I thought this was just a faded advertisement for the Star Biscuit Co. when I photographed it. I thought it was a faded sign of the times, an indication of the decline of small towns in rural America. But I was fooled. The sign was a prop, a backdrop for a scene in the 1998 movie, Hope Floats. Star Biscuit Co., Leading Brand Of The World, a brand I’d never heard of anywhere in the world which had me reaching out to Google for some insight. It turns out that Hope Floats, the third film directed by Forest Whitaker and starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr., was set and filmed in the small town of Smithville Texas. Smithville is officially designated a ‘Film-Friendly City’ by the Texas Film Commission and the three-time Oscar nominated movie, Tree of Life, was also filmed here in 2011. Perhaps if I’d driven through a year earlier I’d have seen Brad Pitt or Sean Penn. Thankfully, their movie didn’t erase this charming remnant from Hope Floats.

The faded Hope Floats Star Biscuit Co sign on the side of a wall in Smithville, Texas.

The faded Hope Floats Star Biscuit Co sign on the side of a wall in Smithville, Texas.

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The Watcher sees all from his perch above the river, life in all its forms streaming by outside his window. It was hot in Paris when I took this photo. I was visiting and my hotel room had air conditioning. When I lived there, like this man, I had to open the windows to cool my apartment in the summer. And if there was no breeze, well you were S.O.L. But my apartment had been brand new. I was the first occupant. Unlike this man I wasn’t surrounded in centuries of history. Just look at the height of the ceilings in that room. The building on the right (see different windows) was built around 1625. This was open ground then so this building is probably from the mid-1600’s so around 350 years of occupation. The arch behind the tree and the wall shows this was once a carriage entrance into a courtyard behind.

The Watcher, a man watches the scene from his window on the Quai di Bourbon, Ile Saint Louis, Paris.

The Watcher, a man watches the scene from his window on the Quai di Bourbon, Ile Saint Louis, Paris.

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There were eight in our group – waiting for the sunrise at the Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park. The aim had been to capture a starburst as the sun peeked over the Funeral Mountains of the Amargosa Range. The dunes are at their firmest at dawn and the breeze over night has erased most of the footprints from the day before. Get there first and you have pristine dunes to capture. Get there second and there are tracks everywhere. So, we got there first, found our position, set up, and then in the distance a Rick Sammon workshop wandered into view and set up on the dune in front of us. The only upside, because of the cloud they didn’t get any starbursts either. I wonder if I’m in any of their photos?

Photographers waiting for the Sunrise, Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park.

Photographers waiting for the Sunrise, Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park.

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Shortly before I visited the Racetrack Playa for the first time, the mystery of the moving stones had been solved – ice, apparently. Thanks to the flat tire we had encountered at Teakettle Junction, we were behind schedule when we arrived and the sun had already dropped below the peaks of the Last Chance Range to our west. From our spot at the southern end of the Racetrack Playa the photo below shows the playa and Grandstand in shadow with the Last Chance Range, bathed in the glow of the setting sun, in the distance.

Sunset at the Racetrack. The Racetrack Playa and the Grandstand in the shadow as the sun sets behind the Last Chance Range, Death Valley, CA.

The Racetrack Playa and the Grandstand in the shadow as the sun sets behind the Last Chance Range, Death Valley, CA.

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“Thirty years I’ve been coming here and I’ve never seen anyone on the pastels”, complained an ornery gent as we returned to the parking lot with the light almost gone. His claim was rather surprising given the multitude of well work tracks heading into the pastel colored rocks from the Artists Palette parking lot. You have to get out and walk if you really want to see them at their best. And for photographers with digital cameras the potential of the rocks really comes out in the post-sunset twilight. The colors themselves are oxides of various minerals exposed by water erosion of the valley walls.

Photographing the multi-colored rocks after sundown. Artists Palette, Death Valley, CA

Photographing the multi-colored rocks after sundown. Artists Palette, Death Valley, CA

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