New Mexico

Atomic Road Trip

The first week of October I drove to southern New Mexico to research and photograph tourists’ activities related to the birth of the atomic era. Specifically, twice a year in April and October, White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) opens the Trinity Site to the public for a one-day visit. Trinity Site is ground zero for the Manhattan Project’s first atomic bomb test on July 16, 1945. Less than a month later atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Trinity Site is located near the Jornada del Muerto desert (Journey of the Dead Man) and in the Tularosa Basin, just northwest of Alamogordo.

Having lived part of my childhood in the mountains east of Alamogordo, I felt it important to visit WSRM to try to better understand where my father worked during the late 1950s. After visiting the WSRM Museum and Missile Park, I did gain some insights into his life and work. For example, I did not realize WSRM was originally established near the end of WWII, in part, for reverse engineering the Nazi V-2 rocket with Germany’s top rocket scientist, Dr. Wehner von Braun. My father’s work overlapped with von Bruan’s for the next decade as my father worked on the Mercury and Gemini manned space programs.

Needless to say, it was an interesting and tiring 5-day road trip, which included three out of four nights camping (two nights were in Mesa Verda National Park).

Faux Dioramas

Some years ago I began manipulating my images in Photoshop with a combination of unsharp masking and Gaussian blur in an effort to replicate various camera techniques I’ve employed in my commercial work. Having used large-format cameras, such as 8x10s and 4x5s, for most of my professional career, I’ve come to appreciate how the camera movements can manipulate the final outcome of the image. One such technique is the Scheimpflug principle, which allows an apparent sharpness to appear throughout the image plane. Conversely, the photographer can employ an opposite camera movement, which results in extreme shallow focus, or what’s sometimes called selective focus.

Other camera techniques that add to the sense of selective focus include the use of plastic cameras such as the Holga or Diana. Another fun tool to use is the lens baby, which is very reminiscent of reversed Scheimpflug. Regardless, I have found that my understanding of these various tools and techniques can be readily adapted in Photoshop with just a few clicks of my mouse and some mental pre-visualization.

Resulting from this Photoshop employment, I have a developing body of work I call Faux Dioramas. A diorama is usually a small-scale model or set, similar to those made by model railroad enthusiasts. The fun part for me however, is photographing real situations such as structures or environmental landscapes, and then applying my faux techniques to emulate a miniature world. I’m not alone in this genre of photographic seeing. Toronto photographer, Toni Hafkenscheid has created a very interesting body of work employing a similar look. You can view his work on-line at or in Robert Hirsch’s book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age. Enjoy!

Faux diorama of Santuraio de Chimayo, NM.

© 2007 Terry Ownby, Enchanted Rituals.