Is Brian Williams a verb yet? Im going to get all Brian William-sy in this post and combine a few trips I took into one. My memories also get hazy looking backwards. While I may be combining some trips that were a few years separated, the stories and intent are true…
This is where I had my epiphany. Right here in Bisti Badlands in upper New Mexico. This was one of the stops on a series of photography trips I took over a few year stretch in the late 80s-early 90s. The accomplices were usually the same – Steve Traudt, Randy Pearce, Jim Cook, Rod Martinez, and a few others. But I’ll get back to this. First…
The trips start with long road truck rides to get to destinations. Usually, in our case, somewhere southwest. Utah, Arizona, New Mexico. These kind of places. Lots of red rocks, piñon and loose dirt. Planned stops along the way involve tripods and cameras. My camera of choice in that time was a Nikon F4S.I really liked this body. It was a modular design. I had different viewfinders, backs and bottoms, so I could change it on the fly to me specific needs at the time. Certain Medium Format cameras have been doing this for decades, but this was the the best 35mm camera to do this. This also was one of the first cameras that I owned that fit me perfectly. It got to the point where I didn’t have to move my eye from the finder to adjust anything. The dials just fell to my fingers intuitively.
One of our favorite stops is Page Arizona. This small town is the center of a lot of things photographic. Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, The Wave, The Slot Canyons and more. I had a starter motor go out on my Chevy truck at the lower slot canyon. Randy and Rod were under the truck replacing that damn starter motor on a 100 degree day. Not only that, but after the motor was replaced we went down into the lower slots for the next 6 hours to photograph.
The slot canyons are magical. I have been there 3 times and each time it is different. The way the light bounces around the canyon and softens as it filters down. I have used 35mm and a 6X7 medium format camera in there and have gotten some really nice shots. Who knows what will ever happen to them, but I have them.
After we left the Arizona area we travelled to a little known area called Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Also a fun place to photograph. Amazing towering rocks and so beautiful in its starkness.
And it is here that I have my view changed. I so relied on my F4 and it was so bombproof over the years, that I never gave a second thought to any problems or issues it may give me. But here I am in Bisti and my batteries die. I need AA batteries in the grip. And I have some in my backpack. Some nice lithiums. Brand new products from the Energizer folks. But you see that my F4 was built before lithiums and did not have the circuitry to handle this increase in power, I insert the batteries and turn the camera on. I hear a very faint *pop* and hear a barely audible sizzle. And my F4 is dead. A very heavy dead. And so I am here, in the wilderness, miles from the truck with a storm looming (see above), with a brick for a camera. I am distraught. We have many more days of shooting ahead and I am done. Toast. Finis.
As I am putting my F4 away in my backpack, wrapping it in the neoprene wrap I used for extra protection, my hand hits something hard down in the bottom of the bag. My FM2! I had stuffed it down there months earlier on another shoot. I was saved! A shot of adrenaline courses through my body. I think I cried a bit at the circumstances. Before I was lost, bereft of hope, and now I am saved! I had unknowingly made my own Plan B! A second chance. At the time I stuffed the backup body in the bag, I had no way of foreseeing the tragedy of new batteries in an older body. And I had given myself a second chance without knowing. All because I had stuffed a manual body down in the bowels of my backpack. And so then I made more images on the way home.
Having that camera body stuffed in my pack saved the trip. The images mean a lot to me because of the way I had to take them. And an unintentional backup plan taught me to be more conscious of making intentional backup plans!