In a remote area of the Nevada desert is a Navy training range. Scattered amongst the remaining ruins of former ranches are tanks, trucks, cars and other simulated radar targets. Unlike the other closed training ranges in Nevada, this area is open to the public. No live bombs are dropped here during training, it's 100% electronic target practice. Driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere under a full moon and coming across a series of tanks in a field is a surreal experience. So is shooting all night and then using a tank as a windbreak at our campsite. Finding all of the vehicles and ruins in this area has been a fun night photography treasure hunt. After many hours looking at satellite views and two multiple day trips to the area, there's still a lot to explore.
The full moon was bright enough to drive the Jeep down a dirt road with the lights out. It didn't matter, because there was nobody around for miles and miles.
In a remote section of the Nevada desert, we found a series of simulated small villages for military training. Built in clusters, some of the structures featured courtyards with difficult access points and sight lines. One series of buildings had fake brick repairs, burn marks, and patched concrete. A simulated gas station featured pumps with printed gauges.
The metal containers and gates were creaking and banging in the wind. Moonlit clouds streaked by in an endless multi-layered Rorschach test. Perhaps we were near the pinnacle of paralleling the post-apocalyptic.
Yesterday I attended a Nocturnes AlumNight at the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard. These bi-annual events typically feature a daytime tour of Mare Island's historic buildings, followed by a chance to share photos and eat pizza with fellow night photographers. The events are held at the Mare Island Museum, where you can learn more about the history of the shipyard. Amongst the interesting artifacts are a working periscope with a view across the Napa River. You can almost see what's on tap at Mare Island Brewing Co.
I hadn't photographed Mare Island since 2014, and was surprised at how much some of the brick buildings have deteriorated in the last 2 years. A 6.0 magnitude earthquake on August 24, 2014 caused a significant amount of damage. Many buildings had severe cracks and fallen bricks. Some buildings have been completely leveled since my last visit.
The building pictured above used to be flanked by a series of interesting metal stacks. The changes on Mare Island have given me a new sense of urgency to photograph there more often. Sign up for The Nocturnes mailing list to find out about workshops and future Mare Island events.
Troy Paiva has been photographing abandoned places under the light of the full moon since 1989. The colorful light painting style featured on his website Lost America has been highly influential. Troy and I have been friends since 2005. He’s having a big art show next month at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. Twenty-nine of Troy's night photos will be on display in sizes up to 6 feet wide. If you're in the Bay Area, don't miss it!
The opening party is on Friday, March 4th from 5pm-11pm. The photos will be up through March 26th. The show will feature work from Troy’s 25-year night photography career, as well as work by photographer Peter Samuels. In the following interview, Troy and I discuss the details of preparing for the show at 111 Minna Gallery.
Getting a Gallery Show
Joe: How did you get the show at 111 Minna Gallery? Did you have a connection introduce you, or was it just old-fashioned self-promotion? Did you show them a print portfolio in person, or just send them work online?
Troy: 100% self promotion. I contacted them in late ’14. This was coming off my successful appearance in a summer group show at Heist Gallery in Kensington, London, where they sold everything I gave them: four 14"x22" archival inkjets I had left over from that show we did at the University of Kentucky. They sold for $1100 each, unframed. They told me “Hit of the show, coulda sold more, we want to give you a big show” etc. So I was also in the throes of preparing a big solo show at Heist.
I was feeling pretty confident when I sent 111 Minna curator Micah LeBrun that e-mail. He gave me a show on the spot, based solely on my work online. Unfortunately, the next open slot was 14 months away! But when he said “I never give anyone a show on the day they first contact me!” I knew he believed in the work.
I dreaded the day in the spring of ’15 when I had to tell Micah that the Heist solo show had vaporized, but he’s been relentlessly upbeat and positive that this show is going to be something totally unique.
Joe: Do you have a print portfolio to show curators? What size are the prints, and how is the portfolio put together? What do you use for leave-behinds?
Troy: Ha, no I don’t have any of that stuff. I use the online profiles and websites to break the ice. Prints come later.
Up to this point, I’ve never really done any self promotion to galleries. Selling prints is not something I’ve ever really pursued directly. Until I accidentally fell into the Heist show, I had no idea that I could sell prints for prices like that.
If this show does well, I’ll parlay that success into something else and grow it that way. But I doubt I’ll ever really promote myself in a traditional manner, do cattle call reviews and all that.
Editing for a Photography Show
Joe: How on earth do you whittle down 25 years worth of photographing abandoned places at night into 29 prints? Are there particular themes or locations, or is it a sampling of everything? What was the editing process like? Did you make any test prints or just look at images on the computer? How much input did the gallery have into the selections?
Troy: Yeah, it was a long, difficult process. It took months. As curator, Micah wanted a lot of input. I had to resist of some of his choices on technical grounds, but was careful to choose my battles: one of the reasons for my fail with the Heist show was that I flat refused to agree to some of their selections. So I was much more diplomatic and willing to compromise this time.
We both agreed that doing an overview of my career was the right approach to introduce my work to his customers. The earliest image is from 1992, the most recent was shot last fall and inserted into the show as a last minute change when one image wasn’t printing well.
Micah really wanted to feature super bright and colorfully lit work. There are no straight moonlight shots in this show. I know there are images in this show that are going to make long-time followers say “Really? That one?” but there are plenty of others that are known favorites, and things I’ve successfully shown before. The two 6 foot prints are images shot in early 2015 that I’ve never shown publicly before.
Micah started by combing my Flickr stream, which is the one place where you can see every single night image I’ve put online since 2005. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it’s all there. I also sent him a stack of about fifty 4"x6" test prints, done on the metallic paper I planned to use.
He compiled a list of about 50, some from the 4x6s, some from Flickr and my website. After still more test prints, lots of lobbying and compromise on both sides we culled to this show near the end of 2015.
Printing Night Photography
Joe: What kind of paper/process are you using for printing? What lab? How many different sizes are you printing? Are you doing smaller test prints before ordering the larger prints? Did you experiment with other labs or types of paper? Are you happy with how well the color and tone matches your monitor?
Troy: Printing my work has always been really hard. I use colors that don’t exist in the CMYK universe and I’ve seen some horrible reproductions of my work over the decades. I used to love the pearly Cibachromes back in the film era, but that costly and toxic process disappeared 15, 20 years ago. I didn’t print much until around 2009, when I found a maker of archival fine art giclee editions of paintings who made beautiful rag-paper prints of some of my work. But the color gamut, especially in the purples, just wasn’t there.
This show is printed on Kodak Endura Metallic. The color gamut of this paper is the largest I’ve ever seen, cleanly reproducing super the intense reds and purples in my light painting. The metallic finish gives the prints a pearlescent quality reminiscent of the old Cibas. Under direct light the color screams off the walls.
This is one of the reasons why now is the time for this big show: I’ve finally found a printing process that can actually reproduce what my work looks like on an LCD screen.
I’m using WHCC for printing. I’ve used them off and on for years. But I wanted to do this right, so I ran some tests last summer, sending the same images to about 6 different labs and seeing what I got back. The best looking 2 were WHCC and another lab, but the other lab fell down on customer service. If there’s a problem, WHCC fixes it immediately.
Framing Your Photos
Joe: How are you presenting each size of print -- are you framing the prints or mounting them? Is the lab doing this work, or a custom frame shop? Are you working with a standard size so this work can be re-used in a future show?
Troy: They are framed. Black wood, about an inch. No mattes. The images are all dry-mounted to gatorboard for rigidity.
I’m using a custom framer in San Francisco, Dave Fallis, who was recommended by Micah at 111 Minna. Dave’s work is super clean and very reasonably priced.
Yes, all the work in this show is printed to standard paper sizes, mostly various extrapolations of the 4x6 aspect ratio. There will be a salon-wall cluster of 8"x12" prints, mostly of ancient film work, and groups of 16"x24" and 24"x36" prints. There are a couple of 36" wide prints in panorama format, as well at the two 4x6 footers.
Print Pricing and Editions
Joe: How did you arrive at the pricing for the prints. Has your previous success moving into a higher price bracket affected your online print sales? What kind of editions are you using for each size of work.
Troy: I followed Micah’s lead on pricing and editions, factoring in the production costs:
8" x 12" - edition of 10 @ $300
16" x 24" - edition of 10 @ $800
24" x 36" - edition of 8 @ $1,250
48" x 72"- edition of 6 @ $5,000
Each image will be available in multiple sizes. My online sales have always been flat. But again, I haven't really pursued these type of sales - I usually just print when people ask me to. This show is for the collectors market, not casual online viewers.
Marketing an Art Show
Joe: Besides the web and social media, are you doing anything special to promote the show?
Troy: I’ve called in all my favors, tried to throw water on all those burning bridges, etc. I think pretty much everyone I’ve ever met has heard about this by now. The press releases have gone out. It’s really up to the gallery to bring the buyers, and I know they have a strong, large database and solid media connections.
Joe: I’m getting my cumberbund pressed so I look sharp for the show. Anything special we should know about the atmosphere. Will there be a DJ playing jazz-rock fusion? There’s going to be lots of beer, right?
Troy: I just picked up a stack of promo postcards yesterday and the music is listed as “DJ Bald Elvis”, so maybe we’ll get some Dread Zeppelin, I dunno. The place is a bar, expect to buy drinks, don’t bring the kids, it’s gonna be a party!
Joe: What’s next for you in 2016. Any special travel plans or shoots coming up?
Troy: I’ve basically taken the winter off from shooting. Virtually every nickel I have, all my focus, is going into this show. Again, the future’s all kinda hinged on this show. How, what and where I shoot in the future is TBD.
Joe: Thanks for taking the time to talk about the show. I hope everything goes well and I'll see you there!
The famous Roy's Motel Cafe is on a lonely stretch of Route 66 in the Eastern Mojave Desert. Restoration work has been in progress since Albert Okura bought the town of Amboy in 2005. Currently, you can buy gas and beverages here. The famous Googie/mid-century modern sign has been photographed a lot over the years. Stand underneath the Roy's sign on a full moon in this 360 night panorama.
This blog has been around since 2006. When I transitioned my website to Squarespace last year, I pulled a bunch of older content down for review. A lot of the photography news related posts were ephemeral, but they featured some fun toy camera photos. Thanks to a few rainy days, I've restored some of these posts with the photos only. Enjoy a bunch of Holga, sprocket Holga, Lensbaby, and pinhole photos in the newly refreshed Toy Cameras category.
I also updated and restored four 360 night panoramas. These images benefited greatly from using newer software for RAW processing, stitching, and presentation. Click on any of the panos for a virtual tour.
Klaus-Peter Statz is a photographer based in New York City who has attended a few of my night photography and light painting workshops. I was impressed with the images that he made at last month's junkyard shoot. Six of his light painted night photos are featured below, along with some notes on the lighting techniques.
Joe: The Williams bus photo does a really nice job of isolating the subject. Can you talk about how you lit this image.
Klaus-Peter: Most of the bus was inside a garage in total darkness, just a small part of the front was lit by moonlight. I wanted to keep the "Midnight Express" feeling and lit the driver side of the interior with a flashlight, reaching in from the outside through a small window. The headlights were lit with a different flashlight, using a snoot. Finally, I used the snoot with a blue colored flashlight to light up the route sign. The cab light illumination was added in post processing.
Joe: This bus image has a wild blur. Did you zoom the lens or bump the tripod? It's a cool effect.
Klaus-Peter: This image is a combination of two frames, a regular long exposure plus a high ISO test shot during which I had accidentally bumped against the tripod. I first wanted to delete the blurry shot, but then played around with it in Photoshop, adding some more blur and came up with this result.
Joe: I like the pastel pinks and yellows of the bus against the blues and greens of the sky/tree. What was your lighting strategy?
Klaus-Peter: This bus was sitting right underneath a strong floodlight that gave it a yellow-greenish cast. I did some light painting on the interior with orange and red flashlights, but was not able to overcome the effect the floodlight had on the outside. I therefore corrected the white balance in post processing to create the pastel colors.
Joe: Great composition, and purple/green is a nice color combo. How did you light this one?
Klaus-Peter: The purple effect was already in the sky, I just emphasized it a bit in post. In order to add the green color I used a green flashlight from behind the bus to lighten up the interior, and added a pop of green to the outside from approx. 45 degrees camera left.
Joe: How did you light this image?
Klaus-Peter: It took me several attempts to get this image lit correctly. The final result is a composite of three images, one using a snooted white flashlight on the headlights, a second one with two pops of a strobe, with and without an orange gel inside the car, and finally the sign that was lit from the far left side with a flashlight. Thanks for helping to direct the lighting from the camera perspective - some shots are easier to achieve with a partner.
Joe: Was the bat-shaped shadow on the ground what attracted you to this composition?
Klaus-Peter: Exactly, the moonlight-created Batmobile reminded me of a similar shot I had done three years ago in the Mojave Desert with a '57 Chevy. It was fun to shoot.
I asked Klaus-Peter if he had a version of the previous image without light painting for the sake of comparison. Shooting one frame without lighting is a great way to see exactly what your light painting is adding to the image.
I'd like to thank Klaus-Peter Statz for sharing his images and light painting strategies. You can see more of Klaus-Peter's work on his website.