I Think Her Tractor’s Sexy…

My wife and I traveled across the great state of Washington last weekend to table at Spokane’s LGBT pride festival. We tabled last year and had such a blast (seriously… I think Spokane’s pride fest is awesome) and couldn’t wait to go back this year. The day of pride it was 40 degrees (cold!) and raining buckets (nonstop!) and was generally miserable. We had fun talking to everyone who braved the weather, but at the end of the day we were soaked, freezing and miserable. Thankfully, the day after was warm and sunny, so we got to take a nice leisurely drive back, and I took a lot of fun pictures (and my wife made a lot of u-turns on the highway so I could go take pictures of stuff I saw).

Washington is an interesting state. On the western third, we have rainforests and the Puget Sound. It’s gray and drizzly most of the year, and the landscape is lush and green. Gardens pepper backyards and community plots. There are ferry boats, farmers markets, independent coffee shops, a mild climate, and lots of hills. The other two-thirds of the state, on the eastern side of the cascades, is flat, dry, and windy. There are 4 distinct seasons (sunny warm summers! snowy cold winters!). And a lot of country western radio stations and large-scale commercial farms.

When I was little and I’d head over the mountains to visit my extended family (and I have a lot of family in Eastern Washington) I thought it was a miserable place. Hot and dry and smelling of cow poop. The only time I liked to go over the mountains when I was young was in the winter when we would go ski into the cabin my great-uncle built in the Wentachee Forest.

But that was then. And this is now. And it has taken years, but I have fallen in love with the eastern side of Washington. I love romping through sagebrush in the dry heat. I love the wind whipping my hair around. I love watching snow flurries come down with no promise of stopping their wild dance. My roots go deep in the eastern side of the state.

Now, when I cross the cascades, the minute the landscape turns flat, I turn on whatever country music I can find on the stereo (and if I can find Cash, Williams or Cline I get the biggest grin). And then I dream of my wife and I buying a few acres out in the dry flat land. we’ll plant some vegetables, and have a small orchard and a few rescued farm animals perusing the place. I will sit on the porch in a little sun-dress and cowboy boots, showing off my full sleeve tattoos (this always seems very important in my day-dream…) and drinking unsweetened ice tea. My wife is working the vegetable plots, and I am subverting one of the most annoying country songs ever by singing “I think her tractor’s sexy” at the top of my lungs, because no one can hear me in our little plot of land.

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The Accidental Titles

I’ve been taking a class on photo books for the last three months, and while I have been working on a hand-bound hardcover accordion book (more on that later) I became inspired and made two small paperback photo books.

The first title, The Cartography of Farmers’ Wives: Photography from 1915-1976, is a short paper-back book with sampling of photography from my great-grandmother and my grandmother. Many of the photographs are landscapes from eastern Washington, although there are a few portraits as well in this contemplative story of one families relationship with the land. I look at this book as a small meditation on a much larger project that I think will probably take me the next 2-3 years to complete. Now that I know I can complete a small project with some of the information and items I have in this collection of family history that has been handed to me, I feel ready to embark on the larger journey.


The second book, A Traveling Song is a small paper-back of Hipstamiatic images I took on my phone on the road-trip my wife and I took when we moved across the country from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, Washington, in 2009. We pretty much drove straight through, and most of the images were taken from the car window while passing through middle America.

Country Fair in Moses Lake

Although the photo above has faded, I find it one of the best of my grandmothers I have come across, and apparently I am not alone in seeing its beauty. She states “When I took my girls to the County Fair in Moses Lake, I took along color photo equipment as well as my press cameras. That’s how it was that a wonderfully colored view of five pretty high school girls carrying red, yellow and blue balloons showed up on the front page of the Wenatchee Daily World on August 14, l964. The Daily World entered that picture along with four others in the state metropolitan daily news competition and won. Wenatchee was far from being the largest daily newspaper in the state, so were we ever proud!”

Hereditics

my great-grandfather on the Canadian prairie in approx 1915

I just made up a word: hereditics. Meaning the politics of heritage. I don’t mean politics like laws and bills and the like, no, I mean politics as in “the total complex of relations between people living in society.”

That’s what this blog is partly about. You see, in 1959, my grandmother, Grace, became a news reporter in the Columbia Basin. In those days, reporters were their own photographers, and my grandmother toted around a Rolleiflex K4 and used a 4×5 camera lent to her by one of the papers she worked for taking pictures of the Columbia River Irrigation Project, traffic accidents, community officials and whatever else was to make the pages of the weekly and dailies she worked for. She also ran a portrait studio, and spend much of her life taking photographs of her children, the farm she worked with her husband, and anything else that happened across her path.

Before that, in 1911, her mother, my great-grandmother, Emma, bought a Kodak pocket folding camera that took postcard sized photographs. The camera used 122 film, and traveled from Salt Lake City (where my great-grandmother lived) to Alberta, Canada, to Seattle, WA and everywhere in-between. Emma drug that camera around with her the entire second half of her life, taking photographs of her husband, children, the Canadian prairie, and whatever else she could find.

And prior to that, Emma’s father, my great-great-great grandfather, Christian, a minister, was trained as a publisher in Norway, and ran a small paper in Ballard, WA. He rented presses and spent hours hunched over setting type and running the machines. Although he had trained Emma in the art of the press, she must have considered herself a lady and took the road of housewife, instead of publisher.

What does this all have to do with me? Well, I hold my BFA in photography, and currently work in print production. I have been shooting with my grandmother’s Rollieflex for 10 years and have also recently acquired my great-grandmothers Kodak folding camera (which is still in working order and has my first test roll housed in the back) and many of my great-grandmothers and my grandmothers negatives, slides and prints.

I am beginning a new path in my work. Sorting through these slides, these stories. Trying to make sense of my heritage and my passion for communicating through art. If you would like to join me in my journey, here is where it starts.

And I’ll wait for my new word to make it into Merriam-Webster.