Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
“The problem is in the editing.” That’s what one of the portfolio reviewers said to me last week, anyway. He wasn’t speaking about my Route 66 time lapse series at the time, but he sure could have been.
First, a plug, and an explanation of where I’ve been: Palm Springs Photo Festival. It was was even more incredible than PSPF2009. I spent every spare moment over the past few weeks prepping for it (poor neglected blog), but it was well worth the time and money investment. I’ve come back all filled with inspiration and possibility. And, I’m looking for an agent. But that’s another story.
Although it’s still in its infancy, I showed the Route 66 time lapse DVD to many a reviewer last week, and some of the words used to describe it included “unique”, “fun”, “mesmerizing”, and (my favorite) “COOOOL!”. For now it’s still a raw dump of all 60,000+ stills that I shot from the D-SLR mounted on my Jeep’s dashboard into a video sequence. I’m sorting out just how to package it in a user-friendly format: music and narration? Stopping at points of interest along the road and doing mini slide show stories? Text with place name identification? Mileage counter? App? Drug-enhancing ambient visual? If any of you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
On its own, though, I think it’s pretty sweet: where else can you travel the length of Route 66 in just over half an hour, without leaving your hometown? The thing moves very, very fast, as you can imagine… but that’s part of the fun, quickly seeing how the landscape changes as you drive across the country. I know that Tattoo Man (Ron Jones) in Oklahoma wanted to be first in line for one of these, and Ron, I haven’t forgotten that. It’s not really sellable yet but once it is, you will be one of the first to know!
Artcite in Windsor had the video looping in their gallery window during their recent “Beyond Autopia and Autogeddon” exhibition, and the Art Gallery of Windsor displayed a collection of 37 8×10 prints from the time lapse series on the wall as part of their “Here in My Car” exhibit. For that, I originally planned to just grab some random shots from the many, many folders of pictures… but as I started looking at the photos, it became clear that there were some pretty interesting ones in there! Even though they were snapped automatically every 3-5 seconds as I drove along Route 66, some of the images turned out really great – in fact, it’s their random nature that makes some so weirdly interesting. (Sort of along the digital-snapping philosophy of shooting whereby: if you take enough pictures, one of them is bound to turn out!) I decided to dive in and wade through them all, to select what I felt was a good cross-section of images that depicted what you’d see if you drove all of Route 66.
How does one edit over 60,000 images, anyway?
It was a tremendous task that took ages. Initially I pulled out about 500 shots that were in some way intriguing, or simply showed a good idea of the look of the land as I drove. Then I grouped those into categories (generic road shots, bridges, underpasses, motion blur, weather, neat details, Route 66 icons, road shields, Americana, construction work, night, big city, old buildings, weird effects, etc.). From each grouping, I then selected a few to represent each category, and even then I had way too many. Eventually I printed up 4×6 prints of about 60 select pictures, then sorted through those and eliminated enough to get down to my chosen number of 37 prints. (By the way, 37 was just the practical number I came up with, given the dimensions, design and budget I had to work with. I could EASILY have done a much larger grid… and I think I may next time – perhaps hundreds of small 4×6 prints, instead of tens of 8×10 prints).
I then laid all 37 out on my kitchen table and left them there for days, moving them around, trying to get the best sequence that was visually interesting, without having any two images that were too similar too close together, or in the same row or column (not to mention avoiding putting two photos taken in the same state next to each other). I felt like I was doing some weird art Sudoku. Once I settled on a final arrangement, I printed the enlargements and with the help of the wonderful AGW staff, got them all nicely aligned and pinned to the wall. The curator wanted an “uneven” grid pattern for the photos, which gives the sense of a snippet of time, implying that the project isn’t complete – which it isn’t. This is still a work in progress, like the video.
I still need to delete some overlap and extra bits in the video sequence. The “click…click…click” of the camera’s shutter was my constant soundtrack, and although I worried that it might drive me crazy (à la water torture), I got used to it surprisingly quickly – so much so in fact, I sometimes forgot to shut it off when I stopped or took a wrong turn. On the flipside, I once forgot to turn it back on after stopping, and had to retrace several miles of the trip to be sure it was recorded. And then there were the road closures and detours. Fun stuff.
As I drove, I tried to be mindful of the windshield’s cleanliness for the sake of the time lapse pictures, but sometimes bug splats went unnoticed until miles later. I figure, though, that seeing yellow smears hover in the visual field for awhile just lends authenticity to the viewing experience. Once while I was stopped on the side of the road to clean the windshield, I did leave the camera clicking. In that same spirit of verisimilitude, I decided to include one of those stills in the AGW piece. The shot of my Windex-wiping hand is image #31 in the grid.
I hesitate to show much of the time lapse online, since it pales in comparison to the clarity at full resolution… but for those interested, I just posted a few segments on my YouTube channel.
Route 66 News emailed me today, asking how the time lapse was coming along. Thanks for your interest, Ron – I can’t wait to see the final product, either!