About five years ago, I was fortunate enough to photograph an abandoned waterwheel in a rural part of Saratoga County. Getting this photograph involved asking the property owners for permission to access the site – and then climbing down a steep slope to get to the creekbed. Thankfully, I was able to get some decent photos. I blogged about the project, and left it at that.
About a year later, I received an e-mail from one of the family members whose grandfather built that old waterwheel back in the day. I wish I could tell you that it was a complimentary thank-you letter. It was not.
So as far as I was concerned, I got the pictures from 2013 and that was that.
Although I kinda wanted to go back there and try for some better photographs, I knew it wouldn’t happen. I thought that maybe an infrared photo with some of my color Aerochrome film – or perhaps a nice black-and-white shot with some high-contrast film – would make things worthwhile.
But I voluntarily recused myself from photographing at that location. I wasn’t sure if I would offend the family by asking them for permission again. Moment wasted, moment lost, Miller. Next time, get the right photo the first time, ya shnook.
Then, one day, I’m driving through Saratoga Springs, and I casually glance in the direction of the waterwheel. Maybe someday I’ll knock on the door and ask the family for permission. Perhaps we can make peace. Perhaps we can …
Hey, wait a second, what’s this on the front lawn of that family home?
It’s a realtor sign. The property’s for sale. And the family that owned the property where the waterwheel resides … that family’s not living there any more. The house is empty.
Your opportunity just knocked. You can now un-recuse yourself. Or dis-recuse yourself, whatever the antecedent of recusal is.
Next morning, I drove back up to the property. I look around. The realtor sign is a real sign. No residents, no tenants, no nothing. No prying eyes in sight.
Okay, Chuck, if you’re going to do this … now’s your chance. Do this now and don’t hang around. Don’t stand there contemplating the existence of your belly button, get down that ravine and get that shot.
First, an exploratory test. Can I get down to the bottom of the hill without killing myself in the process?
Let’s remember a couple of things. I had two working feet in 2013. They weren’t ravaged with diabetic neuroapthy. That’s not the case now. Plus, I made this 2018 exploratory jaunt in the middle of a rainstorm. That little creek in 2013 was now about as wide as the Hudson River.
I slowly eased my way down the hill. No slips this time. Then I hacked my way through a treacherous series of brambles and tangles. This is not a good idea. Those wet branches are grabbing my legs and arms, making my progress through this vegetation extremely difficult.
But I need to see if I can do this. If I can get down the hill and back up in this kind of miserable weather, then there’s a possibility I can do it when the weather is more benign.
Okay. All I have to do is cross the stream, and …
No chance. That’s a freakin’ raging rapid right there. I do this and I might go floating out to sea.
So let’s at least get a few shots.
And this was the best one of the batch.
Hoo boy. I got this.
Okay, now to make my way back up the hill.
And believe me, this grass was so slippery and greasy it could have been used as hair tonic. And this hill? Tenzing Norgay would have trouble climbing this mountain.
But I did it. It took some time, but I made my way back up to street level.
A quick look back and forth … jumped in the car and drove like hell out of Saratoga County. Last thing I need is to advertise my presence. No way no how.
I looked at the photos from my photographic excursion. They’re decent … very decent.
But I wanted at least one infrared photo in this mix.
I have a few rolls of Aerochrome infrared color slide film in my freezer. It’s some of the last color infrared film available to me. Use it or lose it, Chucky boy.
I defrosted a roll and packed it in my Rolleiflex Automat MX TLR camera. Aerochrome works best with colored filters, so I strapped a yellow lens onto the Rollei’s face.
Figured I’d bracket some shots and try this one more time.
Drove back up to the location. Sign on the property still says for sale. Sunny day. Perfect for infrared photography.
A quick look around. No one in sight. Do this now, Miller. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
I navigated down to the bottom of the creekbed.
Okay, Miller. You’ve got twelve shots in the Rollei. Make them count.
Damn, I can’t get a decent shot from this side of the creekbed.
The creekbed’s not that deep…
All right, Chuck. Make like the Ramsey Lewis Trio and wade in the water, bruther.
Okay. While you’re hearing this song, I’ve got both feat in a freezing cold running stream. What I thought was a shallow running creek … no. I’ve got cold water all the way up to my … er … pockets.
Yeah, that’s what I meant. Pockets.
Geez… I don’t know what’s wriggling in the water next to me – a wet branch, maybe a fish, something creepy-deepy…
Oh crud. It’s a chunk of wet wood. And it’s flowing down the stream.
Okay, Miller. Shots taken. Now get your fat ass back up the hill, get in the car, and get out of town.
Last weekend, I made one more trip to the ravine. I hoped to get a few more shots.
But I looked at the realtor sign on the property.
It now listed the property as sold.
And with that, my excursions to the ravine are off limits again.
All I can do now … is take these pictures from 2018 …
And put them in the competition pile. And if there’s an event – competition or charity or otherwise – then that’s it. Again, I’m not selling these pictures for profit. If any of them get donated or if they sell for charity, that’s different. That’s not money in my pocket.
All I wanted was one more chance to get the photo I wanted.
It took five years and a lot of nerve…
But I got the picture. Whether it’s in black and white or in infrared …
I used that second chance.
That’s all that matters.