WINDOWS INTO THE PAST

Imagine this, any photographic image is a window into the past. The moment in time frozen in that image is gone seconds after it was captured.
So, when an image is manipulated, edited, or “photoshopped”, it becomes a fictional representation of a moment in time. Now, with these profound thoughts in mind, the question I must ask is this. If a manipulated image is no longer a true photograph is it art? If so, at what point does it become art?

Foss, Oklahoma

Those who follow the blog will understand this train of thought began with my efforts to capture images that invoke the ghost town feel for a series of prints that will accompany the release of my new book, Ghost Towns of Route 66. My wife and I have photographed many ghost towns in the desert southwest and along Route 66. In my humble opinion, on more than one occasion we have captured the feel of the ghost town with its sense of abandonment but not the spirit, not the essence.
So, after reading several articles on the manipulation of digital images my curiosity got the best of me. Would it be possible to manipulate an image in such a manner it would be deemed as artistic in nature? Would it be possible to create a manipulated image that captured the very essence of the ghost town by conveying the sense that in these places the past lurks just out of sight behind a facade of ruin and abandonment?
My initial endeavors missed the mark but were still quite interesting. In these I was able to transform a sunny day into a colorful sunrise and alter the background just enough to present the faintest illusion of the image being a three dimensional view into a moment in time now past.

The ghosts of Foss

After more reading and more experimentation, I discovered the world of altered negatives, a process that dates to at least the work of Mathew Brady during the Civil War. Now my curiosity had become an obsession. Perhaps I could capture the feel that in ghost towns the curtain that separates the past from the present is a very thin veil.
As I manipulated images it was with rapt attention that I watched and examined the transition as the lights came on in an empty ruin and again there was a sense of life, of vitality in a very dead place.

The ghosts of Afton

I have yet to hit the mark. On more than one occasion the desired affect was lost and the scene became a ghostly, neon window into the world of Dr. Seuss. As interesting as these scenes were, they lacked the essence and feel I was trying to convey.
Empty buildings and empty towns were my first subjects in the experimentation to breathe life into the dead. However, it wasn’t long before my long association and fascination with empty desert highways led me onto a new path.
It would be impossible to count the times I have rolled across the desert in the hours before dawn and felt that my headlights were peering into the past, not just pushing aside the curtain of darkness that engulfed me.

Many years ago while rolling across the deserts of southwestern Arizona under a starless sky that almost made me feel as though I was traversing a bottomless sea of ink, my imagination turned toward thoughts of those who might have driven the road long before my birth. Igniting these flights of fancy were the hypnotizing, rhythmic clatter of my motor, the whine of worn gears and tires on the warm asphalt, and the dim glow of the lights that emanated from the dash of my ’46 GMC.
Then, far off in the distance, a pair of faded yellow lights appeared as candles on the horizon, vanished as they dipped below a hill, and appeared again but only slightly brighter.
The lights drew closer but only weakly parted the darkness. On the warm, sage scented breeze that embraced me there was the faintest sound of an ancient engine laboring up the grades. And then in an instant it was upon me and past with only a fast fading dim red glow to mark its passing.
That Model A Ford, that was old when my vintage truck was new, completed the illusion that this old highway traversed more than miles, it spanned the years as a bridge between the past and the present. To this day, when alone with my thoughts on a dark desert highway, my imagination takes flight and again I expect that phantom Ford to glide from the past into the present and then again slip into the past as the veil of darkness closes behind it. .

Yes, I have a vivid imagination, and yes that is at the heart of my quests to capture the ghosts of Route 66 and the lost highway.