On a run up Moab way over the July 4th holidays two years back, my friend Tim Morse and I noticed, although this “log cabin” was built with AT&SF railroad ties, and the walls have begun to fall, that the old sod roof on the back half of the cabin is still intact. When I first started going to Moab, this cabin was still standing proud and holding it’s place in Time. It was old in 1996, yes, and yet stood firm, not fallen to the ravages of Time and vandals.
A few folks have asked why I designate between photographs and digital composite images. This shot began as a raw photo shot as is, with a little dinking around with camera settings in the field and basic darkroom practice once home with the goods. And yes, when observing things about me I do see some shots and right then assess them as “This is a photograph. Period.” And a lot of what are classical photographs do stem from these flurries of shots for the composites. Otherwise, there’s usually a digital composite build in mind when I shoot. I build images using a camera in similar ways as a painter builds a painting. I finally started calling it digital composite images back in the late 1990’s, for it was way too confusing to label anything a photograph, when it really was a multilayered, heavily manipulated build using many different component parts. In the America: Lost & Found series, to which this one belongs, almost all those component parts will be photographed on site, with an idea to composition, and many different frames shot at different settings and tweaks on the fly.
Usually when I’m shooting, if I see a subject, and compose it through viewfinder, I’m shooting at many different settings. It’s gotten down to a lexicon of various routines. Conditions at the time affect all of these things photographers enhance and compensate for in the field. Sun-drenched flat light, overcast, raining, night, gloaming, and even the harshest one of all, the dreaded high noon—that hellacious time when things present themselves in a radically different light shorn of most shadows. But not for composites.
A number of photographers through the history of the art have used various methods in the darkroom to enhance, sometimes almost “sculpt” very different looks from a shot made in the field. In that way, these works don’t stray too far afield from the methods of Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, or Aaron Siskind. They were the “Triple A’s” of darkroom manipulation magic.
The subjects at hand are a simple structure and entropy.
This cabin, which has stood for so many decades, was shot from a number of angles, with many frames shot from each separate tripod set-up. This resulted in about 15-25 images per position. They all get weeded through, selected for various reasons, portions, or at times for shifting light-play. Curated down later to the parts I want to use, I’ll then start building up a digital composite image with these root, or base shots.
I guess this all began because I am a painter, always have been, but one day, I realized the camera was really not unlike a tube of paint. Not quite, really, but also not so far away either. There are ways to make the process of making a photograph more organic, even random to an extreme degree. Then, sitting down to the challenge of “Hmmm…now that I see all these component parts, what can I do with all these puzzle pieces?” And so they become like puzzle parts, and the weaving begins in Photoshop.
Illustration: “Cross Tie Cabin” digital composite, from the “America: Lost & Found” series. Image Copyright Tom Ogburn. Words: All Rights Reserved.