May 11, 2013

At art fair, seeing Route 66 in black, white and old

As a photographer who works mostly in black and white, Cort Anderson has an eye for detail, for composition and for shades of light.

As a photographer who works mostly in black and white, Cort Anderson has an eye for detail, for composition and for shades of light.

And he has a particular eye for Route 66, the famous old highway that snakes from Chicago to Los Angeles, the route that has long been the subject of song and the object of nostalgia buffs drawn to pieces of American life from the 1920s to the 1960s. For years, Anderson has been photographing things along Route 66 from Oklahoma to the Mojave Desert in southern California. He’s captured old gas stations, weathered signs and the cracked, worn pavement itself.

You can see what Anderson’s artistic eye has composed. On Saturday, he had 14 photos of Route 66 scenes hanging in his booth at the 54th Annual Art and Book Fair, which continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Century II’s Exhibition Hall in downtown Wichita. Admission is free. The fair, a fundraiser for Wichita Art Museum, features more than 100 artists from all over. The artwork includes jewelry, paintings, prints, pottery, sculpture, yard ornaments and illustrations; books also are for sale. Friends of the Wichita Art Museum is hosting the show and promoting it as a Mother’s Day destination.

Anderson’s images document the passage of time. He has one print of a vacant gas station in Ludlow, Calif. It is a streamlined building with faded printing and a deep overhang where a motorist could park a big sedan out of the desert sun. A tumbleweed has come to rest next to a vintage gas pump. An old chair sits in front of the closed front door. He took the photo in November 2001.

Eleven years later, he returned. The gas station building and the old pumps out front had survived, but someone had put fencing around the property. The chair by the front door had been moved to the side of the building. A photographer notices such details.

Anderson looks at an old building differently than someone who isn’t a black-and-white photographer. “When you take the color out of photography, you have to rely more on the basics composition and light.”

Anderson, who lives near Belle Plaine, has done freelance photography, including as a “stringer” for newspapers over the years, for The Eagle during the late 1970s and early 1980s. As a newspaper photographer, he learned how to find “feature” shots that aren’t really newsworthy but still have value as photojournalism because they illustrate some facet of life.

Now 56, his “day job” is as emergency management director for a private EMS business in Medford, Okla.

When he is capturing images, he likes to take the back roads most people don’t use, whether it’s some rural route in Kansas or Route 66 itself, which cuts through part of southeast Kansas, between Baxter Springs and Galena. From Wichita, to get to the Route, you basically go south to Edmond, Okla., he said. “And some of the most scenic spots of Route 66 are in Oklahoma.”

His photography is a journey. “I hate the interstates,” he said, “unless I want to get someplace in a hurry.”

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