Night photography brings out different qualities in different people. For some, it’s the deep and dark colors of the sky and for others it’s the unusual possibilities of images not yet imagined. But for those of us who are no longer walking this earth in bodies, it’s a chance to visit with the living and remember when they too had physical form. I am talking about ghosts. Now, I can’t tell you they exist but I can tell you that, while out with my camera in a very amazing place last night, they were with me and I heard them rumbling around, maybe looking through my viewfinder to see what I see. Maybe.
We visited Bodie which is an abandoned but well maintained town now labeled a “Historic Park” which was a gold rush boom town in 1877 and by 1879 had about 8,500 people living there and more than 2,000 buildings. They even had a China Town section which, if I were alive then, would be where I would eat supper most nights. But, by 1881, the town was no longer boom and headed quickly to bust. The gold mines were depleted and people were leaving. In 1892 a fire destroyed much of the town and again in 1932 another fire wiped out all but 10% of the remaining buildings.
This is the subject of this evening’s outings, walking among the dead at a place ruined by flames, yet still alive in more ways than you can imagine. While Bode is open every day at 8 am for visitors to wander, it’s rarely open at night and a rare and wonderful opportunity to have the entire town all to ourselves was the result of months of pleading, begging, arguing and promised favors. Lance Keimig who led this trip (google him) made this possible. Thanks Lance.
Meeting Rod, a roundish 70’ish fellow with a beard like Santa Claus in a Ranger’s uniform at the gate happened at 8:00 pm. He gave us a little speech about how we can’t go into any of the buildings and had to stay together as a group. While we didn’t enter the buildings (they were locked) we did manage to go our separate ways to locate our own magic that night. Unfortunately we turn into a pumpkin at midnight and had only those 4 hours. For most photographers, 4 hours at any decent location we’re just getting warmed up. And with multiple 10-15 minute exposures, time moves much more quickly.
Bewildered by the enormity and the choices, I find a simple subject to start and determine how I will light it, I spent a 1/2 hour but finally made one image. I made my 1st photo, I am officially started.
As I walk down the abandoned but well maintained streets, I notice a beautiful store front, as if wrapped and sealed from time over 100 years earlier, it too was worth considering. It has a few Edison bulbs hanging inside, I think about the exposure, make a few tests then compose best I can given the limitations of the space.
Next stop will be farther out from the center of town, I walk the streets as if I were a miner looking for a crew to sift the waters of the Colorado River, searching for something which I don’t yet see, for a chance to click my shutter once more and capture time.
The abandoned streets are unusually quiet and I stop to look and then it happened. I hear a sound, footsteps in a building that hasn’t been occupied for a century, they are heavy, moving slowly and the wood is creaking, as each step moves it closer and closer to where I am standing. I see nothing I hear everything. There’s a deep sigh. I check around me…. nothing. I look down the street…. no one.
I decide I am not leaving without a picture so I click, wait…….. then split. My own heart was pounding like the gallop of horses driven by men headed to the saloon after weeks of pan handling and hard core mining. I didn’t see exactly what I shot until later.
I checked to see if a ghost was behind me as a walked with a quickened pace, I think I lost him. But just in case, I said to myself “If there is a ghost here with me, take me to your favorite place” and as I walked down the street, I felt the pull of inspiration, as I passed an old piece of mining equipment. This is what I saw.
Remember, it’s pitch black, only the moonlight to work with, I washed the sides of this monster with a delicate swoosch of my flashlight, I went behind it to fill the dark spaces which were invisible to the world and I watched as the stars streamed by. How did they move so far in the last 12 minutes, was it the generator still working, pushing its electricity into the sky to propel the stars as a way of entertaining itself? Or was it simply there watching like I was, loving the attention from a stranger with a camera who took fancy to a huge lump of metal. You decide.