Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Caleb and the Empire Builder: Train travel at its finest....

Mark’s thrill for adventure strikes again.  Instead of taking a plane or car home from his Easter Weekend time out in Chicago, Mark decided to take Amtrak.  Intrigued by the “Empire Builder”, which is the namesake of the Chicago to Seattle route, Mark claims that he was doing research for the upcoming AMTC  in October. Some of the attendees have expressed  interest in taking the train as a group to the conference, and Mark wanted to experience it firsthand so he could accurately speak to his recommendation.  Interest or not, taking a lengthy journey on Amtrak has been a long time bucket list item for Mark so he enthusiastically hopped on that train.
The trip is approximately 2,300 miles and around 42 hours from Chicago to Seattle. Starting his journey the Tuesday afternoon after Easter, Mark took stake in seat 66, which was located on one of the last rows in one the last of the  double decker superliner cars in the back of the train.  His car was located just one ahead of the observation car, as the end of the train (the last 3 cars) were set to separate in Spokane, WA and head onto Portland, OR.  Mark felt like this was the perfect location to take in and capture all the magic that was in store for him on his journey. 

Mark’s imagery below was captured shooting primarily with his iPhone and a bit with his Canon S95 Camera. Window reflections were utilized rather than cursed to obtain somewhat of an amateur look, but of course taken to a pro level. He was able to tether his laptop to his iPhone and get good 3G signals at many times, which allowed him to post some of his imagery on Amtrak’s Facebook page.  All his entries were no doubt well received.  Unfortunately though for all of us, Mark was suffering from quite a chest cold which drained him considerably.  Although you could not tell from his photographs below, it prohibited him some from getting more in-depth portraits and landscapes. 
Below are a few blurbs from Mark that he sent me to describe his trip.  As it is always more clear coming from the artist’s eyes so I want to share them with you now. 
Until next time….
Let me begin the recap of my journey with….I was suffering from a bad cold, so I chose to kinda lay low, which unfortunately then didn't allow me to talk to as many people as I wanted to. This included the four Amish families traveling to Portland. I really wanted to ask them how they saw this trip, their thoughts about life, and even their ideas on photography...or even the movie "Witness".  There just happened to be a little guy, who was dead ringer for Lucas Haas in the 1985 movie.
Early in the first evening, I noticed one passenger assisting an older gentleman by helping him take his nitro pills. I asked him if he was ok and he said he was. I of course kept an eye on him for the rest of the trip and even more so when he stepped off the train for his smoke breaks! (good grief...) I most certainly kept my eye out for an "AED" (automatic emergency defibrillator) that I am sure was on the train. (I hope...). He oddly enough said he was “looking out for me”, as I was occasionally coughing up a lung due to my cold. Touché, sir! 
The train was only about half full at the start of the trip, but started to gain passengers as we got closer to ND. There is an oil boom there and the demand for workers and trades from WI and MN helped to fill up the seats as we traveled to Minot. Once we arrived in Minot though, many workers stepped off, but in return workers departing ND joined us for the trip home to MT, ID, and WA.
A couple of musicians were riding the train as well and we were all treated to unique a late night jam session on the observation car. The fiddle player was a Canadian and mentioned she had been previously sub-contracted by VIA Rail Canada to occasionally to play on the "Canadian" as that train crossed Canada.
In Minneapolis/St. Paul, an adorable 3 1/2 year old little boy named "Caleb" and his Mom joined us at about 11pm that first night and I was fortunate enough to have him sit in front of me.  Truly a modern day "Jeffery" (referencing the 1970's Bill Cosby comedy monologue about a youngster on a flight..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiXM7NynrpY ) but updated with a thick pair of glasses, a Mohawk hairdo and footed PJs. Me and my fellow back rows peeps were treated to his questions, smiles, laughs and a few tears for about 1700 miles. I will never forget that little guy.

We arrived Friday mid morning after a slow crawl and wonderful sunrise through the Cascades. The sun was shining, and it was wonderful to arrive in the Emerald city safe and sound.
It was a great trip and I do speculate as the Oil Boom and pipeline building grows in ND and SD, that the "Empire Builder" will become even more popular. It does take time for sure, but maybe we all should slow life down a bit and take the train more often.  You know take a look out the window and engage your fellow passengers and find out who they might be and what stories they may have to tell as the train rolls on (sorta like Caleb did...). 

Regards for now- onto YYC; then back to SEA after that...
MM 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ritzville USA.....

I think one of the most inspiring things about Mark’s artistry is how stealth like he is!  Whether he is aboard an airmed heli or spending his free time at dog beach, Mark is always able to capture such raw emotions and warmth, which leaves his audience feeling like they were on the beach, sidelines or rescue themselves. 

Such an amazing storyteller, Mark has once again effortlessly used his gift to capture the below imagery, from the aptly named town of Ritzville, WA.   Finding his inspiration this time from some burned out Café sign on his "Host Program" travels for AMTC, Mark only used his iPhone to create what one might call a slice into Americana.  You can almost feel the cold rain, smell the aroma of comfort food, and hear the soft mumble of the jukebox amongst the deafening silence of the diner.  But enough of what I think, below is a Mark's thought process which he sent me to coincide with the imagery so I would better know how to create this blog entry.  This story is much better through the artist’s eye.  Enjoy! 
Until next time….
Mark’s Rumination:
C /- F E
I saw the sign from the Interstate...
I was driving from Seattle to Spokane. There is a very quiet part of the country after you pass through the Cascades where the land is very gentle and there are tons of rolling hills. Off in the distance to my left I saw the incomplete "CAFE" sign, so I quickly exited of the interstate and decided to check it out.
My eye was caught by the burnt out part of the A, and how desolate  and isolated the sign appeared.  Add the rain and it just intrigued me.
I was about an hour to Spokane yet, and I was tired of driving in the rain.
I shot the sign when I first stopped, but knew it would be best for it to be a bit darker after the sun had set, so I decided to drop in and have some dinner. I took a corner booth, and started watching what was happening in front of me. (If You ever have seen the movie "Bagdad Cafe" you'll know why I was intrigued by the place. The sign. The people dining that night. The haunting music of the movie would have been ideal here. I expected "Brenda" to come stomping out of the kitchen- asking for what I wanted.... http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095801/    or    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagdad_Café)
"Tonights' Special" was roast tri tips in gravy, with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. The coffee was strong, and my server was friendly. A whole cast of different lookin' characters were dining when I entered, but it was still quiet.  Each person was a true photo study on their own. I certainly could of introduced myself and asked for a photo, but it just didn't seem right to interrupt this setting, and I was tired after a long day of travel that started in YYC. 
This place was situated on the outskirts of the small town, but obviously a stopping point for local truckers. One trucker driving for Franz Bread stopped in, another local greeted him and the server immediately poured him a cup of Joe. They started talking politics. I felt like NOT interrupting things with me starting to take pictures so I laid low, which I accomplished by merely looking like I was reading my iPhone.
When I exited the place it was finally dark enough to get some better style of images and this time the reflection of the red cafe sign in the water in the ditch gave me what I needed.
I shot it with my iPhone utilizing the Pro Camera App; NO special effects filters or other trendy Instagram stuff was utilized. Simply pure documentary photography with new type of capture technology. Only what I saw and what my eyes were adjusting to.