Boundary Landscapes – Behind the Curtain/Red Tent

These images are quick grabs with my cell phone of the location and setup which resulted in this plate.  The time of day here, as you might work out by the location of the shadows, is mid to just after mid day…hot and bright.

The red tent ,which is actually an ice fishing shelter, is the portable darkroom.  One could say it is mad to choose something for ice fishing to use in the desert during the summer.  The tent worked out well once I was able to find the best layout of everything inside which took a good number of days working in the field.  By the time I left Arizona the set-up of everything and the placement was very smooth.  I will post some more about this tent in the future as I am sure you would love to hear at least one of the stories related to it flying high above the border like a kite.

The tent not only fit my strategy for producing large 12×20″ plates in the field but also to avoid trouble along the border.   The strategy to stay as safe a possible, although I need to point out that the situation is not really like what Fox News would lead you to believe, was to make sure that I was visible to the surveillance by both sides of the boundary.  In short, don’t act/look like a smuggler and don’t act/look like Homeland Security.  You see having spent time in war and in the natural wilds I have found that surprising someone with your presents can be very dangerous, like when you are hiking and happen upon a mamma bear and her cubs after rounding a blind corner. I treated the boundary area like bear country (which some of it actually is) in that I made lots of noise both audible and visible.  The red tent really helped with the visibility part as it could be seen at vast distances in the monochrome landscape of the summer desert.  This was proven to me as I spoke with numerous agents that told me how and when they were observing me.  “Expedition type Jeep” and “red tent” (along with many other things I am sure) were being broadcast over the Border Patrol tactical radio net often.  The interesting thing is that the smuggler radio nets were also buzzing with reports and speculation about me which is the way I really would want it to be.  You see, when you are in the business of moving goods into and out of another country your primary objective is to not be seen so avoiding other people is the best course of action.  If they know where you are, it is much easier to avoid you.

There was a small issue with the location pictured above though, which I mention in the previous post about the dope drop I was basically set up on.  The unusual Border Patrol activity in the morning had given me the idea that something was going on in the area, but when the agent that I spoke with that told me about the dope also said that they had heard spotters on their radios talking about the “red tent” I had confirmation that the eyes that I felt were out there were indeed open.

In this picture the darktent is being shielded from 20 to 35mph winds by the jeep while working on top of a Border Patrol observation point.

The image above is the first time the darktent was set up in the field which would make it the first week on June.  This was the outing that would be the beginning of a very long struggle to locate and correct a chemical problem.

Here is the second time the Eskimo would be erected in the field.

Repairing a spreader.  This would basically become a daily thing.

Notice here that the sides of the tent do not look the same.  This is because the spreaders on the right side have failed while setting the shelter up meaning yet another repair.  This was the second time during this same morning that the tent was erected and repaired.  Nice and close to the boundary here.

More repairs.  Here you can see duct tape that has been applied to slow down the scuffing of the rubberized fabric by the spreaders.  During this session a spreader is being repaired and new grommets are going to be applied to the tiedown points.

The picture above was during the first week of July and the tent is fading a bit.  Notice the large cloud in the sky?  This image was made right before I packed everything up without ever placing a plate in the camera.  Monsoon season had arrived by this point and storms formed very quickly.  The cloud in the background would eventually launch the Eskimo from this site high into the sky and almost across the border which is right behind me here.

Many wet collodion workers are starting to use these Eskimo tents, but I would almost guarantee that nobody has worked them out as hard as I did.  Two straight months with set-ups and take-downs everyday in very rough ground, wind, and temperature conditions.  The warmest the inside temperature got, that I was coherent enough to read was around 126 degrees.  After a month the blazing sun began to suck the red pigment straight from the fabric, turning the top to a wonderful pink.  In the image above you can see the fade is already in progress.  By the end of the trip the tent required repairs upon return to base camp everyday, the thing is just not constructed for sustained heavy use.  There were days when I thought that I would have to abandon the project because of the mounting number of serious failures of the shelter.  But, with all of its battlefield repairs,  scars, and a few stressful flights above and along the ground I can say it worked and was the best way to accomplish working with the 12×20 camera out in the desert.


~ by Phil Nesmith on October 13, 2012.

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