Travel and film photography are a perfect match for me. Ever since I came home from Machu Picchu with amazing Lomochrome purple images I have been excited about the opportunities that film holds for reinventing travel photography. Instead of trying to replicate on film the already perfect digital images available on every travel website I use my cameras and film to seek a unique perspective on my destination.
In July I took a brief but glorious road trip through the Badlands, Black Hills and part of Montana. Like many of my travels, my original purpose was based in my geeky devotion to history. I have read voluminously about the Little Bighorn, the battle at Wounded Knee and the general period of the final wresting of that part of the country from the Native American nations. I always wanted to visit the Little Bighorn site so I headed for Rapid City by plane. There I rented a car and, with three cameras (that's all I could fit into my backpack and one carry on bag) and a lot of random film, set out to explore the region.
My first stops were the Crazy Horse monument and the 1880 steam train. I rationalized bypassing Mount Rushmore because I've already seen the Legoland version. The monument was impressive, and the train ride through the back country provided some great photo opportunities. I started out with two rolls of Fujifilm 200 from ReFocus because I like the idea of mailing the film and having the scans on my computer by the time I got home. Great film and processing, but not as quick as I would have liked and not very cost effective.
The next day I set out to visit the Pine Ridge reservation and Wounded Knee. The road I planned to take into the reservation was closed so I decided instead to take a back route into and through the northerly part of the Badlands national park. Here's where my alternative photo approach started paying off. I got some beautiful stuff on Lomochrome turquoise.
Due to heavy rains the night before, this back road was so muddy I would never have started on it had I known, as I was driving a little Subaru sedan. However I made it through and got a few good shots of the “adventure tourist” van loaded with bike gear that had to be pulled out of the mud by a local in a pickup truck. Once back on the paved highway, I got some great black and white of tourists taking in the scenery. My route back took me through part of the Black Hills to Sturgis, a forgettable spot for me although the surrounding mining country was beautiful.
Early the next morning I headed for the battlefield which is surrounded by Crow reservation land and not a major tourist stop due to its remoteness. After multiple random stops for photos I got there in the early afternoon, with a new understanding of why Montana is called “big sky” country. The light is just unbelievable and the clouds defy description.
I spent hours wandering the site and photographing both black and white (Svema 64 with a yellow filter to accentuate the sky), and color using expired film and Film Photography Project’s Retrochrome 160. The site itself was so beautiful it was hard to comprehend what happened there. I drove to Billings that night but instead of going on I decided to return to the Little Bighorn for more photos the next morning before looping back via eastern Wyoming.
I love that my photos are unique to my experience and vision of the trip, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more in western Montana and Wyoming with even more cameras!
Photographer Barbara Murray is based in California. Connect with her on Instagram.