Old Trail Town. Cody, Wyoming, summer of 2005. I spent a few weeks in Cody that summer, renting a little place above a garage on a side street in town. I'd spent time at a ranch outside of Cody as a teenager and I went back to see what it was like, almost 50 years later. This was the last big shooting trip I made with the 8 x 10 view camera. The good 8 x 10's came fewer and farther between on that trip. I was experimenting with early digital capture. But I did make a series in 2 1/4 (120mm film format) handheld that has lasted well and has been shown frequently.
I made the pictures of Old Trail Town with an Agfa black and white film, processed the rolls, then made inkjet prints of the scanned negatives. By that time I no longer had a darkroom and didn't print using an enlarger and chemicals.
Old Trail Town is a rather spare tourist attraction that tears down and reconstructs shacks, corrals, saloons, jails, barns, hotels from all over the American West and puts them in one location in Cody, making a town that never really existed at all. I found it bizarre and wonderful. It is here on the site.
I shot it just when it opened on a weekday. I'd been the day before when it was filled with people, not at all what I wanted.
These were incredible, these structures. It felt, in an odd way, that it wasn't really there for tourists but all there for me with my camera. I know, presumptuous, right? I was very excited, feeling the pressure of time and changing light to get these pictures on film. Work fast, but clean and right. "Don't fuck up" is often the refrain in times of making pictures like these. Here I was working with film so couldn't review files that night. In fact, I wouldn't see the developed film for weeks, and make prints weeks later.
Ever felt that it, whatever "it" is, clicks with you and your sensibility on such a fundamental level that you just need to be there and shoot it, that this is not complicated or difficult at all? Old Trail Town had an inevitability to it that day.
It is a big series, 29 or so and takes us from the entrance of the town to the final picture at the town's edge, now emphasizing the landscape more than the buildings.
The Old Trail Town photographs always remind me of "Music for Eighteen Musicians" by Steve Reich, an exceptional piece. The concept of repetition and derivation on a theme play large in his piece, which is really a symphony. Look at the photographs as thumbnails here on the back cover of my book American Series and you'll see what I mean.
This is how they ended up in the book, at a very late stage in the design:
After I'd made them that summer, the following fall we were working on the book. Big bucks, a wonderful designer, getting well-placed people to write on my behalf, making the scans (I made the scans for the book, a whole other story), approving proofs, printing in China; all the myriad details that go into making a monograph. Late in the design, I brought 3 x 3-inch square prints of Old Trail Town to Providence to show the designer Paul Langmuir and pitched the idea of including the series in the book. We revised the book and added pages to allow Old Trail Town to be in the book.
Old Trail Town serves for me as photographs emblematic of an approach a little like a rock stuck in the tire of a car. Round and round the wheel goes as you drive, every time the rock hits the pavement it makes a noise, over and over, changing in tempo as you accelerate or slow down. My point being driven home through repetition. If you've read this blog for a while you know my philosophy behind the idea of "the same but different". The Old Trail Town photographs are just that.
The last frame I shot that day, winding film out of the camera while walking back to the rental car I saw a family at the gate and another behind them. My revery at Old Train Town was over just in time. The photographs were in the can and I was done.
I've written this before but I have often been lucky that way throughout my career.
Note: We seem to be emphasizing work from my past lately. If this grates on you, please accept my apologies. Recovering from major surgery always takes longer than one expects and to be fully healed longer still. I am on the mend and working almost daily, but have not dug into anything substantial yet. There are travels ahead and new work will come. You will be the first to see it, have no doubt.