Faded Glory, Part Two: Jacumba Trains to Bankhead Trees

Well, I ended the last post saying I’d have to go back…  I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.  But Friday morning, Lee Peterson and I were on the road back to Jacumba Springs to photograph the old trains there.  The day was heavily overcast in San Diego so from a light angle standpoint it didn’t matter what time we might get there.  But on the way east, the overcast became a full blown squall with dark clouds and intermittent rain.  Hmmmm… maybe this was going to turn bad but we were over halfway so might as well go on.

Once again, I had some specific video tests I had wanted to do.  I wanted, for example, to shoot both the Ursa and the Canon 5D Mk III DSLR and see what was involved, or even possible in terms of cutting the footage from the two very different cameras together.  I specifically was concerned about the color biases of the very different sensors and the difference in dynamic range.  But when we arrived the cloud cover was so thick it was almost monochromatic and very flat.  So that test plan evaporated on the spot. It had not been my intention for the day, but here I was thrust back into the world of stills and even further back into the world of monochrome images.

In addition to the thick overcast, the wind was cold and blowing quite hard.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but weather-wise it was really quite crappy out.  But an interesting thing happened.  Sometimes the most interesting shots can be found in the most inhospitable weather.   And here, it was as if the foul weather and the lack of tourists out prowling around and tossing their trash around there, told the spirits of the old cars it was safe to come out and play.

You could feel them, and it was obvious that what was called for was some old-time looking images.  So I put the Zenit 85mm brass barreled Petzval on the 5D Sr camera and the Lens-Baby 56mm “Velvet” old style ‘soft focus’ lens in my pocket and set off.  In my mind’s eye were a mix of old style albumen prints from the late 1800s crossed with the portrait styles flowing from early Petzval and Imagon lenses of the same period.  To use portrait terms, I wanted mostly close face shots and especially the “eyes” of the subject to reveal personalities and not full figure shots.

The incredibly flat light so condensed the contrast range it allowed me to capture every available tone without any effort so that in post I could literally “paint” the final images into existence to reveal my emotional response to them.  And the lack of light forced wide apertures (or in the case of the brass Petzval, wide aperture disks) so the shallow depth of field I was after was almost mandated.  Both of those lenses also have the characteristic astigmatism of the time where the distortion further from the center increases rapidly.  So the “fall off” of sharpness not only happens with the normal depth of field issue, but also happens center to edge, both controllable with aperture.

I was not interested in trying to document anything but rather to interpret it; to find elements that, in their own way, spoke for the whole.  However, let me begin by first showing you the “whole.”  Here is one of the old passenger cars we were photographing. This was actually one of my last shots and was taken during a point where the sun broke through the clouds.  It was taken with a Canon 24mm Tilt Shift lens. I’ll start with it however so you can see the type of material that yielded the remainder of the shots.

Railcar sepia 06 for blog

One of the old passenger cars sitting abandoned near the Jacumba Hot Springs railroad depot.  Shot with Canon 5DSr, 24mm T/S. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

OK, now back to the individual shots… The lighting and feel of the subjects and area suggested to me imagery that was more of a visual tone-poem so that was the goal.

Railcar paint 01 for blog

Detail of side paneling on old railroad car near Jacumba Hot Springs. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Railcar paint 02 for blog

Details of paint on side of old railcar near Jacumba.  Even though it is near the desert, this area sees a wide range of conditions from blazing hot to cold and some years a lot of moisture.  Not great conditions for wood preservation. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

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Detail of broken window on old railcar near Jacumba. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

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The best seat in the car.  Interior of old railcar near Jacumba.  Someone had put  white wicker chairs in a couple of the cars (notice the one in the video in the previous post) and when a brief dagger of sunlight streaked across this one it really stood out.  (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Then the sun started to break through the passing storm.  It was like a signal to the spirits of that place that it was time to retreat back into the safety of the old cars and the entire “feel” of the place changed fairly rapidly.  For me, it destroyed the mood and the grip of that emotional response so though I tried to do a few final shots (including the first overview shot above), the moment was over.

OF course another reason to come to Jacumba Hot Springs was to enjoy the BBQ at Jay’s that Steve (Burns) had raved about.  So we finished shooting and headed over to the little restaurant.  It already had lots of customers which was a good sign.  I picked my selection and then discovered that until 12 noon, only breakfast is served.  It was just barely past 11….  So Lee ordered an Omelet and I ordered Bisquits and gravy.  Both of us decreed it to be the absolute best we had ever had!  Well now I really DO have to go again to try the BBQ.

Jacumba Hot Springs is on old Highway 80, so we decided to head back along the old route instead of going back up to the Freeway.  We were between the “towns” of Bankhead Springs and Boulevard when we went sailing through this tableau of brilliant red oaks.  Going too fast to just drop anchor, I turned around and went back.

California is not noted for its great Fall colors, that is a title New England has wrapped up pretty solidly.  True, it has some very nice golden Aspen up north in the Sierras but nothing like the great Aspen tunnels I’ve seen in Colorado.  But I’ve never seen anything quite like this…

Red Oak on Old 80 - 09 for blog

Pathway through grove near Bankhead Springs. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

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Leaf details of red oak grove. Here, up close, is what is creating all of the images in this set of photographs.  (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 - 05 for blog

This grove of trees wearing their fall colors was amazing.  Would this make a great jigsaw puzzle or what? (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

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The red was so intense it would have easily over-saturated in bright light.  The flat light was perfect for it.  A slight underexposure brought the colors all back to life.  (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 - 06 for blog

The textures were as interesting as the colors with the accents of yellow and even gray.                    (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 -07 for blog

I wonder if these leaves are jealous? (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Wow… what an interesting day visually.  From grim blustery weather along the old railroad tracks to the fairy forest of the brilliant red leaves.  And all on a day most of the would-be photographers would decide to stay home…





About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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