Back in May, while on a lengthy roadtrip, I stopped in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, for the night. A small town along historic Route 66, Santa Rosa pretty much exists to provide food, fuel, and beds for travelers passing east-and-west through The Land of Enchantment. Like a lot of old Route 66 towns, Santa Rosa has seen better days—there are many abandoned buildings along the highway, and some others that appear to not be far from their inevitable fate of abandonment.
Santa Rosa might be best known for a scene in The Grapes of Wrath, where Tom Joad watches a freight train cross a bridge over the Pecos River. Scars from The Great Depression are still visible if you look hard enough. The biggest tourist attraction is the Blue Hole, a natural swimming pond fed by a vast underground water system. While visiting Santa Rosa, I was asked by locals a couple of times, “Are you here for the Blue Hole?” I guess it’s a big deal, but I didn’t make time to see it.
I did make time to photograph a few of the abandoned buildings. One was an old Exxon gas station. This particular service station offered two grades of gas, two stalls for vehicle maintenance, and two restrooms. You could buy maps or a soda from a vending machine. Inside was an old Dairy Queen sign that I do not believe originated from this particular gas station, but probably another building elsewhere in town, perhaps owned by the same person.
In an empty grass-filled lot next to the gas station I found some old playground equipment. There may have been a campground or RV park there at one time, but the playground is the only thing left. I suppose on hot summer nights, the ghosts who still use the teeter-totter can get a coke from the abandoned Exxon next door.
Exploring and photographing places like this is both fascinating and frightening. It’s like a large time capsule that broke open years before being discovered, now filled with retro nostalgia and haunting decay. You don’t know what you’ll find—what’s hiding behind a corner—and even if there isn’t any danger, it’s still not safe. Going into abandoned buildings is never safe. I do believe that it’s important to photograph these places for several reasons: they’re always changing (due to nature and vandals) and will eventually be completely gone, they offer a glimpse into a previous time that’s long gone and fading from our memories, and to document the way societies deals with unwanted junk from broken lives and broken dreams. As Troy Paiva put it, these places are “steeped in Wabi-Sabi feelings of accepting loss and finding beauty and nobility in decay.”
The sun was low while I was there, preparing to set behind the western horizon—I had about 30 minutes of wonderful “golden hour” light to work with. I used my Fujifilm X-E4 with a Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 lens attached to it to capture these images. The Film Simulation Recipe that I used for these photographs was Kodak Portra 400 v2, which is one of my favorites—the Kodak-like colors and tones are just so lovely—an excellent option for this particular scene and light.
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