Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Library Road Trip Goes to Las Vegas, Zion and the West


1/3/12 – The Library Road Trip continues! Walker and I are on the road again seeking further adventures and libraries in the American West. We had hoped to photograph the libraries of Las Vegas last summer when we drove across the US but couldn’t quite squeeze it into our very crowded schedule. Because Walker was home from college on his Winter break and because I have the week off before starting to teach again at Stanford we decided to do a quick trip to Las Vegas and the West.


After a nine-hour drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas we landed in the City of Grand Illusions at the Luxor on the Strip. It is always a shock to come here and I am always dazzled and disgusted at the same time. I can only stand to be here if I suspend the critical judgment part of my brain. Even then it is a struggle to enjoy the over-the-top fantasy of this City.


However, we are in Las Vegas to photograph its libraries. Through its libraries we hope to see the real city and real people beyond the Strip. The Witney branch library is a modern Southwestern design and beautiful with great desert landscaping. The neighborhood is poor and I try to avoid photographing the large number of homeless people that are suspiciously eyeing me. The next library was located inside the Galleria at Sunset Mall. The librarians are very friendly and explain that this small library was an attempt to bring a library to where the people go. Some patrons have difficulty understanding a non-profit space in a for-profit commercial mall. The library actually sells a few books to satisfy some patron’s need to buy something. The red Clark County Library was part of a large civic center. It was plain inside and had a lot of poor people using this non-commercial refugee in a sea of track homes and strip malls. The Supak Community Center and Library was located in a poor area of North Las Vegas, not far from the casinos. I photographed the outside wall looking up at the famous Stratosphere Tower, one the tallest buildings in the American West. We could hear people screaming as they plunged off the top on some kind of heart attack-inducing ride. At the same moment a woman was being handcuffed by the police in front of the library. I chatted with a Hawaiian looking man and found out that there is a large Hawaiian community in Las Vegas. In another part of North Las Vegas is the Las Vegas Library/Children’s Museum. I was a little nervous photographing the fascinating exterior because of the large number of dicey looking guys hanging out in front. The architecture of the library was so interesting that I set up my big 4X5 camera anyway, hoping for no trouble. While I was focusing the camera the library security guard with a large pistol on his hip came over. After speaking for some time I realized that this guy really liked to talk. I went ahead and took the photographs while we continued our conversation. It was only later that I realized that the presence of the guard made it possible for me to take the photos without incidence. Inadvertently, he was actually guarding me. Our last Las Vegas library was in the affluent western part of the City. The Rainbow library is a beautifully designed modern library that was perfectly lit in the later afternoon sun. We spent the remaining light in the spectacular Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. We headed back to Las Vegas after dark. We had dinner at a ritzy mall area near the Aria Hotel/Casino. We ate at Wolfgang Puck and had an extremely good and surprisingly inexpensive pizza. We strolled the Strip and enjoyed the Bellagio and Caesars Palace. It was a great way to end our stay here.


1/4/12 – After getting a late start we were happy to see Las Vegas in our rear-view mirror. We enjoyed leaving the sprawl behind as we drove on I-15 northeast to St. George, UT. We entered Utah’s spectacular canyon country as we drove to Springdale and eventually arrived at Zion National Park. Just outside Zion is the Canyon Community Center and Springdale Library. Incredible desert canyon walls dramatically rise all around this area. This is one of the most beautiful settings I have seen for a library. I hope that my photographs do it justice. Walker and I spend the rest of the afternoon and dusk in the Virgin River Canyon hiking to the Narrows. It is Walker’s first time here and I have fond memories of being here in the past. The canyon walls are breathtaking as the last light fades.


1/5/12 – What a day! Up at 5 AM I photograph the first light on the cliffs above the Springdale library. After an early morning drive though the canyon lands and Cedar City, UT we head west through remote Utah farmlands into Nevada. Pioche, NV is a great, little mining town in this remote southeastern corner of Nevada. The library was in a small storefront on the old main street. It had a Glen Beck book prominently featured in the Christmas window display. As we drive south to Caliente, NV the only radio station on the air featured Rush Limbaugh. It is curious how much Rush makes my blood boil. It is sad to think that this is the only thing on the radio out here. The Caliente library is in a classic old Union Pacific railroad station. The friendly librarian was re-shelving the books and had been hired to “get the place back in shape.” Walker and I spend the next four hours driving the famous Extraterrestrial Highway. Located next to Nevada Nuclear Test Site it is one of the most remote parts of the 48 states. During the drive we see no fences, no telephone poles and no billboards. We see very few cars and a lot of beautiful big skies and awesome open spaces. The only “town” in the area is Rachel, NV, home of the Little A’Le’Inn where “All Species Are Welcome.” Words and photographs fail to describe this part of the world. You literally have to experience this expansive, vast grandeur and infinite space. No wonder the aliens love it here. We hope to come back someday and stay at the Inn. At the end of the long drive we arrive in the mountains at the tiny, almost-ghost town of Manhattan, NV. We are really short on light so I give ourselves twenty minutes to photograph the library. It is an old high school located on a hill above the town and I choose one spot below from which to photograph. Walker trudged up the hill and met the two friendly librarians and the incredible interior of the library. Because of the shortness of time I decide not to photograph the interior. Besides the Librarian Tony told us that the library in nearby Round Mountain is much better. After quickly driving there to get the last light we find the library to be new but really bland. This is a growing mining community and the huge mine tailings dominate the valley. I feel terrible that we missed the opportunity to photograph more of a library with character in Manhattan. I am reduced to photographing the impressive solar panels of the Round Mountain library in the fading light. We drive on into the beautiful dusk and night through Nevada’s Basin and Range country. We end the drive in Reno after twelve hours of driving. All in all it was a great day with great libraries in an awesome landscape. The Road Trip lives on! In my next post I will finally put up some of the scans from this summer and from our Nevada Road Trip.







Filed under American Life, Libraries, Photography, Public Libraries, Road trip, Robert Dawson Library

The Library Road Trip Goes to Denmark, Tucson and Back

12/2/11 – Greetings to all the new people that recently subscribed to this blog and hello to everyone else. It has been a long time since I last posted here (August 21st) and I wanted to bring you up to date on this project. Much of the last three months have been filled with my academic life teaching photography. When my teaching begins it is a little like being hit with a tsunami where everything gets swept up in the current. I now see the tide is beginning to subside and I can return to the public library project.

Even though I have been working full time quite a few things have been happening with the project. I began by developing a mountain of medium and large format film. I sent the color film out to be processed but all the black and white film I developed in my darkroom. I then began the enormous task of making contact prints of the black and white negatives and digital color photos of the color film negatives. That process took several months. It is slow and tedious but really fun to see the final results. Looking at the contact sheets is a little like opening Christmas presents. It is always exciting because I never know what I am going to get. All the images you see posted on this blog were made with our little digital Canon G-10 cameras. They are perfect for posting on blogs but the real final product are the images made with my medium and large format cameras on film. I have found that these larger film based images are still the best way for me to get the most beautiful results. I have finally picked the images I will scan into digital files. Now I am beginning to undertake the big job of scanning approximately 300 images from the Library Road Trip. I imagine that this will also take several months. With a little break coming soon with my teaching I hope to have this all done by the end of January. I have attached a few images of the process of developing film, selecting and scanning the negatives.

Many of you know that during this summer’s Library Road Trip I was conducting a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the trip. Fortunately, we reached our goal of $8,000. Many of the people that contributed got something from me for their donations. Most were prints of various sizes and books for the larger donations. In addition to everything else, I spent some time this Fall printing, signing and eventually mailing out all of these rewards. The unsung hero in all of this was my wife Ellen who helped enormously by keeping track of the 189 gifts that were mailed. I couldn’t have done it without her. Thanks Ellen! I have attached a couple of images of the Kickstarter work.

Last Spring I had an American Public Library project exhibit at the Main Library in San Francisco. After the show I received an email from Lars Olson who works for the city of Fanoe in Denmark. His daughter lives in San Bruno and while he was visiting he went to see the Library exhibit. He is a city manager in Fanoe and said that they were about to open a new school/community center/public library and wanted to have a permanent installation of my library work there. They also wanted to pay for us to spend a week in Denmark as their guests, give a few lectures and teach a workshop. Ellen and I gladly agreed and spent the first week in October on the beautiful little island of Fanoe off the southwest coast of Denmark. We also traveled to cities on the mainland where the show will be displayed in two other public libraries. It was fascinating to see the Danish public libraries where the work will be displayed.  It has been reported that the Danes are the happiest people on earth. Although they are heavily taxed they do get universal health care and free education through college. And they also have the least disparity of wealth. Do I see a pattern here? We were treated like royalty but when we got back I craved a fresh California salad!

At the end of October Ellen and I gave a presentation at the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It was a panel on our Water in the West Project that is now housed in their archive. This was a collaborative group project with twelve other photographers and the rest of the weekend we participated in a conference on the nature of archives. While we were there we went with writer Rebecca Solnit and Water in the West photographers Sant Khalsa and Geoff Fricker to the Occupy Tucson site. Of course, while I was there I had to photograph their library.

Besides scanning the images from this summer the next BIG part of this project is producing a book and a traveling exhibition. I have begun working with Princeton Architectural Press in New York to publish the book. We are currently investigating possible writers for the book. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. We are also open to some possible connections with other groups to help produce the book. I will keep you posted on the upcoming developments. In the next post I will also include some of the new work from the scans.


Filed under American Life, art, Libraries, Photography, Public Libraries, Public Services, Road trip, Robert Dawson Library