Captured: The bear on 56th Street

The Bear on 56th Street

The bear stands on a cliff overlooking Eagle Creek Reservoir and 56th Street. He was the mascot of the former Galyan’s sporting-goods store. Galyan’s sold to Dick’s, which donated the bear to the city, which placed the bear here.

I last photographed the bear in 2012 with my Pentax K1000. Standing on the shoulder of 56th Street armed with only a 50mm lens, the bear was pretty small in the shot. When I was noodling around with my Sears 80-200mm zoom lens on my Pentax ME at the end of last autumn, I returned for this closeup.


Photographic dissonance

I follow blogs of several other camera-collecting photographers and I get the sense that they all process their photographs in Photoshop or some other image-editing software.

I feel like I run a little against that grain because I use such software sparingly. I’m not opposed to processing; I can see how it is a tool for achieving an artistic vision.

But I shoot my old film cameras mostly for the experience of it. I just want to see what turns out, how the camera responds to the light and my composition. I realize that film, processing, and scanning play a large role in that, so last year I began trying to be consistent with these things. I stick to the same films, the same processing, and the same scanning so that the camera and lens are the variables. (Unfortunately, I have to choose a new processor as the one I was using got out of the business.) When I do use software to manipulate images from my film cameras, it’s mostly to crop or straighten them.

I’m more likely to manipulate the images that come from my digital cameras, adjusting color, brightness, contrast, and sharpness. I tweak subtly, enhancing it to match what I saw that made me want to shoot the scene. I barely know what I’m doing with these tools, not because I find software hard to use, but because I have much to learn about photography as art. Still, I recognize which tweaks please me and which don’t. I save the former and pitch the latter.

This is one of my favorite road-trip photos. Believe it or not, this is the original alignment of US 36 in Parke County, Indiana. When the US highway system was founded in 1927 it was largely routed along existing roads, paved or not. When the state got around to paving US 36, it straightened and moved the highway in this area, leaving this original alignment behind. I visited this spot in 2007 and shot this photo. This is exactly how it came out of my Kodak EasyShare Z730. (Click here to see it larger.)

Old US 36

I love this photograph. Some of my feelings for it come from the memory of that trip and my excitement over this discovery. But I also love this photo because the road, the light spot where the trees part, and the Bridge Out sign all guide the eye to the center of the image. And I can’t get over how deeply, vividly green the scene is, with that shock of tan dirt road, the battered red Stop sign, and the lurking red house. I love this photograph so much that I printed and framed it. It hangs prominently in my home.

The other day a copy of Photoshop Elements found its way into my hands, and I spent some time trying its tools on various photos. I had this photo open when I tried the Auto Smart Fix tool. I was astonished by how it affected the image. (Click here to see it larger. You can compare the two photos better at larger sizes.)

Old US 36

The processed photo immediately seemed more realistic to me than the original. The vivid but monolithic green gave way to varied shades, which created greater texture in the image and, I realized, reflects nature’s actual variety of color. I doubted the original photo’s accuracy. But then I wondered if I can even judge realism in this image. It’s been five years since that road trip. My memory of the scene’s actual color and texture at that moment would have faded anyway – but the original photograph had actually become my memory. (I distinctly remember nearly backing my car into the ditch as I turned it around on this narrow road, however.) I reeled in these realizations.

I had always thought that a photograph was a record, a factual statement. But no; a photograph is just a perspective. And clearly a photograph’s perspective can become my reality.

History, Road Trips

A quick tour of Zanesville on the National Road in Ohio

In 1797, Ebenezer Zane cut a trace from the Ohio state line across from Wheeling in what was then Virginia, west across the densely forested countryside 230 miles to what is now Maysville, Kentucky, an Ohio River town about 60 miles upriver of Cincinnati. It was a post road, just wide enough for a horseback rider carrying saddlebags full of mail. When Zane cut his trace as far as the Muskingum River, he liked it so much that when his trace was complete, he followed it back to that river and settled. The town that grew out of that settlement was named Zanesville, of course.

When the National Road was extended into Ohio starting in 1825, it took advantage of Zane’s Trace. I know of several places where the National Road’s builders chose to lay the road over new terrain, however, including most of the route between New Concord and Zanesville. Zane’s Trace still exists between these towns, running about a mile to the south of US 40. If you want to go looking on Google Maps, just look for Old Wheeling Road and Zane Trace Road. You’ll find that the Zanesville Municipal Airport obliterated some of this historic road, unfortunately.

I got a little lost as I tried to follow the National Road into Zanesville. I noticed St. Nicholas Catholic Church’s great building, though, and headed off to have a look. It was my good fortune that this put me right back on US 40. I wonder if Nicholas is the patron saint of road trippers.

Zanesville, OH

US 40 follows Main Street into town. What a beautiful town it is! Lots of old architecture still stands, and much of it appears to be in very nice condition.

Zanesville, OH

Zanesville became Ohio’s state capital in 1810. It was always intended to be temporary; by 1812, the capital had moved to the new city of Columbus. State business was never conducted in this courthouse, however, as it was completed in 1877.

Muskingum County Courthouse

Despite Zanesville’s place in Ohio’s history, its real claim to fame is its Y bridge.

The first Y bridge was built here, at the confluence of the Licking and Muskingum Rivers, in 1814. It was a crude affair that fell into the river. The second, a wooden bridge, was condemned after being badly damaged in a flood. The third bridge, a wooden covered bridge, killed its builder during its construction. I haven’t been able to find out why, but it was torn down in 1900. The fourth bridge opened in 1902. By 1979, its structure above its piers had fallen into such disrepair that it was removed and rebuilt. This, the fifth bridge, has been open since 1984.

Y Bridge

I hear that Zanesvillians get a kick of telling out-of-towners to drive to the center of the bridge and turn left.

Zanesville, OH

A railroad bridge straddles the Y bridge. As I explored, a train came through.

Zanesville, OH

After I crossed the bridge, I noticed this mosaic in the sidewalk in front of a vacant lot. A Chevrolet dealer used to stand on this site; it went into business in 1914. Could this tile be that old? Zanesville was home to a famous mosaic tile producer, and I assume this was their work.

Zanesville, OH

Zanesville is also well known as a pottery center, so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find these vases on the vacant lot. They are part of a 2008 community art project. Each vase is seven feet tall and weighs 170 pounds.

Zanesville, OH

Here the National Road leaves Zane’s Trace, and the challenging terrain of eastern Ohio, behind.

Other interesting National Road towns I’ve profiled include Ellicott City, Maryland; Richmond, Indiana; and Brazil, Indiana.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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