Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Drive-in Theaters, White Churches
The Silver Bow Twin
The subjects in my pictures are generally found through a process of forced serendipity. That is, I spend a great deal of time out looking for things to photograph, but I seldom go looking for anything specific. To go out looking for subject X might make me overlook a better possibility with subject Y. My drive-in theater project is an exception to this. There are still nearly 500 drive-ins operating in the United States (a fact that surprises people) but that means they are spread far too lightly on the ground to depend on chance encounters.
Once I'd covered rural New York state and Pennsylvania, which, after Ohio, have some of the largest counts of DIs still functioning, I had to research locations and plan out an itinerary to find more. In July of 2002 I loaded my pickup truck with equipment for shooting 5x7, 8x10, 7x17, and 12x20 inch negatives and set out for a 13-day, 6,500 mile trip that took me across the middle-northern tier of the country as far as Montana and Idaho, then back through the Midwest. I had a long list of theater locations, mostly researched on the internet. So, like anything researched on the web, a lot of them didn't really exist, or weren't where they were supposed to be. Others had great romantic-sounding names or locations that made me anxious to see them, but turned out to be disappointments.
For some reason, I was particularly expectant about the Silver Bow Twin, outside Butte, Montana. It was not a disappointment. When I exited the interstate highway, the view at the end of the ramp is exactly what you see above (click on the image to get a bigger version, or better yet, inquire about purchasing a 7x17-inch platinum print or a 13x32-inch pigment ink print). The Silver Bow sits in a bowl of sagebrush on the high plateau with the Rockies rising to the west, a space so vast the 60-foot tall screen at the north side of the theater seems like a child's kite. I stayed around for more than a day to try the view in morning, mid-day, and evening light. I also got the theater's history from its owners, Mark and Holly Hansen.
In the course of the trip I also found several theaters completely out of the blue, not turned up in my research. The way I find most subjects. Also, I photographed several church buildings to add to a growing collection all found by chance encounter. I found this one on a side road on my way from Billings to Butte. St. John the Evangelist was built in 1880 by Irish immigrants who came to the Butte area to work in the mines.
Next step is to find the funding to photograph drive-in theaters across the South and up the West Coast. I'll probably run into more white church buildings in interesting settings along the way.