearing laughter at the other end of the phone.

OMG, Literally On The Fence

Done shooting, I put my camera back into the bag and headed to the gate to let myself out. Whoa! To my surprise and chagrin, said gate was now closed, a condition contrary to what the lady had assured me. It was not to be budged and, naturally, I had no clue what the magic number combination on the keypad was. There I stood, imprisoned (albeit not unloved). I would have knocked on the door of the house, but I was told that the mister was inside but not to disturb him because he was ill and sleeping. Rats. And dogs.

car window blog 91 ReflectionsKnowing that necessity is the mother of invention, I found an empty five-gallon bucket in hopes of getting a boost over the fence (barbed wire, mind you). (Tom, do not slip.) As I was literally straddling the fence, praying that my pants cum boxers would prove impenetrable, I saw a truck drive up outside the gate. A man emerged hastily, and, observing my dire and parlous plight, yelled, “Don’t move. I’ll help you, sir.” Help me he did. In so doing he may well have spared me a trip to the emergency room for sutures in a very private place. “I’m Larry,” he said, gripping my forearm as I hopped gingerly off the booster bucket. “I’m the one who closed the gate. I’m very sorry, but I didn’t see you.” “Nor did I see you, sir. I was around back taking pictures of the trucks.” Turns out Larry lives behind on a flag lot and the driveway is shared. He kept apologizing. “No problem,” I said fecklessly and untruthfully. As Shakespeare once declared, all’s well that ends well, and this episode did. But for Larry’s rescue, I might still be on the fence, literally.

Sometimes I Do Act On Leads

Although most of my photography is the product of a go-hither-and-ye-shall-find-it approach, there are a few notable exceptions, these outings occasioned by leads.

buliding blog 10 ReflectionsThe truck triplets was pure treasure. Another fruitful find resulted from a phone call from my daughter Jessica. Calling by cell phone, she related excitedly, “Dad, we just passed a cool old truck you might find of interest.” She was on Hwy. 505, north of the Hwy. I-80 interchange near Sacramento. Giving me the GPS coordinates — thinking this might help, which it didn’t — she added, “The truck is parked along the highway. It reads ‘Frank’s Septic’ on the door and it has strands of Christmas lights draped on it. You can’t miss it.” I should hope not.

Days later, I headed out in search of Frank’s Septic truck. There it was, right where Jessica said I would find it. Unfortunately, it appeared inaccessible, parked a good 50 yards from the shoulder of the road and behind a chain link fence compliments of CalTrans. Dagnabit! I was not to be denied, however, as the truck appeared to have terrific potential. I exited the freeway at the next opportunity and circled about on a two-lane country road to where I thought the truck probably was parked. I nervously drove up the long, dirt driveway and knocked on the front door. A man appeared, appropriately clad in gravedigger undershirt and bib overalls.

I introduced myself and asked if I could take pictures of the truck. “It’s not mine,” he answered. “It’s the neighbor’s, but he’s not home and I’m sure it’s all right. Help yourself.” Help myself I did, taking a multitude of pictures of this discarded old Ford pickup. I’m glad I didn’t give up, because I got what I think are good shots that definitely are not run of the mill.

Not All Predators Have Four Legs

Save for the appearance of a property owner’s shotgun, I believe most would concur that to brazen interlopers like yours truly guard dogs pose the greatest risk to life and limb to uninvited “guests.” Although dogs get my unequivocal vote, I have learned the hard way that they are not the only adversaries.

One early morning in late June, en route to our refuge-from-the-madding-crowd cabin north of Lake Tahoe, I stopped to take fresh pictures of the roadside barn that bears the distinction of being my first to shoot since declaring myself to be at least somewhat in earnest of this peripatetic endeavor.

bridge blog 11 ReflectionsClad in shorts and sandals, I hopped out of the car, traipsed through tall grass, and started clicking away, oblivious that I was being nibbled on by flying insects of some variety. They literally left a lasting impression that I was welcome any time. Within minutes upon returning to the car, my bare arms and legs began itching fiercely. Mosquitoes, I assumed. Wrong.

From the solicitous drugstore clerk who rang up my code-blue bottle of calamine lotion did I learn that these buggers are known as buffalo gnats and that they feast on flesh – livestock or human — in early spring. Calamine lotion notwithstanding, welts soon appeared, and they did not go away for days. I had not been so devoured by flying varmints since attacked years earlier in the Adirondacks by a hungry army of black flies (much bigger than gnats, definitely visible and far more lethal). Lesson learned. Now, even on the hottest days, I wear a wide-brim hat, long pants, long socks into which cuffs are tucked, and my recently purchased Ex Officio long-sleeved shirt purported to be “insect repellent” and “good for 70 washings.” Was the buffalo gnat-attack shoot worth it? No way. Even had I taken prize-winning pictures, which I did not, it wasn’t worth it.

Magnificent Old Car Orphaned in Ghost Town

I have already identified what to date I consider to be my most photogenic truck to date, the World War II military transport flatbed car side blog 12 Reflectionsdiscovered within a stone’s throw of my home. What about cars? The nod goes to an old Plymouth that “spoke to me” as I entered Bodie State Historic Park near Mono Lake in the eastern Sierra of Northern California. What remains of this vehicle, which as best as I could tell (no identifying badges) is the carcass of a 1930s Plymouth, squatting firmly on the terra firma within the so-called ghost town of Bodie. Once a thriving and, by reputation, wildly lawless silver-mining town that by the late 1800s had grown to a population of 10,000, the last denizen blew out the kerosene lanterns before blowing out of town forever and ever. The contours of the car are terrific. As was true of automobiles of this era, its curves might have been the envy of Jean Harlow. I took the pictures mid-morning on a picture-perfect day. Lighting conditions could not have been more ideal. Shots of the front of the car benefited from sunlight behind me.

Many of the close-ups in the Cars and Trucks galleries are examples of what I would define as extreme editing, that is, pulling out all the stops, if you will, in transforming what the camera (and I) saw into an end product that many viewers, unless they knew to the contrary, would be surprised to learn was in fact a motor vehicle. These are what I lovingly, and, I think, not inaccurately, refer to as modern-art “impostors.” Tell me if you like them, and whether you agree that they could pass as modern art (think posterized art popularized in the Seventies, mainly by a graphic artist named Peter Max). Numerous examples can be found in virtually any gallery in the Rustic Relics collection. Once you have viewed them, you may gain a better understanding of why I describe my work as “interpretive” photography.

Best Marketing Avenue is Axiomatic

It is said that in real estate the three most important words are location, location and location. In the marketing of photography or any other art form, barn window blog 13 Reflectionsthe three most important words are exhibitions, exhibitions and exhibitions – putting one’s work in front of the general public (a.k.a. potential buyer).

My first show was at a small, independent coffee house in Lafayette named Panache Caffe. It consisted of 12 pieces, a representative sampling of both Rustic and Rusted images. The photograph winning the most popular acclaim is that of the exterior of a barn I found while driving the back roads near Bellingham, Wash.

My next exhibition will be this June, July and August at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. THT is considered the prime venue in town. Then comes Farley’s East cafe in downtown Oakland the entire month of September. No confirmed dates beyond this. If you are in the area, come by and have a peek. The exhibitions are free, of course, and, at Farley’s, you can also treat yourself to first-rate espresso drinks and deli sandwiches. (Trust me; this is the voice of an actual paying customer.)

Kudos To An Excellent Designer

I’d like to tip my cap in gratitude to the splendiferous work by Ali Franzen, creator of my website and this blog. She did a terrific job and is a joy to work with. I could not be more pleased. She also made revisions to my SmugMug homepage and, in addition, “optimized” everything so that, at least in theory, my website comes up in search engine scrums. Contact her at She is based in Novato, Calif.

Mr. Rural Americana

bio The Man Behind The Camera and The BlogI hadn’t picked up a camera since the seventies, when my children were small and I did my best to boost Kodak stock prices.

What prompted me, three decades later and now retired, to return to photography was largely happenstance. My wife and I had just finished building a vacation home near Lake Tahoe.

Aware that there would be vast expanses of wall space to decorate and lacking an art budget, we weighed “economy” options.

I had recently bought my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D60. Casting an eye at all of the farm and ranch land surrounding our getaway cabin, Pat said, “Why don’t you go out and take pictures of local barns with the new camera?” Indeed, why not.

Over a period of months – fall through spring – I drove about, looking for barns I might deem suitable for wall art. Within a fifty-mile radius, there are hundreds of barns. I didn’t take pictures willy-nilly, however. Most barns didn’t meet my criteria for one or more reasons. I was in search of barns ranging from slightly run down to ramshackle – barns with undeniable character, barns that “spoke to me.”

What began as a means-to-an-end lark rapidly grew into a serious hobby. I told myself I wasn’t going to take snapshots but rather photographs that would look good not only on our wall but any wall.

In the quest for barns I would not infrequently chance upon discarded cars and trucks, many of them literally put out to pasture, left to decay into oblivion.

Because I have always been a car buff, the possibility of finding serendipitous old vehicles whetted my desire to pick up my camera and go exploring for what I have come to call “abandoned art.”

Most of my shoots have been in California, and some of the best finds have been within a short drive of my home in the East Bay. Wherever I travel I always keep an eye peeled for photogenic objects depicting Rural Americana.

Few end-product images are “literal,” meaning what you see is what the camera saw. Almost without exception, what gets transferred from the memory card to the computer is edited, sometimes only lightly, but far more often than not, the images are moderately to severely modified mechanically, hence the term interpretive photography. Many of the close-ups of cars and trucks are manipulated in the extreme, rendering images meant to resemble modern art.

Formal training? None; entirely seat-of-pants.

I hope you like what you find in these galleries. Comments are more than welcome.

Thank you for the visit. Come back soon, as new photographs are added regularly.

~ Thomas F. Black