Olde Town, WA. The Highways

This project is very different from the kind of photography I do. It is not a landscape as most of my photographs. It is in black-and-white while most of my photography is color. It is not a single photographs as usual but rather a set of photographs which I’m trying to create an impression with. And lastly when I think about this project I want to share my thoughts and impressions of these town rather than talk about how I took specific photographs and why.

Is highway a good thing? Well, of cause – most of you probably say. They let you get from point A to point B by car faster than ever. They are like blood vessels, they help to move things faster. And I say – what about those that left away from them? What happens to those towns?

I’m sure that’s not the only reason but some of the abandonment that I’ve seen in those towns can be contributed to not being on important road anymore. Some time in the pass they were important nodes in network of local roads. Then a highway was built and from that moment on travelers would have to take a detour from a fast moving traffic of highway to visit those towns. And as someone who travels by car a lot I know that once you get in a fast pacing rhythm of highway it is hard to slow down take a side road.

Well, we could say at least those towns which happened to be on highway prosper. And that is not the case either as cars are passing by those towns in a blink of an eye. At most some would stop to refill their gas tanks and what happens over time is that there is not much of a town left besides a gas station.

Final Destination Final Destination

Olde Town, WA. The Street Art

An interesting thing I found in these towns – wall art on buildings. It is not graffiti like large scale letters. It is often fading away paintings on brick walls.

The paintings capture towns in their previous life – how they looked a century or more ago. Were the painters in nostalgic mood when painting them as I were when photographing them? Or did the paintings actually survive a century?

Ellensburg Ellensburg

Colfax Colfax

Oaksdale Oaksdale

Olde Town, WA. The Name

What is “Olde Town, WA”? It is an imaginary place, place with no people in the streets, place that is forgotten by people and ready to disappear as a mirage in a desert. It is a still capture in time of that place as it vanishes in front of our eyes.

I did not want this project to be about any specific town. At first, I simply called it Old Town. But I felt like this town deserves its place on the map, thus I’ve made the name more formal “Old Town, WA”. That’s how any town would be listed in US, with state abbreviation.

Then I added ‘e’ at the end of Old for two reasons. First this make it feel even older, that’s how it would probably be spelled ages ago and it closer to “older”. Second reason is more practical. Turns out that there is already a town in Washington called Old Town and an imaginary town better not match any real town name.

Corner of W Main St and 3rd St Corner of W Main St and 3rd St

Olde Town, WA. The Beginning

since it loves us
and forgives everything,
why was it abandoned forever?

Lyubov Sirota

What an exciting moment start of a new project. That is of cause when you know you start it. This project has begun before I knew it…

I’ve been traveling a lot to an area in the Eastern Washington called Palouse. This area offers really beautiful landscapes with rolling hills and patches of fields. Some call it American Toscana. While looking for beautiful landscapes to photograph I was driving thru small towns in this area and sometimes stopping, looking around and photographing of cause. Over time collection of these photographs grew and I was not sure why I was taking those photograph and what to do with them.

Riding from Seattle (where I live) to Palouse is a bliss – 4 hour drive across Washington state from West to East at about 70 miles per hour. There are quite a few towns you pass by on the way there. I used to drive thru them without ever stopping. Except once I travelled with a fellow photographer who wanted to get a coffee and we stopped in Ellensburg. Ellensburg turned out to be an interesting town, its historic center had a lot of old buildings. While walking its streets I realized that this is what attracted me in all other towns. The historic centers of many towns in Central and Eastern Washington look very old. And it is not like they are preserved for a history. They look abandoned like orphan children, they want some attention but don’t get it. While passing thru some of them I would find their streets empty almost like ghost towns. Some towns are slowly disappearing. In others people for some reason have moved away from their historic centers.

Once I noticed this pattern I begun to stop in every town on my way and capture those old town centers in their vanishing act. And thus the project “Olde Town, WA” was born.

Antiques Antiques

Being Yourself

I was learning photography from books. And a lot of what I did at the beginning I was decomposing photographs that were inspiring me, trying to repeat them and leaning from my mistake. This was extremely valuable and I have no problem suggesting this to anyone else. There is of cause a danger of getting stuck in repeating others.

At some point I felt a need to find my style and I got into a trap of trying to be different. I guess I had too much external influence telling me that to find my style I had to differentiate myself from others. I was continuously chasing after finding something that has not been done yet. All that produced to was a bunch of random photographs. All that was depressing as I was trying to photographs that could be different but not necessarily interested me.

It took me a while to figure out that the most important thing in photography – as probably in any other art – is to be true to yourself. You can try to be like someone else, you can try to be like nobody else or your can try to be yourself – the choice is yours. I prefer to be myself and it does not matter to me if what I photograph has been photographed before, if my image looks like something someone else did, or if it does not look like anything else (which is very unlikely given how many good photographers are out there in the world).

Noon

Noon with clear sky is like a dead season for landscape photographers. The reason is simple – at noon when the sun is high there are almost no shadows and without shadows everything looks flat. Shadows is one of the ways to add perception of the third dimension in landscape photographs.

This is why many photographers who I know (including me) prefer to take a nap during day. We wake up very early before sunrise; photograph at sunrise and during early morning while the sun is low; sleep thru the noon; and then again photograph during evening, sunset and maybe shortly after.

On my last trip to Palouse I had another project in mind besides landscapes (I’ll be writing about that project later). And for that project noon was just fine. So I stayed up. This allowed me to photograph some good landscapes too. There was an interesting weather pattern I observed. At around 12pm clouds would show up and by 2pm they would be gone. Fellow photographers I traveled with would take noon nap around 11am because sky was clear and boring. They would wake up after 3pm when the sky was clear again. Their perception of the trip was that they were unlucky with weather.

I could not stop photographing thru midday on the other hand. Clouds were adding drama to landscape and light and shadow spots were moving over the hills changing landscape. My most landscapes last trip were photographed during midday.

Light and Shadow Light and Shadow