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Jul 25, 2018
"...he just ain't dumb enough to show me the bad ones..."
One day, a few years ago, as I was driving to Altus, Oklahoma, I passed through Hollis. Hollis like many rural communities has a lot of empty buildings, but it also has a lot of spirit Take this gas station which I spent a good two hours photographing:
I can't remember which side of Hollis I was on, east or west, but he passed right over the highway. The only way I can tell it, is he danced. Really, I am just a big kid. I love watching planes and hot rods and trains. So I decided to pull over and stop. His next pass I held my camera up for him to see and we looked square at each other. As he flew by he waggled his wings. For the next few passes, he did nothing out of the norm but just to watch this man's talent, how low he flew, how he snapped at the end of each row to turn. The kid in me thrilled at his skill. Then as the sun started to sink lower he stopped spraying and started to set himself up between me and the amazing sunset. There was nothing between me and the horizon except wheat this amazing crop duster. My guess is he was a photographer, it was as if he instinctively knew what I wanted. One last pass and flew right over me waggling his wings.
Now, this was a few years ago. And I had just been introduced to HDR photography and my camera was set to shoot in that mood. I was too excited to really check my settings so honestly, the majority of these photos didn't turn out so good. The one that did, ended up as part of a local collection in the Amarillo Urology and Associates clinic and as happenstance happens, a crop duster noticed it and tracked me down for a print.
The truth of the matter is this photo and the others are seriously flawed. I was not thinking at all when I shot at how fast the plane was moving. My fstop was too shallow and other technical issues that made me cringe when I got back home.
I never really showed anyone the photos except for the one that ended up in the Clinic. But my new friend who wanted a print asked me if I knew the tail number so I went back looking. You won't see many bad photos of mine. It's not that I don't goof up a shot. Its that ever time I look at a bad one, I chuckle and hear my father's hard advice.
I started doing photography seriously at 14. I had a neighbor who taught me how to develop black and white. At first, it didn't matter to me if the photo was good. Just the magic of watching an image appear out of the ether on that white paper under the red light was such a magical moment, I would show it off to the world. My father was patient with me for a while till the boredom of me showing horrible photos wore on him and he decided to nudge me to self-critique. "You know I never see any of John's bad or boring photos." John was our neighbor who was teaching how to develop my own film. I eyed my father with suspicion. I knew this tone of voice and the fact he was looking at me over his black horned rimmed glasses meant he was in teaching mode but I was confused. "I see a lot, he shows me his mistakes and tells me how not to do the same..." My father had a slight smirk on his face..."Yep, he is teaching you something, you are not teaching me and when he shows me his work, he is showing me his art, he just ain't dumb enough to show me the bad ones..." Ouch, to be called out on bad art and being dumb enough to brag on it all in the same sentence. Sometimes my father's lessons had a bit of sting to them, but you know, I still feel embarrassed when I think about it. Lesson learned. If I show a bad photo its largely because of an object lesson my like my teacher of old.
So back to the lousy set of photos I took of the crop duster. Time marches on and three years later I still have the photos. I back everything up on the cloud and since space is not an issue, 13 terabytes later I could find the series. The other thing that happened with time is my editing skills have gotten better. I am not a "fix it in post" kind of guy. I do my damnedest to make sure I nail the shot. But I love editing too, for me, that is just as much a part of the art. So when I looked at this photo, I decided to see if I could rescue it. Its kind of sad, I look at this photo and wish the skills I have picked up since then could have helped me then. But all in all, I think the romance of the moment comes through.
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