Photograph courtesy of William Crawford.
Ain’t No Haint Going To Run Me Off: Blue Porch Ceiling Memories Flood Back To The Nevada Desert
The robed ghosts interrupt the desert skyline looking like misplaced clerics. The eerie silence of the winter sunset leaves Rhyolite bathed in a cool, crystal ambience. This gold mining ghost town has tangible spirits as full time residents. These Belgian sculptures created in 1982 meld with boom town artifacts in this outdoor, climate controlled museum.
My heart soars as I shoot these otherworldly visitors just before nightfall. In my part of America-The South-haints are restless spirits who inhabit their former residences amid much clamor and confusion. An unsettled haint may damn well visit while you are sipping a cold one on your pleasant sitting porch.
As my viewfinder crackles with these arresting images, a classic line from a nearly forgotten rock‘n roll tune bubbles up in my mind. “Ain’t no haint goin’ to run me off!” The year was 1964 and Jumping Gene Simmons was trying to break through the Beatles invasion with his novelty song, “Haunted House.”
First recorded in 1958 by Johnny Fuller, this bouncy, minor hit was covered in time by the likes of John Fogerty and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Truth be told, down South, a haint was less like a ghost and more like a displaced, eccentric friend.
Haints and sitting porches are so important in the Southern culture that porch ceilings were often painted with a recognizable pastel hue labelled “Haint Porch Ceiling Blue.” An engaging and unforgettable blue-green that you will see forever in your dreams, it has a formal entry on the Sherwin-Williams paint chart.
On this winter afternoon, I am reveling at this improbable lineup of haints just 3.5 hours removed from the Vegas airport and from my flight in from North Carolina. Two good friends, also armed with cameras, share this ghost town Golden Hour. This Nevada mining district that nestles in near Death Valley offers a unique artistic experience. Here, you can savor art left from another era while you generate your own new artifacts with your handy digital box.
Modern mining technology brought some mines flickering back to faint life, while others still lie dormant in the sharp desert wind. A visit here changes your standard perspective about museums.Artists from all over the world trek to this remote enclave to create what modern convention prohibits them from churning out back at home.
They leave behind work that simply knocks your eyes out! You don’t pay to see it and no guards carp about checking your coat and your camera. The dry heat and relentless wind are able curators offering an alternative philosophy about preservation.
These visiting geniuses have great respect for this funky, desert venue with its fabled mining history. Rusting, incongruous relics such as discarded trucks and ancient mining machinery claim a place of honor in this outdoor art institution.
Modern art like the ghosts plops down comfortably here just like it was an old timey sitting porch in Dixie. I later find murals on dilapidated walls that rival anything I ever saw at MOMA. Here, I too break free from customary artistic convention. I shoot an endless series of glowing images focusing on the texture and tone of rust. I can happily verify that some of greatest photographic coloration can be found on rusting metal outdoors in the elements.
Time seems to stand still here at twilight in the Bull Frog Hills. My friends and I linger in silence cradling our electronic tools as night finally falls. “Ain’t no haint goin’ run me off,” ruminates deep in my consciousness. It is almost as if we have been locked in tight after hours in some open air Smithsonian. A coyote howls far off in the desert. Some audio art offered free for the taking.
William C. Crawford is a writer & photographer living in Winston-Salem, NC. He was a a combat photojournalist in Vietnam. He later enjoyed a long career in social work. Crawdaddy also taught at UNC Chapel Hill.
Crawford developed the Forensic Foraging technique of photography with his colleague Jim Provencher, a Sydney photographer. The concept of forensic foraging is to emphasize the trite, trivial, & mundane. The genre downplays extensive computer intervention. Basic photography skills such as composition and framing are important. The technique flourishes because of high color saturation and contrast. Everything we encounter is shot and then selectively presented. As Jim likes to say: " You have to get out and shoot a lot to succeed with this approach."
The genre flowed from the early work of Stephen Shore, especially his Amarillo postcards. The DNA of Robert Frank & Walker Evans is also evident. This early morning image of a Vegas parking garage begins as trite and trivial, but the approach outlined above elevates it to a decent shot. You might say that we can turn shit into sugar, so to speak. Carefully notice the composition, golden light, color, texture, and never overlook the funk.