Wednesday, August 5, 2020

I Like Cameras, But . . .

Shaped logs on the beach at Madras, India



I do. I like them a lot. But, relatively speaking, I don't write about them all that much. I'm told by photo-blogging friends that if I were to write about cameras more often I would have more readers. Many people want to read and learn about the latest and greatest in the camera world because they have bought into the lie that better cameras would make them better photographers. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works, because photography is not about cameras, but about life. What we do with our cameras if we are truly photographers and not just gadgeteers is record life as we see and experience it.

I may not have as many readers this way, but as I say in the introductory column to your left, I write the blog I would like to read if someone else were to write it.

So I would rather write about photography itself, rather than cameras. (Cameras are certainly necessary to do photography, but cameras themselves are not photography).

Or about life. Or about my life in photography. Cameras are the key that opened the door to this life, but they are not the life itself. Nonetheless, I owe those little tools big time. My cameras have taken me to many places I could never have gone and opened the door to many experiences I would never have had. So I'm grateful.

But when I write, I like to write, not about the cameras, but about the places they have taken me. And about the things they have made it possible for me to see and experience.

Because of my cameras, I was able to see fishermen come down to the city beach at Madras, India early in the morning to lash rough-hewn logs into a makeshift boat, launch it through the surf, and move out to a day's fishing.


Perdue's Mill near Clarkesville, Georgia

With my cameras I have driven many thousands of miles to create books about the backroads of Georgia. Although I have lived in Georgia for 45 years, I did not realize just how much I loved the state until a stranger looked at my photographs and told me what he saw in them.

Through my camera, I saw the setting sun throw a beam parallel to the ground and against the wall of a rural mission hospital in Nigeria, creating a scene of beauty and mystery.

Because of my cameras I was able to attend a worship service of the Underground Church in Moscow. Something few westerners have ever seen.

With my camera I watched Dr. Jaime Gomez dispense medicine and the Gospel to the people of a remote village in the mountains of northern Guatemala.

My cameras have given me access to a blessed, privileged life. But the credit does not go to the cameras, nor to me. The credit goes to a loving and supportive wife and to the one named in the line that appears at the bottom of this page and on every blog I post.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

 Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Last Little Rock City Barn in Texas



Most folks are surprised to learn there were once Rock City barns in Texas.  Rock City had three on their records, but Clark Byers told me there were more, including one near Tyler that belonged to an oil millionaire who was so cheap he wouldn't have indoor plumbing. But that was a long time ago, and Clark didn’t remember the location of any of them.

So, as far as can be known at this time, the last Rock City barn in Texas is on Richard Haynes' little spread on U.S. Highway 80 west of Marshall.  Richard and his wife Vallie (who was born on the place) were getting along in years when I came along making pictures for the Rock City Barns book, but he still ran 17 head of registered Black Angus cattle on his 67 acres and kept the big yard mowed -- practically a full-time job in itself.

This is his second barn to carry the “See Rock City” message. The first one was a traditional style which was pulled down in the early ‘60s and replaced with the present “pole” barn. Rock City obligingly applied their sign to the new barn as well, and that’s the way it’s stayed. It’s pretty faded now, as well it should be – it was last repainted around 1967.

Richard Haynes and his barn.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Friday, July 31, 2020

An Old Love . . . and a New

The Olympus OM2n and the Fuji X-H1. A pair of winners.

The Olympus OM2n is my all-time favorite camera. I currently have two, one of which works, and another that needs servicing. I have just a small kit of lenses -- 24mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8, 50mm f3.5 macro, and 75-150 f4 zoom. I don't shoot much film these days, but I enjoy thinking about it!

I began my full-time professional career with a pair of Nikkormats (good cameras!) and later added a Nikon F2, the state of the art in the late '70s. Unfortunately, I found it heavy and klutzy. A year or so later I followed my heart and switched to the camera system I had been eyeing longingly and lustfully for several years: the light and lively Olympus OMs. I loved, loved, loved my OMs and carried them on documentary and photojournalistic assignments to 27 countries on five continents and around much of the US, plus a lot of commercial work.

When I first bought into the Olympus system, I began with a 21mm f3.5, a 28 f2.8, a 35-70 f3.6 zoom, a 50 f1.8, an 85 f2, and a 135 f2.8. I later decided that the 24 f2.8 could do the work of both the 21 and the 28, so they went on the shelf. I added other lenses over time, and on my last trip abroad with Olympus I carried the 24, a 35 f2, the 85 f2, and the 180 f2.8. This seemed to be about the perfect set of lenses for the kind of work I did. All were very sharp, and with the exception of the 180, were all quite small and light.

By 1992, aging eyes made it difficult to focus quickly and accurately on the grid screens with very fine microprisms that I used in my OM bodies. I wish now that I had just changed screens and kept on using the OMs as long as possible.

I hoped that Olympus would introduce an autofocus camera body, but they didn't. Sadly, I gave up on Olympus, sold everything, and switched to Canon for its excellent autofocus, eventually moving to Canon digital.

At the time I sold my OM system, I had four bodies and 13 lenses. The workhorse was an OM2n, but I also had an OM-1, an OMPC, and an OM2S.

I never bonded with my Canons like I did with Olympus, but they served me well for 24 years, first with film cameras and then digital, beginning with the Canon 10D in 2003.

But I never forgot my first love.

My final switch was to Fuji in 2017.

Beginning with an X-Pro1, I quickly built a kit that included an X-T1, an X-T20, and several lenses. I liked the size of the cameras and the quality of the files they gave me. I didn't like that the menus on each camera were slightly different.

In 2019 I picked up an X-H1, the flagship of the Fuji fleet. It's slightly larger and heavier than my other Fuji bodies, and the handling felt a bit strange as first. But I quickly became acclimated, and now it feels just right. The more I use it, the better I like it. This thing is so solid and well-built that I may never need another camera. It offers higher quality and more capability for less money than any camera I've ever heard of.

Michael Johnston, editor of TheOnline Photographer blog, which you should be reading, if you're not already, had this to say about the X-H1: "It strikes me as a simply amazing camera; virtually everything on it is well thought out and beautifully implemented, and works smoothly and effectively."

It's my new love. But I haven't forgotten the first one.

 

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

 


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Beverly Blankenship

Beverly Blankenship and his Rock City barn.

Beginning at Nags Head, North Carolina, U.S. Highway 64 was, in the days before interstates, a major east-west corridor across the mid-south, finally terminating in Arizona. It happened to pass through Chattanooga, Tennessee, so naturally there were barns carrying the familiar "See Rock City" logo all along its route.

Crossing the broad coastal plain and up onto the Piedmont Plateau, U.S. 64 begins snaking its way through the western North Carolina mountains south of Asheville, climbing to more than 4,000 feet at Highlands, and, when I first came there in 1957 to see my then-girlfriend, actually passing under and behind Bridal Veil Falls on the western descent from the town.

All that has changed, of course, and many sections of Highway 64 have been rerouted and improved. On May 17, 1995, when I came through the area looking for Rock City barns, following the directions on the old file cards the barn painters had used, I found myself east of Hayesville, North Carolina on a long-abandoned stretch of old 64, looking at a farmhouse and a Rock City barn, its sign still in remarkably good condition, on a small hill dead ahead. The road ran almost up to the farmhouse before curving left and away.

Since the place appeared to be occupied, I knocked on the farmhouse door. And that's how I met Beverly Blankenship, a spry 82-year-old whose barn may be getting a bit ramshackle, but who still enjoys driving his pickup to the Senior Citizens Center to take "them old folks" to the store to buy their groceries.

This barn at Mocksville is the best preserved of the Rock City
barns on U.S. 64 east of the Blankenship barn near Hayesville.
(Both photographs with Canon EOS A2 cameras, Fujichrome RDP 100 film.)


Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone



Monday, July 27, 2020

The Lost Barns of Rock City


My first "lost" Rock City barn. A few miles north of Seymour, Indiana on U.S. 31.

For New Year's 1995, Louise and I made a quick trip to see my parents in southern Indiana. Naturally, I took with me the old file cards with Rock City barn locations. On January 2nd, my Dad and I set out to see what we could find in south central Indiana.

The first one we found was on U.S. Highway 231, a few miles north of Spencer. We checked out several other sites, but the barns were apparently long gone. Traveling south on U.S. 31 a few miles north of Seymour, suddenly Dad said "There's one!"

"Can't be," I said. " It's not in my file cards."

"Well, that may be," he said, "but there it is. I saw it."

Finding a place to turn around, we went back for another look. There it indeed was, with the sign looking in good condition. As we pulled into the farmyard, the owner came out to meet us. As we explained our interest in his barn, he told us that he had bought the property only recently, and that the end of the barn that faced Highway 31 had been covered in sheet metal. He decided to remove the metal, and under it found a well-preserved "See Rock City" sign.

Until that day, I had no idea that there were Rock City barns still standing that had been lost from Rock City's records. I later learned that whenever the paint crew stopped painting a barn for any reason, they simply removed the file card and threw it away. I went on to find 20 more "lost barns" while in the process of looking for the ones for which I had records.

Actually, I passed a "lost barn" on the south side of Sweetwater, Tennessee on October 25, 1994 -- my first full day on the barn book project. The sign was faded and the light was wrong for good readability. Since I had no file card for it and did not yet know of the existence of barns not in Rock City's records, I drove on by.

And the most recent. November, 2019. U.S. Highway 43, Ethridge, Tennessee.

After Rock City Barns: A Passing Era was published, I began receiving letters from people who knew of barns that had not been included in the book. I made every effort to photograph them and now have about 50. Enough for a book. I hope Lost Barns of Rock City will soon be a reality.

So, if you happen to know a publisher who might be interested . . .

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Friday, July 24, 2020

Clarence Spindler



In the days before the interstates, U.S. Highway 41 was a major route from Chicago to Florida. And since it passed through Chattanooga, it was lined from one end to the other with barns emblazoned with the "See Rock City" sign. (For some reason there were never any Rock City barns in Florida. Perhaps there was no room for them between the Burma Shave signs.) South of Chattanooga, the "See Rock City" signs were positioned so that people returning north would be tempted to visit the attraction if  they had missed it on their way south.

When I began searching for barns along U.S. 41 in Indiana, I went all the way north to Hobart, just south of Chicago, where there had once been a Rock City barn. It was gone, and so were the many others that had once lined the route. Only one was left: on Clarence Spindler's farm in Gibson County, 18 miles north of Evansville.

In the early 1920s, when Clarence was born on his father's farm, U.S. 41 was a dirt track snaking through the countryside. The barn, built before Clarence was born, became a Rock City landmark in 1949, just two years after he brought his new wife home to the old farmhouse.

It was early on an October morning in 1995 when I pulled up to his farmyard. Clarence and I had never met; in fact I was not even sure he was still living. All I had to go on was an old file card from the 1960s which had been used by the sign painters who traveled the countryside back then, painting "See Rock City" on every barn whose owner would permit it.

Several knocks having produced no answer, I went on around to the barn and began making photographs. Clarence himself arrived on the scene just then, and we shared a few minutes of introduction and pleasant reminiscing. He remembers Clark Byers, the sign painter very well, he tells me, and is glad to know that Clark is still living.

Clarence's wife has passed on, and he gave up farming a few years ago.  "Not much fun anymore" he says. Someone else tends the old place these days, and Highway 41 flows toward Florida on four smooth lanes of asphalt.  The "See Rock City" sign on the barn was last repainted in 1967.

I asked if he would mind being in my picture. He allowed that it would be all right and stood where I asked as I made his photograph. Then serendipity sent a kitten to wrap itself around Clarence's legs and look up at me with eyes gleaming in the morning light. 

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photograph copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

My First Rock City Barn



. . . and a minor miracle.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bill Chapin, president of See Rock City, Inc. had confided in me his desire to do a book about the many old barns that carried the "See Rock City" message over the years. When he learned how much it might cost he shelved the idea, but I obtained a list of the barns they were still painting and determined I would make photographs whenever my business or personal travels took me near one.

In August, 1988, Louise and I went to southern Indiana for the annual Jenkins family reunion. Coming home, we took Indiana 37 from Bedford south to Paoli, then U.S. 150 east for five miles to photograph one of the barns on my list. From there, we would go on to Louisville where we would pick up Interstate 65 south.

This was a small barn, just a few feet from the highway. Actually, it was not much more than a shed, but I attacked it with my full armory of equipment. I was still using Olympus OM 35mm cameras in those days, and Hasselblad medium format cameras, plus various lenses for both. I made some photographs with the wide-angle lens on the Hasselblad, then exchanged it for a normal focal length -- carelessly standing the wide lens on its hood beside the road. Where I promptly forgot about it.

When we arrived home that night and I unpacked my photo equipment, I realized something was missing. A panicked phone call to my dad ensued. Lenses in general are not cheap, and Hasselblad lenses are particularly not cheap. Dad agreed he would go look for the lens first thing in the morning.

I didn't have much hope of ever seeing it again, but later that day I got a call from Dad. "There it was," he said, "Standing beside the road like a little soldier!"

As we passed by in following years we were sorry to see the little barn gradually sagging into the soil. By 2017 it was completely gone.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photograph copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone