My interest in photography began in the early 1970s. I had grown up with cameras, but until that time they were no more than a simple boxy device with which to document family and friends. When I look at my tattered old albums packed with fading pictures taped to construction paper pages, I see lots of poorly composed and poorly exposed images, partly due to the inadequate technology of the day and my ignorance in using it.
When I did decide the medium of photography was worth using for more than documenting friends and family my first progression was into arty, creative images. I have mentioned before that the great photographer, Man Ray, was my first inspiration, but now thinking about my photography of those days I am amused at my youth, and contemplate how far I have progressed and of course how far the technology has come.
I think my influence with the photography of landscapes and other subjects in nature may have begun with the early advertisements by the American Automobile Association. That organization was 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 big, four-door International vehicles with people poised on platforms on top with camera and binoculars in hand on a dirt road in the middle of “no-where North America”. It all looked very exciting.
Then I was introduced to the writings and photography of Ansel Adams, and saw pictures of him standing on a platform on top of a vehicle very much like those used by the American Automobile Association with his large format camera making wonderful photographs any scenic photographer would admire. So, I saved my dollars, sold my jaunty little MG Midget, that was so easy to get around in on 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 travel the back roads in a cool looking vehicle with my camera gleefully 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 my iPhone. 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 all this as I was heading towards the city of Kelowna last week. My wife and I left early so we could stop for some pictures and still be there for a 5PM appointment. My car of choice is now a Honda Accord. Comfortable, fuel-efficient and if I drop the back seat down I can carry lots of equipment. As I drove I mentally made photographic compositions of the countryside and thought about how nice the day was for photography.
I reminisced about the many times I have made this same drive over the years, and the different photographic equipment I have used to photograph many of the subjects and scenes I was driving past, and the different vehicles I have used, and we talked about how easy it is to make pictures today. As the cameras get better and better, and equipment like tripods and lenses get lighter, and our vehicles are more fuel efficient, the life of roadside photographers like me is just great.