Landscape: Mexican pacific

From the high cliffs

We’ll get to the specifics on this image in a moment. But first, a rant from an old curmudgeon, Jon Ball.  

I learned how to be a photographer by a red lightbulb. I watched photographs appear in stinky solutions of developer and fixer. Rolls of solution soaked 35mm film slithered through my fingers to be hung to dry. I could hear the crackle of medium format film lying across my light box as I cut and sleeved it. 

Photography was magical and mysterious. It took time and effort to make a nice print. There was a steep learning curve and learning to “see” how film sees was a monumental challenge. You actually had to use your imagination and experience was the only way to do it. It was an exciting challenge. 

With digital photography the only magic left is art. It’s sad to me. Sad because all the young folks getting into photography can’t have the lush experience with photography that I had. It’s a vanishing craft. 

I shot this image in Baja Mexico in 2002. Baja Mexico sounds wild and untamed doesn’t it? Baja Mexico.. It’s both wild and untamed. I went to a mexican circus a few years back. I posted about it here

There is a place south of Tijuana where the road rises up 1000 feet or so above the sea. At the crest you pay random Mexicans a couple bucks to help you determine where to park your car (Mexicans think Americans are stupid).  It’s worth the couple of bucks because the view from the cliff is rich. I snapped this image with my Rolleiflex 3.5e. 

The mood in Baja is desperation. They are surrounded by intensely dramatic desert landscapes but they thrash all of it because they can’t feed themselves or their families. It reminds me of a quote my grandmother says, “When poverty walks in the door, love flies out the window.” 

Have you ever been in a situation where everything is there for your enjoyment but you can’t enjoy it because you were broke? A great vacation ends instantly when the credit card is declined or you discover that your cash has worn thin. 

Sam and I spend a few days in Seattle some time ago. After our party weekend I knew that we were low, low, low on money. On our way down to the lobby of the hotel we agreed to cross our fingers together so we could pay the bill. It worked. Out credit card was accepted. The only thing was that it was our 3rd and last one. The other 2 were declined before I glanced up at Sam’s face from my open wallet for the 3rd and final option. She looked terrified. Somehow that made me feel better because I was going to take care of it no matter what. Everyone let out a sigh of relief when the last one was “Accepted”.  Me, Sam and the receptionist. 

Do you feel a little victory each time you see the word accepted at the PIN pad? Do you, like me, feel a little nervous every time you touch enter? It’s like a little test…Does this person have the money he says that he does? Let’s see.. Go ahead and enter your PIN and we’ll check with the bank RIGHT NOW!


  1. One of the biggest mistakes that old people make is to assume that if a young person isn’t raised the same way they were, than that young person has no chance at success.

    Just because young kids won’t learn photography the same way you did, doesn’t mean that they won’t someday appreciate photography.

    I bet if he had been alive in the time of the Nikon F5 or the Hasselblad 501CM, Luis Daguerre would have said “Photographers today are a bunch of sissies. We didn’t have any fancy light meters, or “just add water” developer concentrate. Back in my day, developing a photograph could KILL a man. You wusses nowadays have no idea what it means to create a photograph!”

    Digital photography (for better or for worse) has allowed people to get into photography that never would have done so if we were still shooting film. And just because the path to learning to be a great photographer is a different one than the one you walked, doesn’t mean it won’t lead to the same place.

  2. I agree with everything you said. I am not mad at digital photography. I think it’s great.

    I just loved the process that I went through. I wish the same for the youngsters. It was so much fun for me. That’s all.

    These young photographers will probably be better photographers than me because they are focused on content and not print quality.

    I am glad that what I learned in the day didn’t kill me.

  3. I really like the subtle textures in that photo. If I weren’t at work (shhhhhh) I’d study them for an hour.

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