Back To Bodie (In My Mind)

Back To Bodie (In My Mind)

August 13, 2012  |  Travel

There is a school of thought in photography that advocates letting some significant amount of time pass between taking photographs and reviewing them. This allows you to distance yourself from the experience of making the images. You forget a little (or in my case, completely) about what you were thinking at the time, what you intended to capture, and what you think you got. You are better able to evaluate the images as images.

I’ll be honest. I have never been able to do that. Even though I appreciate that there are real benefits to that method, I just don’t have the discipline. I have been known to upload, review, and rate a set of images the same day I shot them. I’m impatient that way.

So I decided to conduct a little experiment. I visited the ghost town of Bodie two years ago. It was just a hot, dusty afternoon field trip that three of us took during the Armstrong family reunion at Twain Harte in July 2010. As usual, I reviewed and rated the images I took as soon as I got home. This weekend — two years later — I went through the entire catalog. I wanted to see if I felt differently about those photographs now.

A little background. Bodie is located in the Eastern Sierras and is operated now as a State Historic Park. Gold was discovered there in 1860 and the town started then with 20 miners. By 1880 it had swelled to a population of 10,000 including (according to the website) “families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters, prostitutes and people from every country in the world.” It’s in the middle of nowhere and apparently always was. There is a famous story of a 10-year-old girl who, when her family decided to move there from San Francisco, wrote in her diary “Goodbye, God, I’m going to Bodie.”

After devastating fires in 1892 and 1932, only about 5% of the original town remains and it is being carefully kept in a state of “arrested decay”. Visitors can peek in windows and see just how things were left when they were abandoned there. It’s like an old snapshot frozen in time.

So, with that history lesson to refresh my memory, what did I think of my images? It’s mixed. Some that I selected immediately I still think are strong. But others that I glossed over at first I find evocative now. I do remember being disappointed and frustrated that I couldn’t capture the writing inside the hotel, but now I kind of like that I have to fill in the blanks myself.

Other through-the-window shots that I ignored are interesting to me now. (I think I must have really wanted to get inside the buildings. That’s not allowed.)

I loved the “bone yard” then and I love it now. There is something so beautiful about rusting vehicles and equipment. They speak more eloquently to me of abandonment than the dust-covered artifacts inside the buildings.

The town tells me a sad story, not a Hollywood story. It reminds me of how I felt after reading Welcome to Hard Times by E. L. Doctorow. The Wild West wasn’t romantic. Often it was just wild, and very, very hard.

In any case, it’s kind of fun to see that experience again with fresh eyes. Yes, it makes me want to return. I have that feeling about every place I’ve ever photographed. There are more images to make. Better, stronger images. But it also reminds me that I was lucky enough to be there once. Today I’m seeing that glass as half full.

So I won’t be quick to delete images from my hard drives. There might be gold there.

What method do you favor for reviewing and evaluating a photo shoot?


  1. Dorothy–these are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing them.

    Also, looking at these, I confess the place doesn’t look like it would be all that much more hospitable with people, as without, so I completely empathize with that girl’s diary entry. :-)

  2. Thanks, Karen. Yes, it’s pretty darn desolate. Have you ever been there? The last three miles of road are unpaved. Dusty and bumpy in an air-conditioned car. By stagecoach (when no part of the road would have been paved)? I can’t imagine. I wouldn’t have made a happy pioneer or miner, I’m afraid.

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