Color Invisible to the Naked Eye
12 Feb 2012
I'm travelling from a small suburb of Orlando, Florida called Apopka, through the pan handle, New Orleans, Austin, some small town an hour and a half outside of Albuquerque. Three nights in $61 dollar a night motel rooms, local meals of etouffee in The French Quarter with a beautiful Asian girl on night one, Barbecue, Johnny Walker Black, and Shiner's beer with friends in Austin on night two, chicken fajitas in New Mexico on night three.
I'm driving through cities, towns, and deserts on my way to Los Angeles, leaving behind a lucrative career as a TV producer and university educator to pursue a larger career in Hollywood. I'm hopeful, excited, nervous - day dreaming while listening to some of the same songs over and over again on my iPhone because there is no 3G network out in the middle of America and pod casts, streaming radio, and Face Book are out of the question. Good. Gives me time to think.
Eventually, after passing the Continental Divide, I decide to enter the Petrified National Forest on a whim. I guess the sand toned sign was alluring in some sort of adobe style that makes movies about the west sort of cool.
I ask the ranger at the entrance "So, what am I gonna see for ten bucks?"
"Well," he says "trees and rocks." He can tell I'm not ready to fork over my cash for trees and rocks. Those are everywhere. "They're millions of years old."
"Ok," I say handing over my debit card. Ancient things interest me but when I go to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, I head straight to the Dinosaur Halls - not anywhere housing old stones.
I want to feel the primeval terror of the past: claws, predators, creatures in a constant struggle for survival and supremacy. I want the bones of time to make me feel small and amazed.
I begin to wind my dusty car over the paved roads seeing nothing but underwhelming vista after vista, plateau after plateau. I know...I'm supposed to be mesmerized, but I feel ripped off. Gray skies, low light, and a barren landscape that repeats itself to infinity. It's like when the answer to a math problem is the number 3 with a line over it. It never ends.
Why am I so unimpressed? I don't see "trees" (petrified or otherwise) anywhere. I drive more and more over the 28 mile stretch of road that winds through what should be called "The Petrified National Plains."
Still, I'll photograph anything. So I get out and start snapping. Set every shot at F22 for the widest depth of field. I'm sure that I'm getting nothing. The images look flat and emotionless on the cracked screen of my Nikon DSLR. At least I know what this place is all about.
After finally seeing some huge, petrified trees that (according to an insulted middle aged, overweight, unkempt, curly black haired women) are three hundred million years old, and have been entombed in ancient volcanic lava, flooded over with prehistoric oceans, buried under eons of dirt, sand, and time, and then revealed to modern humans after centuries of erosion. I'm still not impressed.
What's wrong with me? This is geological magic and I should be wowed. It has got to do something with the long tiring journey I've already had, the fears I have about potential failure up a head, and how the ten bucks I spend may have come in handy for a last few gallons of gas for my car ride to the one interview that would land me a job in LA.
But it's too late. The money's been spent, the path has been traveled, and the images taken.
But then, later that night in a hotel in Flagstaff, real magic happens as it used to when I worked in a dark room printing black and white images on fiber photo paper - the picture materializing in developer right before my eyes. This time, it happens in the edit process. I begin to adjust the levels of color, saturation, blacks, highlights, clarity and my computer reveals to me what my eyes (or my imagination) didn't: I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world and just didn't know it. I was ignorant and I wished I had stayed longer and shot even more. I let my expectations ruin the opportunity for even more surprising images. My arrogance and impatience ran the show and my photography suffered. Never again. Lesson learned.