Untitled Masterpiece # P01312-A
80 miles East of Clovis, NM.
Now I only do highly competitive highway photography. Anyone can take a Fuji X-Pro3 or a Leica Q2 to a crowded, urban downtown street and, if they work diligently and with true intentions, they can probably get something good enough to toss onto a share site or Youtube. Me? I needed more challenges than mere street photography so I went out for the visual sport where you really have to work, compete, sweat and exert to get anything at all interesting in your frame. (yep. It's all about the highway...)
If you are an urban street shooter chances are you're 50 feet or less from the closest coffee shop and rest rooms are one hotel lobby away. Not out in the highway zone. Nope, if you want coffee you'll need to plan ahead and fill that Thermos with something hot and dark a couple hundred miles back. And if you need to answer the "call of nature" you'll need to step over a rattlesnake or two and go behind a tumbleweed or a tattered billboard. You could just stand by the side of the road and pee but the universe is silly and fickle and you'd probably have the first car of the day pass just at that moment. Followed by a highway patrol car...
Highway photography is going to be the next, highly competitive "visual sport" of the century. While there is no rule book we can make up some as we go. The camera and lens don't matter and phone-genesis photos are just as well accepted as those pictures popping out of an 8x10 view camera. You can learn more in the previous issue of "Obscure Sports Quarterly." It's the very next article after the one on competitive dodge ball....
I'm noticing more and more work by unsung heroes of the blacktop. There are several English practitioners who specialize in overcast roadways bordered with thickets and several Canadians who seem to dominate the art with images constantly included in another little known publication called, "Frostbitten Fingers." It's dedicated to the niche of the highway art that is obsessed with winter roadway shooting. If you want to learn that specialized sort of expertise I'm told you should take a workshop. They generally start by teaching newbies how to shovel off the snow in order to reveal the highway for shooting. It can be quite physical. But the exertion seems to drive greater creativity! It's a Zen koan sort of activity...
I'm relatively new at highway photography. New to the sport of it, that is. If I decide to turn pro I can look forward to all kinds of fun acquisitions. I'll need a tall Mercedes Sprinter van so can I build build a shooting rack on the rooftop. That's so I can get my camera way up off the road for a less "flat" perspective. Points are given and taken away for the creative merits of a homemade roof rack but unless the roof rack can be scored by some objective measure methinks it be a fool's errand. Perchance.
I had my first glancing experience with highway-tography many years ago when I happened to be out on West Texas farm-to-market road 13, between Terilingua, Texas and Deathtrap, Texas when my ancient Buick Wildcat had a flat tire. I discovered that someone had borrowed the lug wrench from my car's trunk so I was essentially moored until I could flag down a passing car and ask for help. The only problem being that the frequency of passing cars was near zero--- per day. The eight track player in my car was on the fritz, I couldn't even tune in an AM radio station but I did have a camera with half a roll of unexposed, hand-rolled Tri-X film in it. So I spent some time carefully composing the mix of bubbling tar, mosquitos bigger than my hiking boots and heat waves so festive it was like reality fairies dancing down the road, semi-transparently, in front of me. Heat exhaustion and dire dehydration played a part, I think, in my fascination that day...
There is no doubt that highway imaging can be subtle to the point of being opaque but I'm sure that over the course of several hundred long and detailed blog posts about the subject you'll be up to speed and ready to play along too. You might want to start your education over at the BBC Broadcasting which, on channel 37, carries about 35 hours a week of slideshows of various views of....highways. Along with over the shoulder video shots of working "highway men" pointed their cameras hither and yon in order to entertain what I understand to be a very dedicated online audience of elite aficionados of the craft/art/sport. You'll be betwinkled by some of the wide-ranging interviews with the HCBs and Avedons of the sport. They've got hours and hours of them.
This sort of work takes concentration, incomparable hand skills and much practice. The elite highway photo persons train for hours each day to stay on the razor's edge of fitness. There are pre-visualization exercises, lens changing drills and much more. To see a competitive match between two high ranking pros for the first time is to really understand the power of your own adrenaline. Some of the shooters are so engaged during a session that they can lose up to five pounds of body weight just by sweating. And that's in mild Spring weather in places like Texas. So, of course, physical fitness is a given.
Try your hand at it and remember...if you find the "art of asphalt" a bit opaque and initially frustrating to master (or even understand the rationale for) ...I'll be putting together exhaustive one week workshops to help you hone your craft and develop an initial working style that will put you on your road to professional highway photography. Then you can take my advanced workshop which is all about building your audience. It's riveting. Breathtaking.
All you need is a camera and a reliable car. To think I spent so many years at a prestigious college just to end up having to learn all this on my own in the school of highway life. The world is full of potholes. Try to be the wheel that dodges them. GAME ON!!!
Untitled study in frame bisection. Vignetting included in the natural course of the process.
Keep you cup holders at the ready.
So glad to see some parts of photography finally moving from craft to sport!!!