Coast to Coast to Coast in a Sprinter Van

We’ve been busy… About four months ago, Trish and I were exploring New Mexico when communications confirming a job stopped us in our tracks. We were charged with photographing eight utility grade wind energy sites across the country, but those images and stories are for another time…

180729010Battle Mountain, Nevada

With confirmation of the job, Trish, Rusty (the cat) and myself made ourselves ready for a four month cross country journey in our 2012 Mercedes Benz Sprinter. The Sprinter had just had its 100,000 mile service performed and was already packed and ready to go. It didn’t take much for us to get ready either (digital camera and lens upgrade). it’s time for an adventure!

180728031Mills Creek Camp, Nevada

We mapped the most direct and efficient route for the client, but drove a route keeping our travels to slower, rural highways so we could stop and explore the attractions along the way, or so we thought!

180909043Tucumcari, New Mexico

For the most part we needed to keep to a predetermined schedule as we had appointments to keep for access the wind farm properties. We thought we had allowed plenty of time to dilly dally along the way. Unfortunately, that part didn’t work out too well thanks to construction, detours and routing! Just the act of traversing America’s rural highway system slowed everything down quite a bit, making it impossible to travel much more than a couple hundred miles a day, and that’s on a good day! Bad travel days were usually good camera days and we typically didn’t make much progress mileage wise. So, we needed to pick up the pace, pushing through places I would have liked to have spent time. Giving ourselves weeks in between sites was clearly not enough time to explore all the curiosities along the way. It was barely enough time to drive the back roads to the next wind site!

180911004Taiban, New Mexico

Still, we managed to drive coast to coast and back again with very little use of the interstate freeway system. We saw so many places we wanted to stop and make photographs, but our schedule dictated we keep on truckin’. Unfortunately and sadly, it’s very unlikely we will ever return to so many of those places.

181030014Woods, South Dakota

The western landscape disappeared into the rearview mirror as we drove east across the High Plains. Continuing east we dropped out of the High Plains into the industrial agricultural complex known as the American Midwest. If you really want to experience the grandness and scale of agriculture in the American Midwest, drive the back roads across it to experience how many days of feedlots, fields of corn, soy beans or sorghum it takes to get across a region. The shear volume of land devoted to the cow is staggering…

_B4A1626Paxton, Illinois

Driving only rural highways and byways, looking for the unusual or under appreciated spots to photograph was the best way for me to create images both digital and analog. I have created a record number of digital images that have been developed, archived and backed up since hitting the road. I also have a shopping bag filled with exposed film, ready for that lab I haven’t built yet, in a house we haven’t purchased yet…

180922010Cheney, Kansas

The first thing you notice about the Midwest is not how flat the landscape is, but how foul the air smells! Dairy cows, feedlots and things dead have the largest influence on your nose, then add some agricultural chemicals to top things off.

180922018Bazaar, Kansas

I was looking forward to visiting the smaller towns of the midwest, searching out the older communities for photographic inspirations. But, what we were not ready for was how we were treated by a lot of people we encountered in the region.

180925012Fowler, Indiana

Don’t get me wrong, we met some wonderful folks along the way. Some of the nicest people we met were fellow travellers, traversing the country looking for something… We met a very, very small group of local folks that were also true gems, people trying to make a better place out of where they are. Some of the usual “locals” we encountered along the way didn’t seem to trust outsiders, or maybe they’re suspicious of everyone. Some even came across as down right mean spirited. Strange and sad at the same time, as half the fun of travelling is the people you meet along the way.

180930002Ada, Ohio

In a very small number of these rural communities we were made to feel like we should leave! In those cases we followed our gut instincts and kept moving… We heard, “We don’t serve yer kind” and “Yer not from around here, I’d suggest you move along” and price gouging happened to us outsiders a few times that we noticed. The suspicious nature of these folks makes for a real dome scratcher. In some communities people would actually follow us around their town, taking photographs of us when we would stop to make images of their community. And, sometimes, these leary individuals would escort us to the the city limits. Yep! We’re not from around here. Sorry, you don’t trust outsiders! Get over it…

181007069Saint Sylvestre, Quebec

Everything changed entering the Northeastern United States. The landscape massively changed and the people became far more friendly and not suspicious of outsiders. Plus, the food became edible again. We arrived just in time for leaf peeping! We ended up going into Quebec and Ontario, Canada as we had never been to any of the Eastern Provinces before and the fabulous fall colours were a huge enticement!

IMG_5948Adirondack Mountains, Quebec

It rained a lot in Quebec, making the Crown roads a bit muddy, but the fall colours were nothing short of spectacular!

181029002Clermont, Iowa

On our return west across the United States we took a more northerly route yet, still keeping to backroads.

181101014Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Leaving the industrial agriculture complex of the Midwest, crossing the Missouri River and finally arriving at Badlands National Park, we felt as though we had made it back to the west again!

181108005Reed Point, Montana

The last wind farm to be photographed on this trip was near Billings, Montana. Winter had hit, with high winds, a light smattering of snow and temperatures barely breaking the freezing mark. Beautiful to behold, bone chilling cold to be outside photographing in it.

181108022Yellowstone River, Montana

It’s cold in Montana this time of year and getting colder! Once photography had been completed on the wind farm we started to drive south hoping to catch up with warmer weather to better accommodate camping. A cold arctic front met us in Montana to photograph the site. Then, another cold front chased us south. We drove two days staying in motels as the weather was so cold neither one of us was interested in sleeping in the Sprinter.

181120020Tonopah Test Range, Nevada

What an amazing trip! We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore all of the possibilities. The Northeastern United States has lots of amazing historic opportunities and the landscape is quite a relief from the mundane flatness of the Midwest. We found the NE over populated and difficult to navigate due to said population. We saw lots of photographic opportunities everywhere, but with so many people around it’s hard to get any good images. Getting through to the paranoid people of the Midwest that you’re not a threat to national security is another. We found several places in Kansas that I would be interested in returning to for a photographic expedition. Missouri and Iowa I hope to never set foot in again…

 

 

 

 

 

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A Change in Direction

And now for something completely different! While exploring New Mexico we received confirmation of an anticipated job photographing wind energy for a company we have worked for over the years. Here is a link to the Center for Art + Environment on my “Harnessing the Wind” portfolio of images and ephemera from shooting wind energy across America.

So, off we go! “Gig Economy” is a phrase that has become popular lately and one we find humorous, as this is how we have always made our living as did my father before me.

We will be photographing several utility grade wind farms across the country for the company’s tenth anniversary. This postpones our house hunting for the moment, but, we’ll be back at it next year when we’re finished with the project.

180913023180913001Clovis, New Mexico

After photographing two wind farms in New Mexico, we are now heading east across the Great Plains. We’re keeping to back roads and byways across this flat landscape, avoiding freeways as much as possible. This may take a lot longer and that’s the point, making frequent stops to create photographs along the way. We want to get to know more of this country.

180915294Texico, New Mexico

180909070Melrose, New Mexico

180912073House, New Mexico

We have never considered living in the Midwest and this trip totally confirms it! When we set off on this expedition I didn’t even think I was interested in photographing what I thought was a boring landscape. Boy, was I wrong! I found the landscape to be an amazing place to create images. I would consider returning, as I found some places that I would like to spend more time exploring.

180308079180308087Tall Grass National Preserve, Kansas

We thank science and Mercedes for having a de-humidifier in the climate control system of our Sprinter as the humidity here is unbearable. At camp, we are incredibly uncomfortable especially when you add all of the insects! There are all kinds of insects, some are noisy, some are annoying, and most bite. Between the humidity and the bugs, we don’t get much sleep.

180923090Blaine, Kansas

“Whatch ya’ll doin’ here?” is the most commonly heard phrase since heading across the backroads of the Midwest. Most folks we encounter are superficially friendly at best, but clearly not trusting of strangers. Others just glare at us with that “what the fuck are you doing here” look on their face (these people make us nervous). Once we explain we’re making photographs, they quickly want to know our religious affiliation and then where we stand politically to find out who we really are. Obviously, we dodge their questions, which generally confuses them. At this point they usually glaze over and the conversation ends… I understand not everyone is like this across the Midwest, especially in the cities. But, this is what we have encountered… Why do these things matter so much to everyone? I’m not interested in folks’ religious or political inklings, there are so many other interesting things to talk about… Like the weather!

180922003Kingman, Kansas

Revival tents, religious slogans and confederate flags seem to be the best way to decorate yards in the rural Midwest which makes for fantastic fodder for plastic cameras! That means I have a lot of film to process. Common bumper stickers: “Not a Liberal” and “Spank your Children They Might grow up to be Democrats”. Common graffiti we’ve seen include “I (heart) JESUS” closely followed by “I (heart) TRUMP”. You get the idea. Makes one embarrassed to be American…

180919422Hereford, Texas

There’s a pervasive smell all across the Midwest. An unbelievably strong smell of animal excrement and death, topped off with a hint of agricultural chemicals. Just add a ton of humidity and insects on a flat landscape and you have rural Midwest living…

Still, it’s a fascinating place to photograph…

_B4A1626Paxton, Illinois

All images © 2018 Deon Reynolds

“Harnessing the Wind”

I am beyond thrilled to be a part of the Archive Collections of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art!

01_080812432Spring Valley, Nevada

My portfolio “Harnessing the Wind” consists of 21 – 14” x 21” color digital photographs, printed on 17” x 22” Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Bright White 301 gsm smooth paper on an Epson 7890 printer using Epson’s Ultrachrome K3 inkset. I made 15 in depth visits to three utility grade commercial wind energy projects in the United States. The photographs were created between 2012 and 2014, printed by myself in Eureka, Nevada in November of 2015.

02_080812436Spring Valley, Nevada

I was contacted by a San Francisco advertising agency in 2011 to document construction of Nevada’s first utility grade wind farm, and was excited to work on an assignment incorporating a gorgeous landscape with an industrial scale renewable energy project.

03_080812591Spring Valley, Nevada

Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley Wind is situated on 7,680 acres of BLM administered land, thirty miles east of Ely, Nevada in White Pine County near US-50. Spring Valley Wind consists of 66 2.3 megawatt Siemens wind turbine generators. The 152 megawatt facility started selling electricity to NV Energy in August of 2012.

12/17/2012 Spring Valley Wind ParkSpring Valley, Nevada

After negotiations, planning meetings and scheduling, I finally had the opportunity to explore the Spring Valley construction site in October of 2011. I located the lay down yard covered with pick up trucks, heavy equipment and temporary office trailers and checked in with the staff of Mortenson Construction. Site specific safety training and personal safety equipment are a prerequisite prior to entering the construction site. We were escorted by a safety officer for a tour of the site while working out the best way to accomplish an extensive shot list.

121912 Spring Valley Wind ParkSpring Valley, Nevada

We scouted locations the day before for early light and arrived the next day about an hour before sunrise. Provided we followed strict safety rules, stay out of active construction zones and wore our safety gear, we were free to roam the site making photographs of the largely unfinished wind farm. Shortly after sunrise, crews began arriving for their daily safety briefing. We met our safety officer, who escorted us to the individual construction sites. He introduced us to each site’s foreman, who in turn would go over site specific safety concerns and then had us sign in.

121912 Spring Valley Wind ParkSpring Valley, Nevada

My wife, Trish, who is also my producer and assistant, would set me up with equipment for the particular scene. Sometimes, she would need to stay back while I went into the active construction site with the safety officer watching my back enabling me to get close to the action without getting hurt or impeding construction. At sites that were less hectic or dangerous, she’d assist by holding a radio controlled strobe or fill card to help with lighting.

121912 Spring Valley Wind ParkSpring Valley, Nevada

Because Spring Valley is located on BLM public lands, excavation was done with archeologists observing for artifacts. The BLM also required the areas around the turbines to be restored to its natural state upon completion to have as little impact as possible on the fragile desert ecosystem. At this early point in construction, other than the grid of access roads, most of the landscape was undisturbed. I documented workers using heavy equipment excavating, setting rebar and then pouring concrete foundations. After those tasks, more earthwork was done to back fill the foundations.

08_130619090Ocotillo, California

We returned to Spring Valley in April of 2012 to photograph a much more evolved construction site. Although far from it, the site looked largely complete. This time, we photographed tower erections and 174’ blades being connected to the hub. The lift involves picking up a complete rotor assembly, lifting it to the top of the 262’ tower with a giant site-built crane while workers inside connect the two pieces.

09_130619134Ocotillo, California

Returning in August 2012 we photographed the grand opening for Pattern Energy which was preempted by stormy weather. It was spectacular weather for me though, so I was busy until it was too dark to shoot creating many of the images found in this portfolio.

10_130619229Ocotillo, California

Our last photo shoot at Spring Valley Wind was to document the entire wind farm in the winter. The snow finally flew in December and we spent a couple of beautiful, but very cold, (-18˚C / 0˚F) days photographing.

11_130620309Ocotillo, California

The success at Spring Valley Wind led to an invitation to photograph Pattern Energy’s Ocotillo Wind facility located on 12,500 acres of BLM land, northwest of Ocotillo, California in Imperial County. This site consists of 112 – 2.3 megawatt Siemens turbines. The 265 megawatt facility started selling electricity in July of 2013.

12_130621036Ocotillo, California

On our first trip to Ocotillo, we arrived at the mostly completed wind farm in mid June. Ocotillo is just 12 miles from the US Mexico border and it was very hot. For our three-day photo shoot the lowest temperate was 28˚C (83˚F) and the high was 46˚C (114˚F).

13_130621200Ocotillo, California

This photo shoot was very different from Spring Valley. My shot list was primarily to create beautiful landscape images of the facility and to make it look like it was functioning when it was not.

14_131121088Ocotillo, California

I was also charged with documenting this facility’s unique feature, the “Bird Tower”, an observation tower staffed by an ornithologist to watch for avian activity. The ornithologist has the ability to shut down the entire facility to reduce bird mortality. The facility was also stocked with equipment to respond to any wild animal event. I spent three days photographing Ocotillo Wind. We returned one last time to document the grand opening event and to photograph the fully functioning power generating facility.

15_140617185Panhandle, Texas

The next invitation from Pattern was to the Panhandle of Texas for a three day photo shoot in June of 2014.

16_140617301Panhandle, Texas

Panhandle Wind is divided into two wind farms with both facilities located north of Panhandle, Texas in Carson County. Pan 1 is located on 52 privately held parcels of land with long-term lease agreements consisting of 118 – 1.85 megawatt General Electric turbines generating 218 megawatts. It began commercial operation in July of 2014. Pan 2 is located immediately west of Pan 1 on 40 privately held parcels of land with long-term lease agreements consisting of 79 – 2.3 megawatt Siemens turbines generating 182 megawatts. It started commercial operation in November of 2014.

17_140617414Panhandle, Texas

The Panhandle of Texas is so flat you can make out the curvature of the earth. I thought the location was going to be a challenge since all the other wind farms I’d previously documented were surrounded by dramatic geologic formations. Turns out, the flat landscape didn’t make the location any less interesting to photograph.

18_141114206Panhandle, Texas

Pan 1 was finished and producing power and Pan 2 was well into its construction phase. I was charged with a long shot list of specific construction images to be completed plus a few landscape shots of Pan 1 since it was finished, and any images I could get of Pan 2 that made it look like it was up and running.

19_141114239Panhandle, Texas

We returned to Panhandle, Texas in November of 2014 for a one-day photo shoot to document the grand opening event and create beauty images of the now fully functioning Pan 2. For several weeks prior to the grand opening the weather had been dull, gray and raining and it wasn’t looking promising for photographing anything outside.

20_141114297Panhandle, Texas

We had luck on our side though. Other than it was 10 degrees and windy, we had blue sky and sun. The turbines looked fantastic and were operating at peak capacity. I came prepared for any weather and donned my arctic parka and took to the wind farm once again to document it from before sun up to after sun down.

21_141114709Panhandle, Texas

Here is a link to the “Construction” portfolio.

Special thanks to NV Energy, Pattern Energy and Mortenson Construction for their generous contributions that helped to make this portfolio possible!

All images © 2018 Deon Reynolds

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