June 2011 Photo Road Trip
From Erie, PA to Kansas, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and back.
First stop: James Penquite; Delphos, Kansas
(please click above link for Penquite visit page)
Second stop: Melvin Gould; Cheyenne, Wyoming
|Melvin Gould, Cheyenne, WY
(please click above link for Gould visit page) in preparation
Third stop: Cano Espinoza; Antonito, Colorado
Cano Espinoza; Antonito, Colorado
(please click above link for Espinoza visit page) in preparation
As I was leaving Colorado for my motel in Dodge City, KS, I stopped to photograph a VFW Post in Las Animas that I had seen (under bad lighting c0onditions) last year:
Fourth stop: MT Liggett; Mullinville, Kansas (’09)
|MT Liggett, Mullinville, Kansas (’09)|
I pushed to leave Cano’s early enough that I could get to MT’s in time for a late day/ dusk shot, and the weather rewarded my effort with a clear sky and a dramatic Kansas weather front on the horizon. I just had time to set up the 8×10 film camera and the strobes for fill light. On the way, I thought I passed a wild-eyed MT in his pick-up truck heading towards Dodge City– as confirmed by him the next day.
Last year, MT asked me to photograph him with a judge from Arizona who had come to visit and whose name “Macbeth” amused him. He has many classically based figures among the totems, and was all excited to erect one for her. A year later, there is was:
In previous years MT would always show up just as I, or Cheryl and I, were about to finish our meals in Mullinville’s only restaurant and insist on paying for us. Last year the town’s nearby gas station was closed, but this time it had re-opened and the restaurant was closed. Its a modern style gas station with a small eating area, and has taken over as the social hub of Mullinville. The next morning as I was checking out, the young lady cashier exclaimed, “oh, no– let me go on break.” I looked out the windows, and sure enough, MT was on his way in. The cashier said, “usually he’s pretty nice, but sometimes he drives me crazy.” I assured her that I “would take care of it,” and greeted MT as he was coming in. He was pleased to see me, and is always impressed by the number of my return visits since 2006. (I had sent him a postcard to let him know that I would be heading through in mid-June) Despite his somewhat gruff demeanor, MT always insisted as well on giving me sculptures in exchange for the prints I’ve sent, and in 2009, he invited Cheryl and I to stay a couple nights with him in his house– a classic messy bachelor’s pad with guns, ammo, and knives hanging about. I’ll never forget the amusing non sequitur image of Cheryl sitting in his living room easy chair– and what a saint she is!
Now in his early 80’s, MT’s works, perhaps as always in defiance, have tended in recent years to get bigger, and are more likely to be unpainted. Less like sardonic cartoon cut-outs– more like pure raw metal figurative sculpture. MT’s totem field is something of a personal scrapbook writ large, a public airing in hard copy of his thoughts on contemporary times, a folk art Mt. Rushmore, and for people he doesn’t like: MT’s doghouse inferno. Not, I think, being in the last category, I was delighted to see that my Maxi-Me “Sir Frederick” was still striding above the Kansas plains. Before we left in ’09 he announced that I was going to be immortalized, but when I snuck back and looked around in 2010, I saw no sign of myself– however as soon as MT realized I was lurking about, he asked if I would be around for a couple days while he made my totem. There I was, in MT’s workshop, to witness my own birth, and I managed to help him plant my hoofs firmly against the prairie winds. I can’t help flattering myself with the hope that MT might think I’m almost as bull-headed as he is!
Fifth stop: Wichita, KS
Before visiting James Penquite at the VA hospital in Wichita (see above), I photographed a tattooed tattoo shop under the interstate near my motel on the outskirts of town.
Undisputed Tattoo; Wichita, KS
Jerry Hubble’s “Hubble’s Rubble;” Howard, KS 2011
On the way to Tennessee, I stopped off in Howard, Kansas to visit Jerry Hubble’s ‘Hubble’s Rubble.’ I didn’t see Mr. Hubble, but enjoyed photographing the animated pop-culture inspired figures that populate his property.
Sixth stop: Billy Tripp’s Mindfield; Brownsville, TN
Next stop was the motel under the Mindfield in Brownsville, TN. Like a secular cathedral, the Mindfield is being built over decades (he began work in 1989), and is a life’s project. Billy told me that he has written permission from the local government to be buried on the site. Its clear that he thinks of its present state as being sparse compared to future plans– which in the short term includes integrating parts of a Drive-In theater. I had sent Billy an email with my expected arrival date, and before I got in later that night he had looked for a Pennsylvania license plate in the motel parking lot. He seemed pleased that I was back for my third visit, and I assured him that even without all the changes since since ’09, I was sure the Mindfield contained many more photo ops to be discovered. Billy has installed industrial lights which transform the nighttime Mindfield into a whole new science fiction-like surreal experience. He adjusted the timer for me to make sure the lights come on in time for a dusk shot– while there is still light in the sky. There is only time to attempt a single 8×10 film camera dusk shot per night– it has to be set up well ahead of time (while its still possible to see the full image in the camera), and a clear blue sky works best.
Billy has put Endura, Kodak’s archival color photo printing paper to a rather extreme test, but these have no doubt been seen by more people than any of my other exhibition prints! We’ll see if any from the new set appear on the walls of the Billy Tripp truck gallery….
Nighttime at the Mindfield:
Last stop: Robert Morgan exhibition at the Kentucky Folk Art Center
And finally it was off to Morehead, KY to rendezvous with Bob Morgan (see March 2011 Roadtrip blog) at his exhibition: “The Age of Discovery”. Bob was scheduled to meet Larry Harris’ (AKA Narrow Larry) tour group from Texas there– having just come from his house in Lexington, and this lucky schedule overlap brought Larry and I to the same place for the first time. It was great to meet such a tireless art aficionado in person, and to exchange many tales of travel. The KFAC chose my portrait of Bob for the exhibition wall statement– full circle from Director Adrian Swain having put me in touch with Robert. After shooting mostly video, I drove Bob back to Lexington (his truck had sprung an oil leak from an undetermined place), and shot stills of his living room lampshade (!)– to drop on top of the same overexposed lampshade in several of my video takes from March. Bob’s backyard studio area had three ‘victims’ of the art-making process hung up to cure.
The next day it was back home– with lots of new 0&1 arrangements on my memory cards, mini-DV video tapes, and the latent imprint of light from distant places on a couple dozen sheets of 8×10 inch color negative film.