Cuba? No, Cairo. The Illinois One

Cairo car 03-28-2016My tummy was growling for the catfish dinner at Shemwell’s Barbecue in Cairo, and it was a race between which was going to come first: closing time at the restaurant or sunset. Maybe it was all the Cuba coverage with photos of vintage cars on the street that made me unusually car-aware, but suddenly I had to go around the block to take a second look at this guy parked next to a long-closed gas station.

It would have been nice to show more of the car, but there was a John boat parked alongside it that blocked most of it. Click on the photos to make them larger.

What is it?

Cairo car 03-28-2016When it comes to cars, I have a tenuous grip on my man card. Other guys could sit around for hours talking about their car’s innards: stuff about cubic inches, horsepower, turbo this and glass-packed that.

I only needed to know two things: (A) Will it get me there? and, (B) Will it get me back?

(A), in fact, was the more important to a news photographer. If I accomplished (A) and got the photo, then there was always somebody who would retrieve me (or, at least, retrieve the film).

What are we looking at?

Cairo car 03-28-2016I’m sure somebody will tell me more than I ever wanted to know about this vehicle.

Digging deep into my automotive knowledge, I’m pretty sure it ain’t gonna get me there.

A bonus point for anyone who can look at the gas station and tell what brand they sold.

Through Ace Taylor’s Eyes

DSC_0448I had the pleasure of roaming Illinois, Kentucky and a chunk of the Missouri Bootheel with Ace Taylor, the 13-year-old nephew of museum director Carla Jordan. Carla mentioned that Ace was interested in photography and was good company, so invited him to hit the road Thursday.

It’s never good to waste a perfectly good seat, so Carla’s ready-to-ramble mother, Carolyn Taylor, filled it. I have the feeling that she may become like Mother was: jingle the keys and she’s ready to go.

I tried to think of a photo-rich environment where taking good pictures would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

It turned out to happen, almost literally. When we got to the spillway at the southeast end of Horseshoe Lake, we saw hundreds of minnow-size fish frolicking in the overflow. We couldn’t tell if they were trying to fight the current to get upstream into the lake or if they were beings swept out of it. A couple of fishermen said they were baby carp. It’s worth clicking on it to make it larger. Maybe someone can tell us if the fishermen were right.

The kid has a good eye

Ace Taylor - Thebes RR bridge 03-17-2016_5951I got my first camera at 12. Ace is so far ahead of where I was at his age that there is no comparison. I didn’t point out any particular shot to him. I would give him a little background about why the location was interesting from a geologic or historical perspective, then I’d look around and Ace was already scoping out angles and getting busy.

Experimenting with framing

Ace Taylor - Thebes Courthouse 03-17-2016_5954Ace wasn’t a plain old point-and-shoot photographer. He experimented with shooting through things and with the relationships of shapes. He also had a good grasp of depth of field and the relationship between lens settings and shutter speeds. He tried using slower shutter speeds when shooting the fish photo so the water movement would show up, then he switched to higher speeds to freeze the fish. All of this without a word of advice from me.

In fact, I tried to capture the jumping fish in a video, but Ace aced me hands-down with his still shot.

Not afraid to get in the middle of it

Ace Taylor 03-17-2016 Cairo_6098I told him that photographers have a responsibility to document the world around them for future generations. He took a dramatic photo of a machine eating one of my favorite old buildings in Cairo.

“You realize,” I told him, “that you have taken the last photograph of that building that anyone will ever see. If you come back tomorrow, it’ll be gone, and the opportunity to document it will never be there again.”

[Note to Ace’s Mom: he was very cautious. He was careful to step in areas clear of nails and glass, and I always made sure he wasn’t any place where he was in danger.]

A deliberate shooter

Ace Taylor - Horsehoe Lake 03-17-2016_5989The kid wasn’t a pray and spray shooter. After he took a photo, he would study it to see if he had captured what he was looking for or if he should take another crack at it.

A quiet kid

Ace Taylor - Horsehoe Lake 03-17-2016_5987I don’t know that I’ve ever met any boy that age who was so quiet and soft-spoken. When he DID talk, he had something to say. I liked that.

The next day, he was helping Carla at the History Center in Jackson, so we didn’t roam around. I stopped by the center to give him a polarizing filter that I discovered had a small scratch. It probably won’t make any difference, but I’m persnickety about that kind of thing.

We talked gear and techniques, then I watched him wander around the room checking out how the filter would eliminate reflections. I give him credit for understanding when you DON’T want to use it.

“I WANTED the reflections in the water in the picture of the cypress trees, so I wouldn’t use it there, would I?” he asked.

You nailed it, kid.

If he continues at the pace he’s on, he won’t have to talk: he can let his camera and photos speak for him.

Ace Taylor’s work

Here’s a selection of what Ace photographed in roughly six hours (including 150 miles of driving). Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around.

Keep in mind while you are looking at these pictures that Ace Taylor is 13 years old.


Mississippi River North of Cairo

Aerials Cairo area 08-13-2014

I know the barge is working its way south just north of Cairo, but I’m not exactly sure where it was when I shot it last fall.

Google Earth makes it look like it might be in the vicinity of Dogtooth Island and Sliding Towhead, although it COULD also be near Buffalo Island. Like always, you can click on it to make it larger.

43 Years of Cairo Photographs

I watched the Bird’s Point levee being blown last night via the magic of the Internet. We’ll start seeing soon if the water levels drop in Cairo and other cities at the expense of some valuable farmland.

Just in case Cairo DOES flood, I’ve pulled together a collection of photos taken from 1968 through recently. I apologize for focusing so much on the seamy side of Cairo – there are some truly nice buildings in the town – but I’m a seamy side of town kind of photographer.

Commercial Avenue in 1968

Cairo’s downtown was still a busy place in the late 60s. There were car dealers, appliance stores, banks, eating establishments, a $2-a-night hotel – even a corset “shoppe.”

Commercial Avenue in 2008

The buildings on this side of the street are still mostly intact, but they are empty. By 2010, most of the buildings on the west side of the street were knocked down.

Other Cairo stories

I’ll probably do one more Cairo story, touching on the racial violence in 1967.

Cairo Photo gallery

This is a huge gallery – nearly 100 pictures. Some of the photos may look like dupes, but look closely. They were taken in different years. The black and white photos were shot in 1968. The color shots cover from about 2008 on.

Take your time. All of us who learned to drive in the 60s had it drilled into us that you DON’T speed through Cairo.

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.