Ageing – Not Gracefully

This old lumber truck has been the subject of many of my photographs over the last ten years. It sits at the side of a dead-end country lane in the Texas Hill country next to a family run saw mill. I first photographed it on a sunny spring day when flowers were blooming through the rotting planks of the long flat bed. The scene was quite beautiful almost like a postcard of rural tranquility.

The truck was mostly intact the first time I saw it except for the wooden planking of the bed. The key was still in the ignition like someone had thrown their work gloves on the dash and stepped out after a day’s work. The years have taken a toll on the old truck. Someone broke out the side windows and mirrors to allow rain to eat at the interior of the cab. It also looks like a raccoon nested inside one winter. The sad signs of abandonment and terminal decline are evident.

As a subject the old truck just keeps getting more photogenic with each visit. It is settling onto the landscape and becoming a little more organic, if steel can ever be said to be organic, every day. An artifact of twentieth century American manufacturing prowess turned signature of Rustbelt glory.

Somehow in the post industrial twenty first century products just appear from somewhere, who knows where, for us to enjoy. We have no need for the cold hard steel that made us who we once were. My twentieth century immigrant grandfather, uncles and cousins who worked the railroad shops as machinists and tool makers would be lost here.

There is no room for nostalgia about the twentieth century. Too soon, too many souls are still around to tell it like it was. There is insufficient time yet for history to apply varnish to the old century. There is still too much evidence left to allow for a good story.

Evidence Of Life

Old habits die hard. One of mine is driving country roads early in the morning before most people are outside. Sunday morning was my preferred time for solo motorcycle rides. Unfortunately I didn’t own a camera in those days so I have thirty years of memories but no pictures. Memories are probably better anyway.

Here in Texas the rural landscape is dotted with old buildings and machines. These days it is fashionable to photograph abandoned structures. Some are quite beautiful as ruins. My interest in abandoned places is not about the structures themselves but the people who inhabited them. Except for monuments, buildings generally serve a fundamental human purpose for shelter or common gatherings. People have always defined buildings through use.

There are lots of interesting places to explore on the Texas back roads. Many are on private property and inaccessible but a few are visible from public areas. They draw my attention immediately. This old post office and general store is just off the side of a county road. Judging by the construction it was probably built in the early twentieth century. From the artifacts and signage around the buildings it was still being used up until the nineteen sixties or even seventies.

The simple false front mercantile building with attached residence was constructed of rough sawn lumber from a nearby sawmill. It would not have been out of place on the frontier of the nineteenth century. The handmade wrought iron work was almost certainly done by a local blacksmith. All this is evidence of a community improving life for itself. This place was part of a world of personal relationships where friends were people you looked in the eye when you spoke.

Today many people commute twenty five miles every day without a second thought. A hundred years ago that may have been something families did once a week if they owned an automobile or maybe once a month by wagon. Places like a local post office were very important. They provided a portal to the world for rural families.

Artifacts around the building provide a sense of another era far from our daily lives. I doubt many people today ever see cigarette advertising stickers such as those on the doors. For that matter you won’t find swinging screen doors on most grocery stores. I doubt if people still use general delivery mail service outside of wilderness areas. They are just the small things of daily life that are swept away and forgotten.

Emotional Seeing

The one constant of online photography forums is that people are always ready to tell you how to make good photographs. There is sage advice literally at your fingertips. So many experts and all are hanging out on amateur photography sites. Are they experts? Not so much. They all seem to have read the same photography fundamentals manual. That must count for something.

Just to be clear I’m not an expert, only a seeker of knowledge. My chops as a non-professional photographer are meager. My advice about ‘how to do photography’ is worth absolutely nothing. Actually I do know one thing. When someone sees a photograph for the first time they form an instant opinion of the image. That immediate evaluation has something to do with emotion and nothing at all to do with technical details. That comes later.

As every good marketer will tell you the emotional hook is what keeps people interested in something long enough to consider other possibilities. Unfortunately for those of us who are trying to learn photography informally, the internet gurus don’t get it. They know the formula and nothing else matters.

Are there any options for the unfortunate autodidact wannabe photographer? Yes, there are. My poor advice is to learn a few fundamentals then go on about making the images you find interesting. As I warned earlier my advice is worth absolutely nothing.

If you persist in making photographs for long enough you will either get better or quit. I’m still on the knife edge myself.