JFK -> RNO August 2016

In August of 2016 a very special person in my life invited me to fly out to Reno, Nevada. I was thrilled. I had never been to Reno and I had been ready to get back to the southwest for years. 

I was also ready to shoot some film. I had been working on portraits for quite some time, but I was ready to photograph the American west. 

I do not like labeling myself as any one type of photographer. There are specific subjects and themes that interest me (people, families, the American west) and that’s what I like in front of my camera. But it could change tomorrow. 

I brought two cameras with me. I wanted a 35mm and I also wanted to bring my Mamiya. 

The bigger question was film stock. 

For 35mm I brought mostly Ilford Delta 100 and a roll of CineStill 50D which turned out to be slightly defective. It was the only color negative film I brought. 

For medium format, I brought some Ilford Pan F 50 and a roll or two of Kodak Tri-X 400. I assumed I would be shooting in rather bright conditions, hence my choice to bring slower film stocks. The Tri-X was expired and I wanted to shoot it. 

I’ll say it right now: I don’t really like Tri-X in 120. The contrast is too muddy. And the shadow detail usually gets lost in all but the best light. 

I landed in Reno-Tahoe at about 12am after a long delay at JFK.  

Flying always stresses me out. The ironic part is that I rather love airplanes.  

It was glorious to see mountains again. I can’t describe the feeling of adventure that surges through me when I see mountains. 

I started off shooting some of the CineStill film in my little AE-1. I love the fact that the camera doesn’t have a motor drive. I love advancing the film manually. 

Even in bright mid-day sun I was getting decent meter readings. Most of the exposures were around f/8 or f/11 with around a 500th shutter.

The second day we packed up the car and drove to Lake Tahoe. It is a gorgeous location and it was a beautiful day. 

While others went off to swim and do beach activities, I loaded my Mamiya with a roll of Ilford Pan F and walked around with a tripod. 

I love working on a tripod. It gives me the opportunity to really frame and compose. 

The photo below took about 20 minutes frame the photo the way I saw it in my head. 

 I tried a few different angles and finally decided on the framing. Next, there were some people around and I didn’t want any people in the frame. I just waited patiently. 

While I was framing, a hungry squirrel ate some of our snacks right out of our bag. 

I was pretty happy with this exposure, it was by far the best on the roll. 

The CineStill frames below have great color. I really like the way this film handles bright, direct sunlight. It’s a motion picture film stock and it certainly seems to have a cinematic quality. 

I noticed some type of damage to the negatives when I first saw these scans. There are markings along the top of the frames on about 15 out of the 36 frames on this roll. 

I contacted the company directly and they were very helpful. They called it “age fog” which can happen to 50D after it expires. The film was about 15 months old when I shot it. They sent me a replacement roll and recommended shooting 50D as fresh as possible and processing immediately. 

Reno doesn’t have the best reputation but I really liked it. The city of Reno left a little to be desired but the surrounding areas were very beautiful. 

I exposed some more CineStill and some Ilford Delta 100. 

After a few days we began our road trip which would take us from Reno, Nevada to Long Island, New York. 

3100 miles through some of the most beautiful parts of the United States. 

There is nothing like being out on the open road.

I made this exposure through the windshield using CineStill and my AE-1. It’s taken on Nevada Route 50 which holds the nickname “The Loneliest Road in America”. 

The empty, breathtaking landscape is something to which I connected on an emotional level. 

It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. 


For the better part of the last ten years I have been fascinated by the wide open spaces of the western United States. 

I’d be naive to think that I am the only one.

The spaces out west, covered in baked earth and rugged mountains, have long since inspired and beckoned men and women as they set their sights westward.

Many surely were so inspired by the awesome beauty that they willingly gave up their quests for western shores and settled among the red rocks of the American desert. 

My first brush with the west came in 2010 - the year I turned 30 - on a trip to Los Angeles. Los Angeles was a confusing, disconnected mess but it has nice light. 

One morning I found myself in a rental car driving east from LA towards Joshua Tree. I arrived mid-day, temperature around 100 degrees. 

And I was captivated.  

I only had one camera with me then and I was still pretty new to shooting film. It was a Canon EOS 3 and it had been working pretty well. I shot a few frames of Ilford Pan F 50 and then the camera stopped working. I don’t recall what exactly happened but I only was able to fire off 10 or so frames. 

The two days I spent in Joshua Tree may very well be the days that convinced me that I wanted the desolate landscapes of the west to become a major part of my life. It was also the first time I felt connected to something bigger than me - something much older and more primitive. 

As a life long resident of the east coast I had succumbed to the idea that mankind has power over nature. The idea that somehow we are able to conquer it, tame it, even control it. In fact, if you walk around some of the bastions of the Northeast, a convincing case can be made. 

Yet I firmly believe that humans are innate explorers. We are not meant to be isolated from the natural world, blocked off in cubicles with perfectly climate controlled interiors. 

When I walked around at Joshua Tree or saw the Grand Canyon I felt something that I had never yet felt. Something raw. Something atavistic. And a sense of belonging washed over me. A sense of connection.  

By the time I went to the Grand Canyon I had already found my little Canon AE-1 camera. It was (and is) more mechanical than the EOS 3. I ran some Kodak Portra 160 through it. Who hasn’t had an AE-1? Even though they are a dime a dozen I love that little camera. It’s been across country three times now and in a few weeks will go back out west with me. It has battle scars and I like that. 

When I flew back east from Los Angeles a sense of sadness washed over me. 

I felt like I had left a part of myself in the west. 

Over the following months and years I began to dream about a way I could go back. 

I started to read every book I could find about film photography. Slowly, photography using only film became a major part of my life. I sold off any remnants of digital gear as they no longer inspired me to create. 

I also read books about the west. At Work by Annie Leibovitz is one that stands out. I’ve read it cover to cover about a dozen times. Also Westward by Mark Ruwedel is a masterpiece of western photography. 

The inspiration was there. 

Next, I needed to find opportunity. 

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