Last Tuesday, I set off with little O and my colleague Vickie on a road trip down to Cortez, Colorado, to finish up the photography and writing for our latest Community Storybook project. O did remarkably well for having been strapped into a car seat for a whole day, and then having his routine upended because of my work schedule, but he got every last bit of my energy left over from running around town, so I couldn't post while we were away. I came back with more than 500 photographs to round out our previous series, and I think we have everything we need at this point.
I am learning so much from these projects, and working with the Cortez Heart and Soul Community Advisory Team is inspiring. They know their town inside and out. As we strive to make the values they have identified visible, we sometimes stumble into our own assumptions or observations that miss the mark. For example, I wasted a precious evening with a gorgeous sunset and a textured sky photographing a subject I thought was cool, when I should have been out at a different location capturing what the residents value more.
Here's what happened: I turned O over to Vickie and my stepmom, Tish, after dinner at Stonefish Sushi and More (a beautiful, vibrant restaurant and lounge on Main Street, where I snapped the photo above) and went outside with my camera mounted on a tripod to fulfill a vision I had: capturing the cool neon of the Fiesta Twin Cinemas sign with streaking car headlights and taillights in front of it. I started snapping as twilight set in. One of the first shots I took was this one:
It was a nice moment, where I managed to get the blur of a family on the sidewalk and a car in the street with the blinking neon sign fully lit. Good timing. But I thought it would be even better to get the deep blue of twilight with more movement in the street, so I kept shooting as the sun went down. One of the last frames I captured was this one:
That was the quality I was after: deep blue, fully-lit neon, lots of movement in the street, twinkling street lamps. I really liked this frame and was excited to show it to the committee the next evening as a potential cover shot.
When they saw it, one member of the committee immediately said, "That's not us."
The shot was too flashy, too dark, too heavily styled. They wanted a more honest depiction of Main Street, showing the valued slow pace of life in Cortez and the friendly exchanges that make it a great place to live. We may still use the first shot on the inside cover of the book, because it does illustrate that Main Street is active and vibrant, but the second shot is out.
I realized that I could have spent that evening, our last free evening in town, making use of the perfect light and the help I had with O to photograph hikers at the Carpenter's Natural Area - something the committee wanted that I wasn't able to capture. I'm learning loads about how to manage my time, the light and traveling with a toddler!
That was Wednesday. On Thursday, I focused on the pastoral parts of town and photographed some landscape scenes, as well as some details that help tell the story of Cortez.
The history of Cortez is defined by ditch digging, canal building and flume funding: the drive to get water from the Dolores River to this dry but promising spot located on neither river nor railroad. Cortez was a speculative venture. Its founders believed its sandy red soil would yield good crops, but the lack of water required intensive engineering and ingenuity to make the dream a reality. Those early speculators were right, though: the area has become one of Colorado's important agricultural centers.
Cortez is also renowned as a world-class mountain biking area. One of the best sites for mountain biking, Phil's World, boasts nearly 30 miles of trails and attracts bicyclists from all over the country. Dennis Wright of Memphis, Tennessee, kindly modeled for me when I raced over to Phil's World for a quick shot for the book.
Thursday evening, we had our meeting with the Community Advisory Team, which went really well, even considering my folly with the Main Street twilight shots. They seem pretty pleased overall with what we have produced. The book will be finished next month.
On Friday, I spent the morning finishing up assignments, and then we headed home on an 8-hour odyssey in our rented minivan. We stopped at the scenic overlook on Wolf Creek Pass because it was just so perfectly beautiful that afternoon. I've always loved this part of Colorado, with its dramatic landscapes and long vistas.
We stopped again at the top of Wolf Creek Pass to let O stretch his legs. I snapped this shot of the little rock lover in front of a broad stand of pine-beetle-killed trees, which dominated the top of the pass.
We made it home close to midnight, after returning the rental car and driving back up to Boulder. Exhausting, but a great trip for a project I'm proud to be a part of!