Walk on the wild slide
[Today’s impromptu post was tossed together from a fortuitous confluence of events over the past week. It may be a bit ragged around the edges as I am eyeball deep in learning curves, so bear with me.]
California is a quirky, contradictory state. On the one hand, it has sophisticated cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, on the other it is home to the cowboy culture of Bakersfield and Newhall, the very rural, very russet area of Barstow and ole Mentryville, a real ghost town where Green Acres was filmed way back when. There are Orange and San Bernardino counties, Santa Paula to the north (coming up in a new series and post), the Antelope Valley with Tehachapi, Mojave, as well as Victorville and, right in my backyard, Little Rock. Yep, there is a Little Rock, California, 45 minutes east of Stepfordy Valencia.
If you want to travel to the mountains and then out to Las Vegas, the northern ‘back way’, as I have talked about before in my posts on Wrightwood and Big Bear Lake, you take Pear Blossom Highway east and go right through some of the strangest terrain and rustiest towns in North America. The agonized Joshua trees, anthropomorphic rock formations, and sprinting tumbleweeds are high desert signatures punctuating a wide swathe from the Central Valleys to the Nevada border.
Dotting the stark landscape along Pear Blossom are what look like abandoned shacks from its wild west days. They are actually going concerns: stores, the sheriff’s station, a post office, worry-beads of roadside stands selling cotton candy and garlic. You name it, it can be found in the slumbering hamlets that seem to have been lifted out of an old Gene Autry movie, right along the two lane desert highway. You might see a toilet with a mannequin rising up from it, holding artificial flowers and you will likely spot a horse or two.
Situated in the middle of this 19th century throwback is Charlie Brown’s. It is hard to describe this place unless you have been there. As they say, once you go, you get it. Charlie Browns is a haven for down-homey-ness and ‘stuff’. Let me hasten to add with due reverence and respect for the treasure that is rural America, Geoffrey and I love going there. Especially just before Christmas, for stocking stuffers.
There is a world existing in Little Rock that pours into Charlie Brown’s all day, every day and late into the night, around the calendar. No matter what time we have driven that highway, the parking lot at CB’s is jammed.
An exotic world awaits inside, country music blaring, Texas barbecue assaulting your nostrils, and the most incongruous collection of folks milling throughout its many rooms and out buildings, pushing bumpy, crooked-wheeled carts loaded with bulk items you can’t get just anywhere.
You can order rattlesnake sandwiches along with a rack of elk, dripping in grease. Guzzle down one of 101 cloying date shakes and top the whole thing off with a funnel cake oozing syrup and Pantone. There are dirt cheap prickly pears and candied cactus, a whole room of Coca Cola memorabilia, a Betty Boop nook, several outdoor picnic areas, a year-round Christmas hall, guns of all kinds, and a refrigerated chamber dedicated to impossible-to-find-elsewhere artisan sodas made with cane sugar. We stock up on carbonated creams like Craft Spicy Ginger Beer that boasts an eye-opening kick and Hippo Huckleberry, made by the same family since 1927. Of course there are over 50 types of fudge, like cinnamon pumpkin and cherry cheesecake, peanut butter maple, and the like, and dozens of hot, sweet and savory sauces and dips. If it aint salty, oily, or sugary, it ain’t offered at Charlie Brown’s.
The staff at Charlie Brown’s would not be out of place on Duck Dynasty but obviously live in the surrounding community. They are not the chi-chi bronzed babes and dudes that come to mind when you think Golden State. But it helps to remember that California is a western state established by plucky souls who arrived by wagon train, mule, and bipedal power. Time seems to have stopped in this backwater and every so often we immerse ourselves in it to remind us of living history, another time. When we visit Little Rock, we grunge down chameleon-like and avoid flinching when we hear ‘Howdy’, vibing instead on the thick atmospherics. And even though I might at one time have been embarrassed to even consider buying some of these sentimental tchotchkes that verge on being cringe-worthy, we did buy the sign about the Lab in honor of our pup.
All this week I have been busy with new software. I had to purchase an enormous and complicated program for my work that will require studying tutorials and then absorbing a fair amount of instructions for implementing it. But, I also took the 3 day intensive Creative Live seminar on the latest Lightroom cloud version that just came out. It was all day for three days and then I bought the entire class which came with a dozen PDFs, some presets plug-ins and 36 MP4 videos. We had a real-time chat room for discussions and were able to ask questions/get answers back in a live Q&A feed, simultaneously.
Lightroom is the Rolls Royce of photography software as far as I am concerned. Jared Platt, the Arizona photographer who taught the live class in Seattle, is an amazing instructor and one of the most organized artists I have ever seen. He took us from the very basics all the way up to making videos in Lightroom and posting directly to SmugMug, our websites or blogs and other social media. I filled up an entire notebook with his ideas and instructions, which started with how to apply an ingenious coding/naming system to all our photographs, making four full copies of the RAW files, turning them into DNGs in LR CC with metadata embedded — including GPS data so we can return to the exact spot we took pictures — arranging them in catalogues and then uploading the final processed JPEGs for electronic purposes and deleting them from our dedicated drives, to preserve valuable space.
Platt uses four drives that pop into a small, four-slot Raid I CRU dataport that sits on his work table at his studio. Then he carries additional drives in a pelican case that goes with him on the road, since he travels all over the world. With his system, there is no possibility of losing any of the hundreds of thousands of photos he takes each year and he syncs all his work in the cloud with LR CC, so he can move seamlessly from studio to home to plane to hotel and back, working on a single project the whole time. He is inspiring and I am completely revamping my system to match it to his.
The key with the drives he uses is that they are solid state and therefore far less likely to crash. He simply gets multiple 500 gigabyte drives that can pop in and out of his portable dataport, so they can be swapped and updated every twenty-four hours. He told us that even tapping one of the large non-solid state stand-alone drives like the ones I have (two terabyte and three terabyte) can ruin them and then the entire device has to be discarded. With his individual drives, if the dataport is damaged, the drive comes out and can be connected to his laptop or tablet directly through a USB port and cable or into a new dataport. So, in addition to my new office computer, my new lenses for the latest Nikon, and all this software, I will be purchasing a J-bod unit with at least two bays for these swappable solid state drives. Phew. I am no techie, but one almost has to be to do things properly.
He also reminded us that photography at its start was a science based on mathematics and physics, not an art. It has become increasingly attractive to artists and other creative specialists given all the newest technologies and software available — his favorite being Lightroom — but what many people lack is the knowledge of its exact technical parameters. That, in his opinion, is one of the differences between the true professional and those stabbing around in the medium. Most of us who are not professionally trained like Platt, who holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in photography, simply stumble along taking photographs that rarely live up to our expectations.
There is so much more information available on how to approach the entire process of photography methodically and wisely that it might worth looking into this three-day Lightroom CC class. As I am processing now, I simply run the relevant video on one computer screen while I work on my photographs on another.
In any case, I decided to round up some of my Mojave/San Bernardino/Antelope Valley shots, including some of Charlie Brown and practice the new things I learned. This is a sample of them. Now that I have the wilding bug, I plan to shoot an ongoing series, some of which I am currently sharing on Flickr and Instagram, each picture different and a sort of “wild card”, nothing connecting them except applying LR CC to some of my existing captures, which had not been shared previously, almost at random. Putting discipline and order to the chaos is one of my favorite things to do. I see myself as a photography hobbyist who really enjoys being an information designer/stylist and Lightroom helps me with both. Voilà, the title for my current passion and this post!
Images: Beth Byrnes/The Wild Slide series – Enlarge these shots to see the details, if you like.