Month: July 2011

BRIGHT IDEA

Posted by – July 18, 2011

This montage shot pays tribute to “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” Thomas Alva Edison, the third-most-prolific inventor in history. (Geek Alert: the montage was accomplished using five view cameras set up in the studio, moving the film holder from set to set, layering the exposures.  I also utilized in-camera-masking, gaff tape, gobos and incantations to the gods of benevolent serendipity.

Edison’s many inventions, such as the phonograph, the motion picture camera and, most notable to me, the incandescent light bulb, continue to influence life around the world.

Light is essential to how I make a living (“photography” actually means “writing with light”). It is my master and I am its willing servant. So I’m acutely aware that familiar tungsten light bulb is due to be phased out in the US by 2014, making way for more energy-efficient alternatives.  In addition to saving money the new “bulbs” are supposed to lower greenhouse gasses.

What was once considered to be a stroke of genius now seems destined for the scrap heap of history.  They tell me this is a good thing and it probably is, but have you ever tried to snuggle down with a good book in the glow of a florescent tube that resembles an ice cream cone?  The cyan transmission does drive the darkness away, but it seems to chase the romance out of the room, as well.

What would Edison think?  History gives us a clue: he would have re-invented the light bulb decades ago, using the same perseverance and ingenuity that enabled him to invent the light bulb in the first place.

Fear not the future.

A CAPITAL LOSS

Posted by – July 5, 2011

I grew up in Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Shawneetown, Illinois.  At the time, the legal drinking age in Illinois was 18, but the local watering holes had a very liberal interpretation of that statute.  We misspent more than a few nights of our youth there, contributing to the local economy at places like Hog Daddy’s Saloon, which at that time were about all the remaining commerce the dying town had.

Among our many misconceptions was that Shawneetown was the first sate capital.  Actually, it was home to the first bank charted in Illinois.  In addition to other dubious distinctions from its municipal past, the town had refused to buy the first bonds issued by the City of Chicago, stating, “No city located that far from a navigable river could survive.”  This picture is actually of the town’s second bank, considered to be a fine example of Greek revival architecture.

At one time, this US Government center for the Northwest Territory was an integral link to the new frontier.  Lewis and Clark may (or may not) have slept here.  It was one of only two towns chartered by the Federal Government, the other being Washington, D.C.

Today, the river that was once the town’s ally has become the town’s enemy.  The series of locks, dams, levees and floodwalls that made our rivers commercially viable have made small towns like Shawneetown susceptible to flooding.  Think Cairo, IL.  Many have simply closed their City Halls and called it quits.

When I went back to shoot this photo, I discovered that even Hog Daddy’s Saloon had closed.  These are hard times for small towns.