wide open spaces

"art is a legalized form of insanity, and i do it very well." - stanley marsh 3

amarillo's cadillac ranch is hands-down the coolest photoshoot location i've experienced to date. it's one of many "artistic" projects around that area brainstormed by stanley marsh 3 (he long ago dropped the traditional roman numeral III..."too pretentious"). marsh is a philanthropist & artist known in west texas for decades of outrageous pranks. one of his most visible ventures is his on-going installation of mock traffic signs around the city. they consist of random quotes and drawings on faux yield signs placed in front of homes and businesses throughout amarillo. understandably, many have criticized marsh's "art", calling his creations eyesores among other things. and while i find them hysterically quirky, i must admit that i wouldn't want one in my neighborhood! his answer to his critics? "art is a legal form of insanity, and i do it very well." the cadillac ranch is another controversial marsh development that lies just outside the city. it consists of a series of ....you guessed it...cadillacs.... standing sentry in the hard, cracked amarillo soil. locals and tourists flock to the ranch with spraypaint in tow, tagging the old clunkers with impunity. during our photoshoot on a random, sweltering weekday morning, there were carloads of people visiting the attraction.

amarillo is an eccentric city on its own, however, even without mr. marsh's creations. as you drive into town, you are welcomed with a vibrant sign to your right, advertising a FREE 72 ounce steak at the BIG TEXAN. it's a deliciously hokey tourist attraction with a giant, statuesqe cowboy out front beckoning you into his steakhouse. (i've been there and loved every minute. while i didn't opt for the 72 ounce steak deal, i did proudly tie on one of their straw cowboy hats reserved just for tourists, and kicked up my heels a bit.) a few miles down the road on the left you'll spot the "world's largest cross" looming over the vast, even landscape. i'm pretty sure it's constructed entirely out of white vinyl siding. i absolutely love visiting this wacky town. it is the home of my beloved in-laws and also the home of one of my best friends from college, mckenna. last summer's visit there resulted in this cadillac ranch shoot with mckenna and her fam, and it couldn't have been a more perfect location for them. they are so much fun!

mckenna is from a mayberryesque west texas town called panhandle, or
"big p" to the locals. a quaint old courthouse sits in the town square surrounded by brick streets wide enough to pull over and chat a bit. there is literally one stoplight, but nobody ever observes it. it just blinks nonchalantly over a sleepy intersection. when mckenna, fresh from big p, would drivej us around our college town, she would often zip right through stoplights & stopsigns. the occupants in the car would inevitably scream, and mckenna would wave her hand dismissively and say, "oh, i just can't get used to those!". there is particular story involving a jeep, a lake, a boatramp & a few shivering passengers, but i think i'll keep that one to myself for now.

one of the first things i noticed when i met mckenna all those years ago was her accent. west texas simply has an accent all its own. spelling their drawl phonetically just doesn't do it justice, but i'll give it a shot anyway. mckenna, her "big p." friend reese and i went to banana republic. one of us was on the hunt for a pair of white tights. (don't judge....we had only recently emerged from the 80's). when the sales clerk asked if she could help, mckenna answered that we were looking for some "waaaaaaaht taaaaaaaaaaahts". the look she got was one of utter confusion. of course, repeating the request only resulted in further bewilderment. reese, visiting straight from those west texas plains, stepped in to help, under the assumption that perhaps a little volume & emphasis might help. "umm....you know... waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawt taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawts???".....it took about 5 minutes to complete those two syllables. i think she was getting ready to call security when i stepped in to translate for my relieved fellow okie. our other college sidekick, amy, used to beg mckenna to sing the lyrics of "ice ice baby", then double over laughing at the result (always in good fun). she still has that distinctive accent, of course, and i still get a huge kick out of it. thankfully her driving skills have drastically improved, as she spends her time carting around precious cargo, her super cool son choc. choc loves all things "thomas the train", has an uncanny knack for numbers, shows this innate love and understanding of music, and is just about the most charming kid on the planet. of course, i would expect nothing less from that mamma of his.

mckenna's hubby gary is a teacher by day and musician by night. he is a 6 foot something KID, to say he is a wicked guitarist is quite an understatement. he plays in many of the local establishments on amarillo's old route 66, among other vintage joints around town. when gary & mckenna met, he was playing full time in a band called the groobees. they sold one of their songs, "wide open spaces", to the dixie chicks, who gave it quite a respectable run. i so look forward to summer nights on mckenna's back porch. we put the kids to bed, then relax in creaky, chipped motel chairs watching the gentle breeze rustle colorful clothing on the line.
(mckenna dries all her laundry outdoors, hanging each item carefully with old wooden clothes pins. so green; so adorable.) gary strums his guitar out there, flip-flopped feet tapping accordingly, and plays all of our requests. we always begin with the obligatory "mercedes benz", which mckenna & i drone together in our best janis joplin renditions. and of course, gary sings his originals. he penned a song called "hurricane" to his little boy that brings me to tears every single time. gary holds a cigarette between his ring and pinky fingers, and as he plays, a glowing arc of orange dances lazily, then wildly with the shift of the tempo. time always seems to stand still for a bit out there on that porch, and this dreary time of year always has me longing to go back. thank you, thomasons, for all the good times we've had, and the good times to come....

p.s....check out mckenna's "legalized form of insanity"... warhol-style canvas portraits. very cool. http://www.mckennathomason.blogspot.com/


this is absolutely my favorite kind of shoot. i followed west around his dock, in his front yard and on his sunny living room floor. we played and talked and i snapped away. west was in his environment, and he was relaxed and simply being himself. he loves spending time by the lake and on his scooter and with his beloved remote control car, and that's exactly how i wanted to capture him. it was early in the morning, and mom stephanie peeked at us through the window from time to time in her cozy bathrobe. she must have been savoring one of her numbered quiet mornings before her twins are due! there were no threats or bribes to sit still and smile! - she just let him do his thing and i did mine. carte blanche...i so dig it!

i've known west for awhile, as he and my lucy have been buddies since before they could talk. it's difficult to imagine there was a time when they didn't talk. very difficult. we carpooled to tennis and birthday parties a few times this summer, and those two chatted away like chip and dale. each time i sat in the drivers seat wishing i'd had the foresight to invest in a miniature tape recorder. the first five minutes of one of their latest conversations was focused on the various boo-boos they had recently suffered. west said, "well, i falled on the dock and my arm broke. it was a really bad boo-boo. well, it didn't really break. but it hurt....see???" lucy hastily followed up with, "well, i tried to open the gate in our yard and it cutted my bleed out.....see???" neither kid commented on the other's part of the conversation, or commiserated, or even acknowledged the other had spoken. they spent that time plotting what to say next that could possibly trump the current tale. at one point, there was a brief lull in the conversation. then west looks at lucy very seriously and says, "soooo, lucy - you brush your own teeth?"... "yes.".... "YOU DO???".... "yes, you DON'T?" west goes on to describe his toothbrushing habits in detail, followed by lucy's rendition of her own daily ritual. by the time we had reached our destination, they had covered shoe tying, pants zipping and their individual bedtime customs. they were so serious about these topics. this is their world right now: so sweet, so simple, so innocent. i know it won't last forever, pretty soon we'll get to "listen in" only by reading their texts and checking their facebook pages. but to me, these images will always bring back this delightful time. i hope you feel the same way, steph. thank you for a wonderfully laid back shoot!