I recently talked to a long time photographer that said the landscape photography in early advertisements by the American Automobile Association was what got him into photography. That organization was once the best place to get maps for road trips in North America. They sent their employees out, with cameras and mapping instruments, across the continent finding the best and most scenic routes. I remember seeing pictures of their big, four-door cargo vehicles with people poised on platforms on top of the vehicle with large tripod mounted 8×10 cameras on some obscure dirt road in the middle of North America. It all looked very exciting.
We both remembered pictures of Ansel Adams standing on a platform on top of a vehicle very much like those used by the American Automobile Association with his large camera making wonderful photographs that scenic photographers still admire. I actually sold my jaunty, little, two-seater MG that was so easy to get around the streets of Los Angeles, and bought a bright yellow International Scout 4×4. Underpowered, poor turning capability, uncomfortable on long trips with back seats that were only accessed by climbing over a metal barrier behind the front seats, it was perfect in my young mind and meant that I, like Ansel Adams and the folks from the AAA, could gleefully travel the back roads in a cool looking vehicle with my camera capturing the natural world on film.
Years have passed, and technology has changed, and so have I. There are still lots of back roads to explore and photograph, but the days of climbing on my car roof are long gone. The American Automobile Association no longer explores the country, and today I check maps on line or my cell phone. I don’t need a large 8×10 view camera like Ansel Adams used with the accompanying long hours working in a chemical darkroom to make good enlargements, and certainly don’t want to drive around in that uncomfortable, gas guzzling International anymore.
I thought about that conversation and the many scenic photographs I have made while driving along the South Thompson River towards Kamloops, British Columbia as I pulled off the road to meet up with fellow photographer Peter Evans. Evans and I were hoping the sun on the gray, overcast day would poke through the clouds enough for us to make some worthwhile pictures. We had headed out on the snow-covered roads without a plan. Not the best way to success, but both of us just wanted to get out. We drove along the highway photographing horses, snow covered trees, and Evans even jumped out trying for some photos of distant deer bounding through a meadow. There were lots of opportunities in spite of the flat light, but our main problem was getting my car far enough off the snow lined highway so as not to be clipped by large passing transport trucks.
We stopped and wandered along the Shuswap Lake in the small town of Chase , and photographed the pier, reflections in the water, and trees along the white icy shore. When the sun finally peaked though and we dashed back to the car, our goal to catch the sun along the river near a bridge that crosses the Thompson River a few miles from where we were. Chasing the sun seems to be part of roadside photography sometimes.
By the time we reached the Pritchard river crossing the sun was creating diagonal shafts of light that slowly illuminated some features in the landscape, and then in minutes moved leaving them absent of light.
We parked and rushed on to the bridge, yelling at each other, “look, look, look”. Then in spite of cars crossing the narrow bridge, we stood by the railings and shot away. The river scene was exciting, and I constantly altered my meter trying to keep the exposure under the fast moving light. Then in about ten minutes the sun moved into the clouds and dropped behind distant hills and the sky, hills, and river were back to unexciting flat light. However, we were like two happy young kids as returned to the car talking about our luck with the light.
That’s what I call a good day of roadside photography. Pictures of running horses, reflections on the lake, cool shots of the Chase pier, all capped with luminous pictures of the river and I didn’t even need a platform mounted on a gas guzzling vehicle, a big heavy camera, or back roads.
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