A black-and-white time capsule
What: Opening reception for "Carefree Highway"
When: 6 pm Fri., Aug. 4
Where: Cafe Velo, 120 Prospect St., #2
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
In the spring of 1987, Kevin Nelson was 20 years old and ready for a big adventure.
In mid-June, along with his close friend Mark Johnson—who was 19 at the time—and another buddy, Mike Lowenstein, the trio set out from Stamford, Connecticut for a cross-country bicycle tour that would take them from the Atlantic Ocean to Oregon, then on to Arcata, California.
At a Fri., Aug. 4 reception for “Carefree Highway: Discovering the American West on Bicycle,” an exhibit chronicling the coast-to-coast journey via black-and-white photographs shot along the way, Nelson and Johnson will be on hand at Cafe Velo during the monthly Art Walk to field questions and discuss the serendipity of how the images came to be.
“Due to a stroke of fate/good luck, we were gifted a bunch of rolls of film in North Dakota and started taking black-and-white photos from there through the end of the trip,” Nelson says. “Upon our return, Mark exposed the negatives in his darkroom, and printed a couple of pictures to give to our folks. Then it was time to head back to university, and we promised we’d return to the film processing project ‘later.’”
“Later” turned out to be 30 years, when Nelson decided that the time was finally right to investigate the images further. After the negatives were retrieved from their tenuous storage space inside a sketchbook—where they’d miraculously survived decades of various climactic conditions and moves—and digitized at Quicksilver Photo Lab, he realized he’d unearthed a black-and-white time capsule.
“America was still very much analog,” Nelson says of the resulting photographs. “With glaciers, hot springs, ghost towns and endless open road—not a touch-screen to be seen anywhere.”
As the co-owner of Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress, he had the means to make the most of “Carefree Highway.” Nelson’s wife and co-owner, Carly James, used her digital photo-processing skills to clean up the pictures and bring them to life, and she was the one who suggested turning approximately 100 of them into a Bison-made photo album, which will be for sale at the opening.
In addition to the images on the wall and in the book, an ongoing slideshow at the event at Cafe Velo will bring to life Nelson and Johnson’s summer of discovery—and cement the lifelong friendship the duo have enjoyed.
While viewing jaw-dropping vistas from across the United States, attendees can also see wildlife both majestic and mousy, the travelers in various states of mobility, exhaustion and dress, music-making, meditative moments, questionable tan lines and images both artistic and humorous. In short, you’ll be watching a fascinating tale of boys becoming men unfold before your eyes.
“Poring over these photos inspired Mark and I to dig deep for the first time, recalling countless stories from the road, comparing our relative memories, and honoring the formative role the bike trip played in our coming-of-age,” Nelson says in the introduction to the printed album. “We are incredibly thankful to have had the experience, and appreciate now being able to share part of it.”
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