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photo-eye Gallery: Selected Works – Steve Fitch and Ernie Button

photo-eye Gallery Selected Works - Steve Fitch and Ernie Button photo-eye Gallery's current exhibit titled Selected Works is a group show of photographic prints highlighting the diverse styles and subject matter embraced by photo-eye Gallery artists. This week we feature Steve Fitch and Ernie Button.
Selected Works is a group show of photographic prints currently on view at photo-eye Gallery highlighting the diverse styles and subject matter embraced by our represented artists. For the next few weeks, covering the duration of the exhibition, we are engaging the featured artists about their photographs inviting them to tell the stories behind their images. This week, Steve Fitch discusses classic road-side neon and Ernie Button gives us a glimpse into the painstaking process of making his Vanishing Spirits photographs.

Steve Fitch 
Startlite Motel, Mesa Arizona, December 28, 1980  Steve Fitch

"My two images in the Selected Works exhibition represent two important interests of mine that evolved in the early 1970s with photographs I made for my book, Diesels and Dinosaurs: photographing roadside, vernacular neon and making pictures at dusk or at night. Originally, I worked in black and white but around 1979 I began to work in color with an 8x10" view camera, which I still use today.

The Starlite Motel sign with the three neon divers and the Arrow Motel with the neon Indian shooting an arrow are both beautiful examples of roadside neon signs and both are animated which, of course, you can’t tell in the photographs. They are also great examples of figurative neon signs that are unique: the kind of sign that was found along America’s two lane roadways before the Interstate Highways and the plethora of identical franchise signs that now dominate our highway landscape.

Since the exposure times for making these two images were long (around ten minutes each) my main concern was wind since an 8x10" camera is practically like a sail and any breeze will start the camera shaking. Often, I would stop the exposure by holding the film holder’s dark slide in front of the lens if the wind picked up and then removing it when the wind died down. Amazingly enough, both of these signs are still beside their respective highways, which is not the case for most vintage neon signs of that era. Unfortunately, the Arrow Motel is closed and the sign is inoperative. The Starlight Motel sign in Mesa, Arizona was recently blown over in a wind storm but an effort by the local community to repair and reinstall the sign was successful and it, currently, is in operation.

Arrow Motel, Highway 85, Espanola, New Mexico, March 23, 1982  Steve Fitch

Interestingly, Europeans are much enamored with our vernacular roadside and I have heard, also, that the Japanese have been avid collectors of signs like the Arrow and Starlite Motel. Once, in Tucumcari, New Mexico, a motel owner offered to sell me his Palomino Motel sign with a bucking neon bronco exclaiming 'Whoa!' I declined the offer deciding on the spot that I would do my collecting via photography, and I made a picture of the sign instead. Three months later I saw the same sign in a collection of vintage signs at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica,California! There are two identical sides to this sign and they had been separated. One side was sold to buyers in Japan.

I drive past the Arrow Motel sign in Espanola, New Mexico several times a year and the sign has become a very familiar, almost totemic, landmark to me. The Starlite Motel sign, on the other hand, I have seen only once, in 1980 when I made the photograph and is, as a result, not so familiar. I think this comparison illustrates how differently a landmark such as one of these neon signs can function. If it is in your own territory and you pass it frequently it becomes a more intimate part of your life, something to orient yourself by, whereas a sign that you pass only once or twice will exist as a novelty, a unique data point in your life not a repeating, familiar one."—Steve Fitch

View more work from Steve Fitch

Ernie Button
Glenlivet 122  Ernie Button

"The four images in this show are some of my favorites in the series. They were created earlier in the project but they marked a major step forward; they affirmed some of the creative possibilities that I had only imaged and hoped for up until then. Creating these images is not a fast process. It takes surprisingly longer than you’d think. Any aged whisky will leave these lines or marks but they won’t always be interesting. The challenge begins with finding the dried remains that offer an interesting composition. That is the foundation for building a successful photograph in this series. Once I find the right sample, I then take it into my studio and begin experimenting with lighting set-ups. Often times something that looks good to the eye will not be that interesting when magnified under the camera lens. It takes about 10 hours from start to final image, including all of the various camera angles and different options of color, all of the post processing, which is more about color correction and eliminating all of the unwanted spots. An interesting side note; the dried remains still have the scent of the whisky they came from for a few days after they are dried. So my studio has the subtle bouquet of whisky when I am actively shooting for this project."—Ernie Button

View more work from Ernie Button

Read the first part of the series featuring Brad Wilson and Mitch Dobrowner

Selected Works is currently on view at photo-eye Gallery and will be up through mid March. For more information or to purchase prints please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly at 505.988.5152 x 121 or or Gallery Associate Lucas Shaffer at 505.988.5152 x 114 or

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