Between LA and Texas - PART I

Lone Pine, California, July 13, 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

The beginning of roaming by car with camera goes back 13 years now, in California. I’d been experimenting with 8x10 Polaroid films in my Los Angeles studio and figured it might be interesting to take the big peel-apart films out on the road

I went up Highway 395, to start, which is where Lone Pine is, and began making exposures. It was 2006. I’d made pictures here and there in natural settings with smaller cameras and conventional films before that but it was on that first dedicated “photo road trip” with the old 8x10 view camera that the approach to photography that I’ve adhered to since was realized

That first road trip took me around a good portion of California. I made another trip around California with the same camera and films in 2007, and then with 35mm and medium format cameras I began exploring outside of California. In 2009, I covered about 4000 miles between California and Texas, exposing primarily 35mm black-and-white films and a few sheets of 4x5 Polaroid and Fuji peel-apart films

And now, a decade later, I’ve been back and forth between Los Angeles and Texas about a half-dozen times, maybe more

I’ve made it a point to revisit scenes that I’ve photographed before and photograph them again, with an interest in seeing the differences and similarities from the prior time to the present (photographer William Christenberry did this often in rural Alabama. His was some of the first photography I’d seen that uniquely resonated with me)

With multiple formats and both color and black-and-white films I’ve accumulated a good handful of photos of these locations from various periods during that time that I plan to eventually publish in a book

One of the locations I photographed on that first road trip back in 2006 was a forgotten cafe just off 395

In July 14, 2019, on the drive back to Texas from Los Angeles, I stopped at the old place and made new photographs. A lot had changed, mostly in the way of further degradation by time, as well as man’s influence

Being that I primarily go by way of Highway 40 from either Amboy or Barstow when heading east to Texas, taking 395 north this time before heading east meant it had been 13 years since I’d been there

The inside of the cafe as documented in 2006 on 8x10 Polaroid 809 film:

The inside of the cafe as documented July 14, 2019 on 120 Portra 400 film:

On the drive out to Los Angeles from Texas at the beginning of July we took the Highway 40 / Route 66 path, eventually cutting down to Amboy and Twentynine Palms / Joshua Tree / Yucca Valley, Morongo Valley, Cabazon, and then into Los Angeles, choosing to skip the 15 south from Barstow

In 2017 I’d taken roughly the same route with photographer Raymond Molinar on a drive out from Texas

After making our way into California, Ray and I met up with photographer Jon Beck and explored those same desert towns, as well as the Salton Sea area, to wrap up that trip. Met up with Jon again on this most recent trip, and while we explored Highway 62 as Ray and I had done with him two years ago, there was no Salton Sea this time

And now I was with photographer Eric Bouvet and my youngest boy Sonny, out for the first time with a film camera. He’s 7. He was using my Nikon 28ti and exposing rolls of Portra 160 and 400

I wasn’t sure how engaged Sonny would be but he was, absolutely. In the 3.5 days he and Eric and I were on the road, Sonny exposed nearly 8 rolls of film. And he seemed to know what he wanted to point the camera at. A really special experience for me to witness him take so enthusiastically to making pictures

After spending a week or so in Los Angeles, Sonny and I hit the road and headed back to Texas

It was July 13, and this time we were joined by Jon Beck and photographer Steve Reeves, who’d flown to Los Angeles from Dallas to make the trip back with us

Steve and his photographer wife Erin had spent a few days in 2017 tailing me on the road for a short stretch while I was making pictures for A PLAIN VIEW but this was mine and Steve’s first time on a photo road trip together. And mine and Jon’s first trip since 2009, when he joined me for a photo drive from Texas to Los Angeles

Highway 70 snaking its way through a canyon, Utah, on the way back to Texas, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

I’m pleased we went up 395. Most of the repeat photos have been made in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the California desert. And so it was nice to revisit 395, see the lay of the land these days. It had been too long. Beautiful stretch of California

From 395 we linked up with Highway 6, moved across Nevada, a first for me. And then Utah and Colorado, two states I hadn’t seen or made photographs in since the westbound trip from Texas with Jon back a decade ago. Down from there through New Mexico and finally southeast once more on Highway 287 from Amarillo, the exit and entry point of these road trips and a favorite highway of mine

Utah along Highway 70 was gorgeous. While ultimately redundant geography, one can’t help feeling compelled to stop often and document the staggering views of such places

Nevada, too, was stunning

Colorado, as well

Before landing in Grand Junction, CO, I was able to re-photograph a scene looking north from Highway 70 that I’d photographed back in 2009 and hadn’t seen since then (sparsely situated houses off in the distance dividing the highway and the mountains behind them)

From Grand Junction we headed south and then east, met up with 285 and then down into Taos, New Mexico, where we stayed a night

Woke up in Taos, ate breakfast, met some photographers at the Mexican eatery, headed south and stopped to see the famous and very well photo-documented San Francisco de Asis Church

Had never been there but had seen Ansel Adams’ and Paul Strand’s pictures of it

One of the reasons I choose to step back whenever possible when photographing something is that I find it vital to show what lay around, or in the way of it (when applicable); the scene of a place, or around something. The whole of it. Or at least a portion of the whole of it. A more objective view. Documenting not only context but the natural contrasts and contradictions that make up much of what and how we see is key for me—not being afraid of presenting reality, or, at the very least, offering an “alternative” view

At a place like this very famous church, most folks are going to be interested in the structure itself. And you can’t blame them; it’s beautiful

But I feel a strong sense of need to show a broader view, a more complete view, and, perhaps, a truer view

This sacred burial ground was surrounded by construction scraps and materials, bright orange construction cones, rundown buildings, innumerable vehicles, and a gift shop. At one point a UPS truck speedily and noisily drove into, around and then out of the plaza, its driver blasting Credence Clearwater Revival and moving about as frivolously as he might be if he were traversing a strip mall parking lot

Even the sacred things, and the beautiful natural things, are being disturbed or disrupted by something, in some way, always

Irony abounds, and it can be sad and it can be humorous. Strange, interesting, odd. Obvious, inconspicuous. But, still, it’s there

Environmental contrast and contradiction; these conflicts, this is where the questions are. And by this I am forever motivated

Gift shop t-shirts hanging in view of San Francisco de Asis Church, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

On the way out of Texas a few weeks prior we’d missed the light as we neared Amarillo heading northwest, and so I lost out on capturing again a few of the bits and pieces I like to revisit whenever out that way

But now, we had plenty of light, and good light

Since 2017, I’ve photographed the Sandell in Clarendon a few times, in both color and black-and-white

Often not much will change about a location. Maybe something has faded a bit more, or the grass is longer, or shorter, or the trees more full, or less so, or you’ll get different clouds, or it’ll be overcast or without clouds, dark, light, or dusk. Or you’ll just move around perhaps a bit differently than the time before and capture the thing from a new position, as was the case with the most recent exposure of the Sandell in Clarendon, Texas, which also includes its reflection in a foreground puddle

But while naturally interested in what may be different about a view with each new landing somewhere, or wanting to see it a bit differently than we did the time before, we simply want to see these things again, because we know them now. If nothing else, they are landmarks, reminders. But the returning to familiar views, there’s something special about it, and it becomes personal. It becomes important somehow. These simple American scenes; this life out there; the odds and ends, the quiet, the strange, the beautiful, and what remains; the lay of the land as it lay, and noticing it, paying it mind, and allowing yourself to be drawn to it, this is the driving force. The curiosity. But admiration, too. And the admiration seems to grow with each new visit somewhere

Sandell, Clarendon, TX, Highway 287, 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Another productive and enjoyable bit of time on the road, with many more repeat photos added to the growing collection

And with the company of not only some great friends but of my boy Sonny, who will forever have his own film photos to enjoy for years to come

And, according to him, it won’t be his last photo road trip …

Texas highways, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Texas, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Texas, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Colorado, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

I.O.O.F. from the Memphis, TX, overpass above Highway 287, 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Memphis, TX, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Utah, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Childress, TX, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Colorado, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Santa Rosa, NM, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Tucumcari, NM, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Colorado, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Highway 287, Texas, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Seligman, AZ, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Nevada / Utah border, July 2019 - 120 Portra (6x7)

Another entry to follow that will feature a selection of black-and-white photos from these recent trips, as well as a selection of companion photos from the archives ...

Jason Lee