Friday, February 02, 2007

Waltz Across Texas

Stranded photos are always a challenge. Imagine your car has just died and you are sitting on the side of the road as trucks thunder past you only feet away. Your mind is racing with thoughts of how you are going to get off the highway and how much of your paycheck it's going to cost you to get your car running again. You are probably at a very low moment in your life. And then a car pulls up and a stranger asks if they can take your picture. That anyone ever says 'yes' amazes me. That most say 'yes' continues to blow my mind. Beyond the extreme tension inherent in the moment I am also working against the sheer improbability that someone will be broken down at the exact time and location that I happen to be passing in my car. I have made many trips and traveled many miles with this project and sometimes it doesn't bare photographic fruit.

Last Friday we took another road trip to hunt for stranded motorists and explore the vacant glory that is coastal Louisiana and East Texas. The trip covered over 1,200 miles and yielded only one stranded motorist and one roadside photo shoot. In the past this lack of output would have frustrated me to no end, but this trip was different. We decide to embrace the randomness and let our curiosity and the open road be our guide.

In Bayou Vista, LA, we stopped at the community center to visit the Barnes and Bailey circus (not Barnum & Bailey) and met Sam whose job it was to glue glitter to the hooves of the dancing horses.

In Huntsville, TX, we stopped at the “world’s largest statue of an American hero” -- a 67 foot concrete and steel effigy of Sam Houston. Huntsville is a gift that just keeps giving. We visited the Texas Prison Museum where I bought a wallet that was purported to have been made by a prisoner. On close inspection I found a Made in China sticker. Maybe they meant to say a Chinese prisoner made the wallet. From the museum we made the short drive to the Walls Unit of the Huntsville prison. The Walls Unit is the oldest prison in Texas and the location of the “Friendship” state’s death chamber where over 355 state-sponsored homicides have taken place since 1976.

Outside of Buffalo, TX, we pulled over to watch a giant strip mining operation and soon had new friends in the form of 80-year-old Morgan and his dachshund buddy, Snickers. Morgan seemed to be a little weary from the day -- or perhaps he was drunk. Whatever his condition he had a hard time keeping upright. “I fall down a lot,” he said.

Our journey then took us toward Waco along highway 164 to visit the Mt. Carmel compound of the Brand Davidian church. This was the site of the 1993 BATF and FBI siege on David Koresh and his followers that resulted in the deaths of 82 people. The chard foundation of the building still remains along with several militia-funded memorials that pay tribute to those that died and celebrate Koresh as a modern day Davey Crockett.

Just a short distance from Waco is Crawford, TX, and the site of another compound owned by a messianic leader hell bent on steering his followers toward a fiery downfall. I speak, of course, about George Bush and his western White House ranch. We drove out to the gate of the ranch, stole his newspaper, and then made a mad 200 mile dash back to Houston. The next morning we drove back to New Orleans.

All in all the trip was a healthy helping of American pie and, despite only finding one stranded motorist, I did find some inspiration for a new series. Tonight I will be driving back to Huntsville and will be shooting at the Walls Unit all weekend.
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