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From the author of Objectives


My road trip was a multifaceted journey with several objectives along the way that were both work- and play-related. First, the most sober of my objectives was research. I'm a graduate student of art history in California, embarking on my masters thesis concerning the photography and writing of the artist Robert Cumming (b. 1943), to be completed June 2012, and tentatively titled "The Photography of Robert Cumming: Picture Fictions and Perceptual Glitches." Cumming used to work with an 8 x 10 view camera in the seventies, a Burke & James body with a Schneider Symmar 300/500 mm convertible lens. He made contact prints of elaborate and improbable scenes depicting manufactured moments in time (a chair in the midst of tipping over) or associative tricks of perception (the uncanny resemblance of a cactus lit from behind to a Mickey Mouse–like shadow on parchment). I drove across the country so that I could visit various museums and archives that held Robert Cumming artworks and ephemera for my research (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 A notice for a 1978 Robert Cumming show, part of my research. Taken with the Leica.

Second, and less work-related, was the objective to visit family on the East Coast. I did the rounds in Rhode Island, New York, and Philadelphia for a month for this purpose. For a few weeks there I had nothing to do but hang out with family, read, eat, sleep, swim, and take photos in a beautiful little town on the water in Rhode Island (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 The view in Rhode Island. Taken with the Canon.

Third, I was having an adventure. Between archives appointments and family visits, I hunted down towns I'd never seen, like Minneapolis, Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, and Austin. I was visiting friends, and friends of friends, here and there; I was also meeting new people. Finally, I was visiting a dizzying number of museums and bookstores—as many as I could possibly find time to see.

It was at Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that I started to realize I was defaulting to certain tasks for each camera that I was carrying. I hit up Mount Rushmore on a whim after puzzling over whether to drive through Nebraska or Kansas from Colorado. I decided: Neither! I think even diehard lovers of both states would agree that they're very flat and very long—and I'd already driven through both states, years ago. I decided to break up my trip a little, experience the new flatland (to me) of South Dakota, and kick it all off with a visit to our four former presidents on the hillside.

As you might imagine, a lot of dead air surrounds that part of the country when it comes to cell service. However, as I approached Mount Rushmore, the service bars lined up like tourists at the ticket window, and I started wishing I could share this experience with someone. I was waiting for a cloud to pass so that I could shoot part of the hills in sun and part in shade—a job for the Canon, with its relatively robust shadow and highlight latitude (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 Mount Rushmore, taken with the Canon.

I knew that my partner, Paul, was working at home in California, so I called and told him to fire up the Skype. Using the iPhone 4, we video-Skyped so Paul could see me, George, Thomas, Teddy, and Abe, all together. Pleased with this correspondence, but feeling the urge to share this most-American moment with even more of the world, I took a photo with the iPhone and uploaded it to Facebook with the simple and understated caption, "Today." "Yes!" commented my friend Adrienne. "LOVE it!!" added neighbor Kathleen a few hours later.

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