Tips for Photographing Americana

Rusty old truck
Rusty old truck

 

I was first inspired by Americana even before I became a photographer.  We were driving on a Hawaiian island and pass an old gas station with a sign hanging from a vintage gas pump proclaiming to the world they were “Too Pooped to Pump”.  Since then I’ve always looked for opportunities for artifacts that tell a story about our past – whether its the actual subject, the wear and tear, the color of the rust…..it all communicates about something layered and deep.

During a recent Jack Graham workshop, we had a chance to explore the “Recycled Spirits of Iron” in Ashton, WA.  Our creativity was so stimulated, that we made a special trip on our way to the airport.  If you happen to discover a place that has captured the unique spirit of America, here are some tips to try.

  1.  Ask yourself – “what stopped me?”  Was it the color, the shape, something you had never seen before?
Abstract with horseshoes
Abstract with horseshoes
Abstract with axle and wheel
Abstract with axle and wheel
Layered abstract of circles
Layered abstract of circles

2.  Look for objects that tell about a different time.  Objects that show their wear, are no longer in use, or had a life all of their own.

Old tools and shovels
Old tools and shovels
Steering wheel of old truck
Steering wheel of old truck
Old wheel with lavender
Old wheel with lavender

3.  Figure out what elements are needed to tell the story of this unique piece of Americana.  Below you see my version and Peter’s version.  Do they tell the same story?  Or did we have different interpretations?

Old trunk with license plates
Old trunk with license plates
Old license plates
Old license plates

4.  Focus on color and texture.  Sometimes all that’s needed are the rich colors of the rust, or the weathered wood.  Textures and colors that can be created no other way, than enduring through the years.

Abstract metal and wood
Abstract metal and wood
Abstract of radiator grill
Abstract of radiator grill

5.  Look for objects that encourage the viewer to create their own story.  Americana is really just our interpretation based on overlays of experience, opinions and perception.  A photograph can be a unique window into insight about an individual.

Little house
Little house

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