A couple of days ago I mentioned that it's tougher to see horizons around here at the end of Summer, before the corn is harvested. This year it's been especially noticeable, because we had a longish dry spell and then a week of rain, so the corn seemed to spring out of the ground all at once; first it didn't seem to be there, and now a week or three later it seems to crowd the view from every angle.
In response, David Brown wrote, "Two possible solutions to your corn problem: 1.) A car-top platform with a ladder, like the one Ansel Adams used. 2.) A step-ladder on roof racks on your car. Take it off the racks and use it on the ground. I'm not suggesting you set it up on top of the car." Bill Mitchell added, "Ansel Adams's greatest contribution to photography may have been the car platform (not the Zone System)."
I knew there a great opportunity to mention Kyle Batson was going to come around sooner or later! I love it when this happens.
I will not make any puns on the word 'corny'
But back to corn. First of all, I had been drifting through life in a state of ignorance, imagining that corn was getting taller because of genetic engineering. That might be true, or it might not, but it turns out that the world record for a cornstalk is 30 feet. Some kinds of corn are taller than others. Anyway, it seems to me that "normal" corn when I was growing up in the Midwest was 6–8 feet tall, and that more lately, around here, I've been seeing corn that's 8–12 feet tall. I guess all I can say with certainty is that a wall of 12-foot-high corn at the edge of the roadway makes a pretty formidable "fence" blocking the view. Especially when, as often seems to be the case, the road has a ditch beside it and the field on the other side of the ditch is elevated a little bit above the level of the road to begin with...as usually happens on one side of the road or the other when the road runs across a gentle hillside.
David and Bill are perfectly correct that being able to get up on top of your vehicle is a big advantage in getting a better view. Not disputing that and not criticizing their solution. Actually, in '87 when I did my one and only view camera project, I would stand on the roof of my little Mazda 323 sedan, as the "bumples" on the roof when I sold the car gave witness.
But there's a little photo-existential problem here, one that "crops up" (er, sorry) from time to time: it's the tendency we all (I mean all us photo enthusiasts) have of assuming problems are technical when in fact they're visual. Because, yes, a telescoping monopod, a stepladder, and a roof platform are all valuable for seeing over the top of the corn: but how do you know when there's a view to be seen above the corn when you can't see the view because of the corn? That is, how do you know where to stop and get up on the roof, or deploy the stepladder? The point is that you can't see the horizon. So you don't know where a good view might be because you can't see it.
Of course a lot of times you can see a little bit of it, or you can see enough to make an educated guess. But I'd say that that's the greater part of the corn problem.
You only live once
But on to Kyle. I usually try to mention when I meet readers, and I neglected to do so when Kyle came by because he wanted to clean up his website before I linked to it, and the mention got put on the back burner, which is a perilous place for anything to be where Yr. Hmbl. Ed. is concerned. Kyle and I met in Corning for lunch one day. He had quit his job, sold his house, and customized a Sprinter van into a camper! It's now his domicile. When we met he had just embarked on a circuit of the country in the van. He told me he just wanted to make sure he had some adventures as his life passed by, or words to that effect.
Kyle Batson at home
And apropos of the current topic, check this out:
If you'd like to follow Kyle or see more of his adventure, here are his links:
(Thanks to David, Bill, and Kyle)
UPDATE: Kyle Batson writes: Hey, Mike! It was so good to be able to meet someone whose writing I admire so much. I am currently in Montana just having passed through Yellowstone. My roof perch came in handy recently to photograph some elk by the edge of the road. It’s a nice place to be, especially to gaze up at the Milky Way in the middle of a forest. I hope to meet again, and if anyone sees me driving around their neck of the woods, be sure to say hello!
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Moose: "We too travel in a converted Sprinter van, but converted at much less effort on my part by the folks at Pleasure-Way in Saskatoon. "What I want to know is how he got up on the roof. There are ladders that attach to rear doors, and which I've considered, but I don't see one on his van."
Mike replies: Here's a viewpoint that shows the ladder. But Moose, do note John's comment below. Let's be careful up there!
John Camp: "As a Midwesterner inflicted with corn and low horizons, I once had a roof rack on an SUV paired with a very compact folding stepladder that I carried in the back, with pieces of plywood that I put in the roof rack to stand on. One thing bothered me, and makes me a little queasy when I see pictures like that of Kyle standing on his Sprinter—the possibility of becoming so involved with the photo-making that you fall off backwards. I had less room on my SUV rack than Kyle has, but the problem is more one of inattention to the danger than it is of room. And if you fall off backwards, you'll most likely land on your head or neck...I solved some of the problem by buying sailing safety cables that allowed me to snap into the roof rack. I couldn't fall off, but I couldn't move much, either. In any case, roof-top photo-making has to be done with some care."
Edward Taylor: "It would appear that Kyle is quite good as a photographer, judging from the links to his site that you provided. Thank you."
Stan B.: "That van is one sweet setup—perfect size!"