Tag Archives: Kerrick James

Ghost Towns of Route 66

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We love the Mother Road! You know, America’s highway? Good ol’ Route 66 was 2,291 miles of paved possibility. So, when Arizona Highways photographer Kerrick James came out with his latest book, Ghost Towns of Route 66, with author Jim Hinckley, we decided to chat Kerrick up. After all, like our photographer friend, we can’t help but be fascinated with this slice of Americana. The book explores 25 forgotten outposts along Route 66… each story contains several wonderful images taken by Kerrick… the slideshow above showcases some of his work that appears in the book, which is available now.

You should seriously consider buying a copy today.

How did you get involved with this project?

I have shot four books for this publisher; Backroads of Arizona, Our Arizona, Backroads of Route 66 and Ghost Towns of the Southwest. All have done well, and they asked me to work again with the same fine writer, Jim Hinckley of Kingman, AZ — how could I refuse?

Why is it important to document Route 66?

Mobility has always been hugely important to Americans, specifically the freedom to pick up and find more and better opportunities elsewhere — just as in the 1930’s and the refugees from the Dust Bowl; then again when people started moving west to work in WWII industries or post war, when gasoline supplies freed up at last and our soldiers returned from battlefields to explore the country they fought for. Many of these “ghost” towns have structures that are literally disappearing, dissolving back into the dirt and forest, lost to time and memory. Once they’re gone, we’ll have only pictures to remember them.

Why did you choose the photographs for this book (out of the many you took)?

I like images that evoke an emotion within the viewer, but the first viewer is me. If an image ignites a response in me, if an image tells a story, beckons of a distant time, or triggers a long lost memory, then it deserves an audience. And many of the Route 66 visuals are highly symbolic of Americana, a subject I’ve loved my entire adult life.

 What do you hope readers take away from your images?

Explore! Slow down, take a back road, park on a side road and look around or talk to someone about days gone by — learn something you didn’t know about your country. If my photographs inspire or enable someone to take a trip to learn or search for beauty, then I am more than pleased. Photography thrills me still after years of shooting around the world, and my goal is to engage with the viewers and readers on an emotional level.

What is your favorite image out of the series in Arizona?

Probably the image of the Frontier Motel in Truxton… I took it at twilight with this lovely moon. Long before the interstates wove our country tightly together, many lonely travelers looked for havens such as this after a long slow day of traversing unfamiliar roads in the ‘wilds’ of Arizona. How many stories of love, loss and dreams were lived in motels such as this, and are now forever lost?

What’s the significance of Route 66 to Arizona?

Arizona has the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66, and it offers a variety of scenery, period architecture, plus some colorful history.

Why is the Arizona portion of Route 66 so magical, or rather, haunting?

I love the wide open stretches of the western run of Route 66, from Seligman to Kingman, but there are some especially wonderful places like Hackberry and its fabled general store. Two Guns has a superb setting aside a rocky canyon with clear views of the San Francisco Peaks bursting out of the high grassy plains to the west. Route 66 has big skies and distant horizons, and it feels like the Old West of the pioneers and movie makers — or myth makers, if you will.

What is a must-stop stop on route 66 in Arizona?

The Hackberry General Store is always a must-stop and shoot for me… no matter how many times I’ve been there and photographed it’s signs, cars and kitsch. It’s all about atmosphere and details, and creating a mood out of symbols and icons.

Did you use any technique when shooting?

I use a variety of lenses, wide to long. I also prefer early and late light for the warmth and heightened color, but I also love to convert full color images to monochrome. This can mean either conventional black and white or infrared, plus maybe a hint or more of sepia to suggest age or an earlier point in time.

What most intrigued you about this project?

I always have loved and explored ghost towns, but I mainly shot mining camps. So finding a new genre or family of ghost towns was a welcome discovery for me. It’s also a challenge to create striking images of places that sometimes have little left to portray!

Any tips for novice photographers wanting to capture the sites of Route 66?

Get one of the many good maps or travel books and hit the road without a set schedule. Let your eyes and senses guide you, and really slow down! Stay a while longer in these towns and watch the skies for evocative clouds and light. Then shoot as many variations as you can imagine. And of course, I hope you’ll bring this book with you on your journey of Route 66 discovery!

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A Moment in Time

Kerrick James' first shot from Emerald Cave, made on film in 1996.

Here, Kerrick James, a frequent contributor to Arizona Highways, shares a personal story of discovery and photographic evolution:

On many levels, photography is all about discovery — physical discovery, obviously, as in finding an appealing and fresh location, but perhaps also a new technique that helps you better capture or render the spirit of a place or a moment in time. Sometimes both occur in one place in one memorable day. Photography is a process that drives many of us to travel and explore in search of beauty. That quest has driven me to explore many a canyon and blank spot on a map.

Many times, fine photographs have equally fine stories to accompany their creation, and here is a story worth sharing.  In the mid-1990s, the Bureau of Reclamation began to allow public access to Black Canyon for day recreation on the Colorado River, starting at the bottom of the Hoover Dam access road.  I learned of this from a kayak and canoe rental company in Bullhead City, and was asked if I’d like to join them for a day of paddling from the base of Hoover Dam to Willow Beach, 11 miles downstream.  Of course I said yes, and our group explored this fascinating canyon a few weeks later. That experience led to a story that ran in the September 1996 Arizona Highways.

After the thrills of experiencing paddling through a warm waterfall, dunking in a hot-springs pool in a slot canyon, gasping for air in a stifling, 140-degree, pitch-black tunnel called the Sauna Cave and photographing desert bighorn sheep scrambling effortlessly on sheer cliffs high over the river, our group found a small cave on the Arizona side at water level. Hoping to find more unique features, we paddled into the grotto, which reminded me of sea caves I had explored on the Na Pali coast of Kauai, Hawaii.  Luck favored us as the late low sun shone over the 300-foot cliff to the west, illuminating the cave ceiling with shimmering light that bounced off the volcanic rock lining the floor of the flooded grotto.  The reflected light suffused  the green water, making us feel suspended over a gigantic crystal of emerald .

The effect was breathtaking and the mood infectious, even euphoric.  I used a superwide full-frame fisheye lens to expand the space within the cave, and silhouette the kayakers. On another return to Emerald Cave, as I captioned it for the story, I glimpsed a sunstar highlight glinting off a kayaker’s wet paddle.  Because I shot that image on film, I had to wait for processing to know if the sunstar was recorded. I was thrilled when I saw that it really was there in the 6×7-cm film.

James' second shot from Emerald Cave, made digitally in May 2008.

In 2008 I again shot a kayaker in the cave, hoping to catch the sunstar and make a greater variety of graphic images. With the advantage of digital capture, I could very in real time the sunstar effect and even learn to anticipate it during the approach of the kayak. This time, I shot from a narrow, crumbly ledge above the water, but again used a full-frame fisheye lens at 10 mm.

As the sun dipped behind the rosy cliff to the west, the green water ebbed, and the cave faded again to dim flat light. The sense of magic had disappeared, but the sense of wonder — of a visual gift received — still lit me up inside.  This tiny grotto, so beautifully  for just minutes a day, is now known as Emerald Cave, and I still get queries from people around the world asking how to find it.  Discovery is its own reward, but I do tell people where to start this particular journey.

— Kerrick James

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