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Monthly Archives: September 2019

Climate Strike, Spokane, Sept 20, 2019

 

Went to the Climate Strike event held in Spokane today–saw some signs worth commenting on–

 

Climate Strike, Spokane, Sept 20, 2019

 

Here are people on the front lines of what needs to be done–

 

Climate Strike, Spokane, Sept 20, 2019

 

The carbon fee (and a big one) and a per capita dividend is the only idea that I think works to properly price carbon–tax it when it comes out of the ground so it gets priced into everything, and give people a carbon quota–and a dividend based on that quota.  If you use more than your quota, you pay a stiff tax, if you use less than your quota, it’s like a guaranteed income.  But the “carbon fee” has to be high enough to change behavior–where we live, how we move around, how we heat and cool our homes.

 

Climate Strike, Spokane, Sept 20, 2019

 

And I love this sign–“don’t distract us with straws and light bulbs”–no kidding.  We have to start thinking about SUVs, cars, and central air conditioners.  Changing light bulbs is a very tiny step in the right direction, but it doesn’t get us anywhere close.  And straws are way down in the pixie dust.  And I love her T-shirt–“Make coffee, not war.”

 

 

“In order to make pictures that no one had made before, they [photographers] have to be attentive and imaginative, qualities partly assigned and partly chosen, but in any case ones that leave them vulnerable.  When Robert Frank put down his camera after photographing The Americans he could not so readily escape the sadness of the world as he recorded as could we when we closed the book.”

Robert Adams,  in Why People Photograph, Page 17.

 

“I’ve been wondering about Dostoyevsky. How can a man write so badly, so unbelievably badly, and make you feel so deeply?”

― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

 

While living in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, I made an appointment to go look at photographs in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  I learned that they had a complete set of prints from “The Americans”, and asked to see them.  When the boxes were brought out, I discovered a set of neutral toned  black and white prints that looked for all the world almost exactly like the images printed in the book—a little bigger—but there didn’t seem to be anything in the prints that I couldn’t learn from looking at the book.   I later learned that Frank had many orders for those prints, which he never seemed to get around to making.  Eventually he hired another printer to make sets to meet these orders.  I have no way of confirming this—but I’m sure the prints I saw at the Philadelphia Museum were made by someone else.

In 1994, I went to see the Robert Frank exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC with a friend.  I recall the walls were painted something very dark, maybe black.  The whole gallery felt like a funeral.  But the prints were unlike the ones I saw at the Philadelphia—these were cream colored, printed dark—moody.  I felt like these must have been printed by Frank himself—they were far from perfect prints, but they were raw and full of emotion.   After going through the whole show in silence, I realized that I wanted to discuss one of the images with my friend—we went back to look it again.  I realized that we were speaking in whispers, and that everyone else in the gallery was equally hushed.

 

Robert Frank, Hoover Dam, 1955

The image I wanted to discuss was titled “Hoover Dam, 1995”, which showed a post card rack at a souvenir stand, with  three cards:  the Grand Canyon on top, the Hoover Dam in the middle, and a mushroom cloud on the bottom.  What was evident in the photograph—but not in any of the reproductions I had seen before—was that someone—probably Frank himself—had arranged the postcards in the rack for maximum effect.  The top two were the only post cards in their slots, and the mushroom cloud was two identical cards in front of something else, as could be seen from the edges that didn’t match in the cards behind.  Diane Arbus noted that some photographers try to arrange what’s in front of the camera, while she tried to arrange herself to get the picture.  Which is not to say that one way of making pictures is better than the other.  Robert Frank obviously knew what he wanted, and he got the picture.

I’ve admired the work of Robert Frank, but, as implied by the quote from Robert Adams, sadness followed him–the death of his daughter Andrea in 1974, and the mental illness of and subsequent death of his son Pablo in 1994.  For much of his later life, Robert Frank lived as a recluse. And who could blame him.  But I’m grateful for the pictures he left us.  Especially the Hoover Dam picture.  What a summary of the history of the Western Landscape–pure genius.

Freeman, Spokane County, September 2012

When I moved to Spokane in 2012, I realized almost immediately that I was living on the edge of wheat country, and there were grain elevators I could photograph.  I began almost immediately—I have a handful of photographs I made while waiting for my credit check to run on my first apartment in Spokane on my first day living here.

 

Near Lind, Adams County, July 2018

 

In 2017, I arranged to show photographs at the Whitman County Library in Colfax, and decided that I was going to try to photograph every public grain elevator I could find in Whitman county.  At that point, I realized that the 8×10 view camera I was using was just too slow for the job—and a friend had passed on to me a tilt shift lens that I adapted to fit the front of my Sony digital camera—so I had the ability to use the digital camera with the perspective corrections of a view camera.  By the end of August, when the show went up, I had photographed 62 sites in Whitman County.

 

Alston, Douglas County, March 2019

 

Once I was “done” with Whitman County, I started working documenting places closer to home, in Spokane county—then west to Lincoln and Adams Counties in the summer of 2018.  I discovered that many of the elevators in those counties were part of the new Highline Grain Growers association, and I decided to try to photograph all of them—a total of 52 sites, including some in Douglas, Grant, Stevens, Okanogan, and Chelan Counties.

 

Bruce, Adams County, March 2019

From there, I decided to complete my survey of every grain elevator I could find in the Washington State, or at least those east of the Cascades.  I found a list “Public Grain Warehouses and Grain Dealers” published by the State of Washington, but realized that this list is incomplete—several large co-ops are not listed in this document, and the list also does not include abandoned elevators.

 

Fairfield, Spokane County, March 31, 2017

I could cover a lot of the territory on day trips from Spokane, but this summer I did two overnight trips to get some of the more distant elevators, including one trip to Walla Walla County, and a second trip to the Yakima Valley.  Those trips required a bit of planning—mapping out possible sites with the lists I had on hand, and then trying to find those elevators on Google Earth.

 

North Prosser, Benton County, August 2019

 

I’ve reached a point where I’ve located and photographed most of the elevators I’ve identified.  Out of 317 sites identified, I’m missing photographs of about a dozen.  I think I’m done looking for new elevators in Washington State.

I’m sure the project isn’t done, though. I’ve been documenting the destruction of some of the abandoned elevators, and I’m sure I’ll stumble across a few new ones.  But the active search is completed.

 

Basin City, Franklin County, August 2019

I’m kind of sorry I’m done with the project—I think my favorite part of the project was driving down country roads I’d have no other reason to travel on.  And finding an abandoned elevator—that was the payoff.

As a farm boy myself, what strikes me after looking at all these grain elevators is the relentless drive towards bigger farms, bigger fields, and bigger grain elevators.  A century ago, farmers carried their grain in sacks to the elevator in horse drawn wagons–so having an elevator within a few miles of the field was essential.  Now, tractor trailer trucks carry bulk grain up to 40 miles to massive rail or river terminals.  The small, old elevators are being abandoned, but they were built to last, and so they persist in the landscape, monuments to a slower time.