Kurt and I are still hanging out at the junction. The main attraction of the ghost town is the Amargosa Opera House where Marta performed ballet and pantomime for over 40 years. To honor her legacy, Kurt photographed a miniature ballerina dancing on the stage of the Opera House.
The miniature ballet dancer was put together using the legs of an HO scale swimmer and the body and arms of a ballerina.
Based off pictures of Marta performing, Kurt modeled an HO scale classic ballet two-piece outfit slightly larger than a pencil eraser. The weave of the traditional materials like satin and chiffon was too thick to create the tiny tutu so Kurt created the shape out of floral foam wrapped in a thin layer of plastic film. The plastic film mimicked the folds of real fabric. The skirt was painted off-white to match one of Marta's costumes.
Kurt and I took a hiatus from our New Mexico travels to go celebrate our friend's birthday in Death Valley Junction, California. We discovered this ghost town a couple years ago and heard about the fascinating story of artist Marta Becket and the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House. The town has a population of 3, Kurt and I are sticking around for a few days to create a series of images revolving around life in DVJ.
Kurt and I left Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus and drove 60 miles north to City of Rocks State Park. It's a very photogenic place that got its name from the street-like paths between the towering rock formations.
We were looking forward to being at the park when it was a full moon so we could try and photograph a UFO flying over the rock formations at night. Unfortunately, it was a windy week which made it impossible to do long exposures of the flying saucer.
The rugged landscape was appropriate for a Godzilla scene so Kurt had an HO scale army tank try to take down Godzilla. The scene turned out pretty well!
While camping in City of Rocks, Kurt also worked on modifying a mini exploration vehicle. He added a couple scientists inside the cockpit, placed a spot light and a radio antenna on the roof and replaced the 2D painted ladder with a real miniature one.
We brought the mini exploration vehicle on our hike, hoping to capture a scene. The first few locations we stopped at did not work, the shapes in the background were distracting and the lighting was uneven. Finally, towards the end of the day, all things came together to create a keeper.
Ever since we first visited Southern California in 2014, Kurt has had in mind to photograph miniature border agents patrolling the wall built between the U.S and Mexico. Back then he created a set of border patrol agents and purchased a couple HO scale border patrol vehicles. We have been traveling with the figures ever since.
Finally, our opportunity came a few days ago while camping at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, three miles from the Mexican border. On our first visit to the border, we walked over to the wall and set up our scene on the dirt road along the wall. There, we came across a border patrol agent who was patrolling the road. We had a great, long conversation with him and heard safety tips and stories about his career as an officer. In regards to our photo project, he told us where it was OK for us to be and where we shouldn't go.
One night from our campsite, Kurt and I noticed a row of bright lights outlining the border. That's when Kurt decided to add a night scene to his border patrol Series.
In Columbus, it is very common to see border patrol vehicles driving through daily, they patrol for drug smuggling and illegal immigrants.
For awhile Kurt has had the idea to photograph a scene where a miniature cow is being abducted by a flying saucer. One of his wishes for the scene was that a windmill would be included in the background.
While traveling through southern New Mexico, we spotted several windmills from the highway. Sadly, none of them were close enough to the road to use as a backdrop for our scene. Until we came across an abandoned General Store off the side of the road. The place had a row of old wood frame buildings, an overgrown cemetery and a windmill.
We scouted the place one afternoon and decided on the best angle to shoot from. Kurt tried different perspectives from the ground until he was satisfied. We were racing against the fading light to set up the scene. The tall fence and grasses surrounding the cemetery worked well in the background and conveyed a sense of remote countryside.
While camping in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Kurt and I went and explored Dog Canyon in the Sacramento Mountains. We thought it would be a good setting for a UFO crash scene. This scene was directly inspired be an artist illustration of the debris field from 1947 and Kurt felt compelled to recreate his own version of the events.
One morning we set out in the backcountry to shoot the scene.The sky was partly cloudy and the air was cool. It took us a very long time to navigate the prickly cacti and razor sharp thorn bushes. Eventually we found a wash that was conducive to our miniature photo shoot, the soil was sandy and free of bushes.
Kurt started to arrange the scene. I had to get really creative about how I would photograph Kurt because there were some challenges I had to deal with such as uneven terrain and tight spaces. Not only did we get some good images, we got in a good hike as well!
Kurt and I were excited to get back to the White Sands, our favorite National Monument! Our last visit was in 2014 so Kurt was eager to return and get started on his new series revolving around UFO and monsters.
We are currently camping in Oliver Lee State Park, a small park on the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains with sweeping views of the valley. From our campsite we can see the town of Alamogordo, the White Sands, Holloman Air Force Base and part of White Sands Missile Range. On occasion, we can even hear missiles being detonated on the range miles away from us.
The day Kurt got the shot with the UFO, we were fortunate to have a sky filled with contrasting clouds. After a quick lunch near the dunes, we got our gear ready and hiked up the first mound expecting to see rolling dunes. Instead, we were overlooking picnic shelters and a road, not exactly what Kurt had envisioned as a backdrop for his scene :) We decided to get back into our van and drive further into the park to seek out a more natural environment.
We finally found our spot and Kurt worked on flushing out his idea. His original thought was to have a lone UFO fly over the dunes, in time he inserted a figure into the scene to add to the story.
As far as the weather was concerned we could not have asked for better conditions: the air was still, the temperature was comfortable and the light was soft and warm. The added texture and colors in the clouds added drama and energy to the final shot.
Here comes our biannual update ;) This winter, Kurt and I will focus our time and energy on our Un Petit Monde project, we plan to spend a few months in New Mexico. On a recent visit to Roswell (the site of a UFO incident in 1947) Kurt got inspired to photograph a series involving UFOs.
We spent Christmas in Minnesota with the family where we endured frigid temperatures. When we drove south the frigid air seemed to be following us! As far south as Amarillo, in the Texas panhandle, the temperature plummeted in the teens overnight; we woke up to freezing fog.
Our first few days in New Mexico were spent huddling in our van to escape the sub-freezing temperatures. Kurt took advantage of our forced downtime to brainstorm scenes.
Now that the weather has warmed up, Kurt and I are out every other day shooting scenes. At Brantley Lake, Kurt had an idea to photograph a UFO sighting. For this specific scene the UFO needed to appear suspended in mid-air so Kurt used a fishing line and a tripod to do the trick.
Kurt's biggest challenge was to photograph the scene in such a way that the line would be invisible. He tied one end of the line to the flying saucer and the other end to the tripod and suspended the saucer 8 inches away from the vehicle. He focused on the car and shot the scene with a shallow depth of field so the line would be invisible to the eye.
These past couple weeks, Kurt and I have had a lot of joy recreating scenes from "the past" staging Civilian Conservation Corps workers, lumberjacks, etc.
We learned a few things in the process:
- Most iconic buildings and structures in State and National Parks were built by the CCC boys (Civilian Conservation Corps)
- The original visitor center in Gooseberry Falls (built by the CCC) was still in use as late as 1996!
- The CCC program ran from 1933 until 1942 and no other federally funded program has been created since that rivals it both in its scope and degree of accomplishments.
- the North Shore's popularity is not new: visitors and outdoorsmen have been enjoying the area for over a century much like today
- Heavy logging and even farming used to take place in the Northland and large areas were depleted of their trees and left bare: CCC replanted many trees in the 1930s and brought back the landscape we enjoy today.
Looking at what the CCC's legacy: why couldn't there be a mandatory program that would put the youth to work for a set amount of time on projects that up the quality of life for all of society? These young people would learn a trade of their choice, gain much needed life experience and the hours put in would pay for their college education!