Insomnia At The Photo Inn; It All Began Over Gourmet Coffee

Photography is a wide-ranging field that engenders passion in its practitioners, and like all great forms of expression creates opinions formed through experience and reflection. In its early days one of the great debates was: Is Photography Art? This was the subject of many essays and heated discussions among players and spectators. Today, issues such as film vs. digital, format choices, the validity of computer generated images, photography as exploitation or revealer, and even the merits of ink jet vs. silver prints cause similar debate. We are opening this department up to readers, manufacturers, and retailers--in short, everyone who lives and breathes photography and who has an opinion about anything affecting imaging today.

Here's how to get involved: write us an e-mail at or send us a letter with a proposed topic and a synopsis of your idea. Once approved, we'll ask you to send us about 500-1000 words on the subject chosen. The idea here is not to push any product or wave any flag, but to create discussion about photo and imaging topics of the day. We reserve the right to edit whatever you send in, although we will never edit intention or opinion but only for length and, hopefully, for clarity. We reserve the right to publish your work on our web site as well, so you can join the archives and be a resource for opinion for years to come.
So, get thinking and writing and share your Point of View.
--George Schaub

Over a cup of gourmet coffee, my colleague and I decided to travel America. It seemed feasible because of our common interests. Having both graduated from UC Berkeley, we were floating between jobs while our creative crafts simmered on the back burner.

Mostly, we both knew little of our own country and wanted to explore our own backyard.

The goal was to produce a body of work that documented America from our perspective, two 20-somethings born and raised in Northern California. Hopefully, projects would develop on the road and we'd stay busy with work. He would take the pictures and I would do the writing.

As the last bit of fall passed, winter knocked on the door, and we bid farewell to our families and the mild climate of California. Well into the trip, I realized that I was learning as much about photography as I was about the back roads of America.

When you've been on the road for weeks, sleeping in the back of a truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot of some interstate town in Anywhere, America, the idea of sleeping in a bed is a brain tease. Regardless of budget constraints, the thought of cramming into a carpet-stained roach motel for one night of peaceful log-like rest is a heaven-sent brain wave. Save for the fact that you are traveling with a photographer.

Traveling with a photographer is like walking next to a luggage rack, one saddlebag short of a pack mule. Daily attire: a vest full of gadgets, a camera dangling from the neck, a waist pack of documents, and a colossal bag filled with gear strapped to the shoulders. He wonders where the back pain comes from.

As a drummer, I don't mind the clicks and cranks of camera handling because there is a faint percussive element to taking pictures. I can disregard the abrupt stops in the middle of the highway or the invasive telescopic lens blocking the salt and pepper. However, the smell of some toxic solution attacking the only potential quality rest I'll see for days is the metaphorical last straw.

The motel room is turned into a pseudo photo lab. The coat rack becomes a makeshift laundry line of negatives drying, the sink doubles as a mixing station, and the bathroom conveniently morphs into a darkroom. Towels are used to block out light, water bottles are filled with chemicals, and the dresser converts to a cutting surface. No matter how hard I try, I can't make the sound of water rinsing film a soothing pond dribble.

The photo lab is running on all cylinders. Instead of falling into some deathlike sleep, I watch TV in the dark, captivated by some new show on what else? Celebrity photographers. Keep in mind that I can't use the bathroom and my bladder is hypnotized by the rinsing sound. Yet, whistling around the room like a happy dwarf, my photographer friend works into the wee hours of night.

So if you can't beat them, tag along like an annoying, inquisitive child. Class starts at midnight. Believe me, as an observer, the reward is not in the process but rather in the end result. Developing film is like data entry, methodical and precise, oh, and boring. It is work. While I enjoy the remaining comforts of the room, he works, racing against the clock of check-out time.

This element of photography is dying out. We live in a technological world, and we are all technological boys and girls. Yet there couldn't be a better example of craftsmanship. Watching the lifeless film transform into memories is like watching a blacksmith mold a piece of rough steel into a fine horseshoe.