Of Tanks and Towers
JR's Prairie Schooners
See also Tanks & Towers Two and Trip to Maravilla
hese top 4 were shot on the way west through West Texas to New Mexico and back. These are the giant towering structures that dot the map and dominate the landscape of many Texas towns, even if they are largely ignored.
People tend to be amazed these were shot at 1/1000 of a second as we sped by at 70 mph. I was not driving, just random pot-shotting silvery, black, white, rustoid and other behemoths as we rocketed by.
Later, in Photoshop, I adjusted them slightly, especially for the Super A3 (13 x 19-inch) prints I like to show in exhibitions. But the tone and textures were already there.
It's almost absurd to show these this tiny. Each is bursting with detail and wonderful, worn textures, most of which cannot be fully appreciated at this dinky scale. Although you can certainly get the gist here.
The Prairie Schooner series began with my fascination for the large masses and sometimes complex details of urban water tanks. I still shoot them sometimes. So it's not a stretch from the prairie schooners above to the tanks and towers below.
This is the tower that floats above one of the Farmer's Branch police stations at, obviously, dusk. I'd lost this image for a couple years, just now re-discovered it and put it here. It may be one of my best. With all that detail in the near dark shadow of the tank and the pointy-topped fence, I'm sure this was done with a tripod.
This is the first shot in this series. It's tilted because I was in a big hurry to take it — hand-held while the driver lurched forward from the light. The one I liked so much, I started shooting the others. From this chance shot while looking for something — anything interesting enough to photograph, I developed the theme's early rules.
Like any good rules, I abandoned them after a couple of months of shooting. But early on, I tried to always get something between me and the tank. Some obstruction that was both normal to urban living and telling about the location. Something to frame the object or partially obliterate it, it didn't matter which.
This big, gray blimp — hard to imagine it's full of water — towers over a shopping center. I love the minutiae of all those grids around and along the great curving top of this monstrosity. The flag is nice, too. It was a gray dark day into rain, and the shadows were deep and bothersome, and nobody but me seems to like this photograph.
I don't know where this one is. North Dallas somewhere. Again shot from a moving van. I know we were driving fast and it was surprisingly close, just suddenly it was there, then gone again, and I didn't get another shot. I especially like the longhorn nearly obscured by the clutter of poles, wires and buildings.
This one was lost in South Dallas or south of Dallas driving around looking for towers whose views I could intrude upon with something. This was a dark horse.
This one was painstakingly composed, either on a tripod or braced on the top of my car, near dark after the sun had gone and the light was rapidly fading. The colors are still there, and purpled by the sky, and that made all the difference. Lilting pastels past sunset. I'm still amazed by the three-dimensionality of this image.
You can probably see the first deer in the lower left corner of the vivid orange tank high above Angel Fire, New Mexico's ski slopes in summer. When the image size stretches out, and the details are rampant all over the photograph, you can also see several more in the second clearing, above the tank and slightly to the right.
I was just shooting the tank and the green all around it, carefully keeping the the ski lifts above it in focus. I didn't see the first deer till I examined what I'd shot in the camera driving down the mountain.
Ever since I shot this, I've wished I'd got the tree as sharp as I got the tower and that the jet plane lights streaking in from the top left corner were brighter. I may go back sometime and fill more of the photograph with tree and tower and maybe wait for a jet from Love Field. But for getting something between me and it, this was at about the top of that arc.
This is one of the early tanks, and its differentness spurred me on. I love how the stripes flow both ways in this shot of a big water tank on the grounds of the Dalls Veterans Administration Hospital, where I was spending way too much time for a while. And the horizontal dashed blue and dark blue shadow line at the bottom.
This one could be the one that does not fit in this series. It towers well enough, and the columns that support it look like tanks, but the softness of the landscape and sky and the incredible details of that massive, thick round grid of lines, solids and translucencies makes it seem to belong to a another series altogether. I like that.
All images copyright 2002 - 2005 by JR Compton. All Rights Reserved.