Memorial Highway – One Week In The Peace Garden State


At the end of June, 2013, my family and I took my father on a week long trip to North Dakota to visit his remaining family and friends.  My father is in his 80s, and I only half-jokingly called it The Farewell Tour.  I don’t think I’m too far off.

I also took my camera.

I’ve written before about how I felt the trip went, so I won’t rehash any of those details here.  Now, I just want to focus on the finished result, the book of photographs that came from that trip: Memorial Highway – One Week In The Peace Garden State.

First, why do a book?  It’s a fair question.  I was only there one week, I visited a limited number of places.  There was no way I could make a comprehensive study of the land, or it’s people.  It could only be a sketch, at best, as opposed to a fully formed work.

The answer to the question of “Why” is mainly this: I wanted to see if I could.  I wanted to see if the pictures that I took were of a high enough quality to really put out there.  And, I wanted to challenge myself to process them to their fullest, assemble the pictures in a coherent, thematic manner, and see if I had it in me to produce a fully realized piece of art.  And, I think I have succeeded.

The idea to pursue this, however, originally came out of the fact that I was really liking what was happening. I started taking pictures the first day we arrived.  More out of compulsion than anything else.  I know there are people who understand this.  This is what we do, without any prompting.  Creative people are like this.  We create, with the same forethought that we put into our breathing.  It is simply part of our nature.  It is what we do.

I had no plans at the start.  We were here for my father, after all.  But then, from an early stage in the trip, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on to something.  I can even almost pinpoint the exact picture when this started.

It was with this picture.

Gun City

This really stands as one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. It is a great mix of very simple elements coming together to form something greater than the sum of its parts.  It is totally in my style, it has some weight, but allows the viewer to form their own opinions.  And it’s got a cool truck in it.

And, again, as soon as I pressed the shutter I thought, “I am on to something here.”

After this I started really thinking about not just documenting this trip, but truly exploring.  Trying to break on through, as it were.  I started to find a vision and a purpose in my work there.  And, when I got back and started going through all my shots, I knew without a doubt that I captured something special.  Certainly not comprehensive in scope, but sometime a few words can speak volumes.

Another important point is that this book is truly a testament to how great the Pentax K-01 is. I only took the one body and it never missed a beat.  It never failed, it never faltered, I don’t think it ever even broke a sweat.  Through the rain (literally) and the miles of traveling, my Pentax K-01 was the real trouper of the trip.  The best $299 I have ever spent, FACT.

Know this, on this trip I only took one camera, the K-01, and two lenses,  a Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 and a Pentax 35mm DA f/2.4, and a polarizing filter for each lens.  That’s it.  That’s all the gear I carried.  Plus, these photos were processed with Adobe Lightroom 3 and Photoshop Elements 9.  No added plug-ins, no other Creative Suite software, nothing.

Don’t tell me you need a lot of money to make great pictures.

The book isn’t perfect.  There are some things that bother me.  First, I totally forgot to put my link anywhere in the book.  Drat.  Second, I think my face looks WAY too red on the back cover.  Third, I think there might be too many cars.  Not sure, but I’m just sayin’.  And, I think needs more people.  My work always needs more people.  I’m sure there are other things that bug me, but those are the ones that have really stuck in my craw since I uploaded the book to Blurb.

Lastly, this book was a trial run for my book about Las Vegas.  Back in May,  I had written a post detailing my progress.  I ended by saying that I had a lot of work to do.  Brother, you  have no idea.

Because of the North Dakota book, I have come to totally reevaluate the layout of my Las Vegas book.  Also, because of the outstanding quality of the shots in the North Dakota book, I’m thinking about reworking a lot of my Las Vegas shots.  Again.  For the third or forth time, in some cases.

But I know that that work is going to be just as amazing as this.  It is just taking longer to compress all that coal into a diamond.  But time and pressure are good things.

And, when that is done, I have this idea about a book of nothing but all my great car shots…

We’ll see.  Stay tuned.


2 thoughts on “Memorial Highway – One Week In The Peace Garden State

  1. The old pickup and the gun shop.

    This image takes me right back to my single digit years, mentally planting me in the Ava, MO of 1972.

    All the uncles and cousins drove old pickup trucks. Way before such conveyances were a fashion accessory for the pink skinned suburb dwellers.

    Gun culture was immersive. Everyone had a gun. Everyone had a freezer full of deer or other meat harvested with their gun. It was not a political statement at all.

    Great job; the shot is both evocative and narrative.

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