#1299. Wash My Troubles Away

By Nancee Rostad | How-To

Jul 27

On reflection, I’ve realized that nearly all of my most successful photography has been the result of serendipity. No planning or preparing for a trip to a faraway place in order to capture a particular iconic image. If a trip has been planned, and even if I expect to photograph one or another subject, I usually end up dismissing the expected and having another more interesting (maybe only to me) subject consume all my attention until I feel that I’ve “done it”…..whatever “it” is.


And so it went when I recently traveled to Reno, Nevada to photograph Wild Horses (yes, those words are legally capitalized to give dignity to these exquisite animals). My mission was to not only photograph Wild Horses but to attend a 3-day meeting of the Wild Horse & Burro Program Board which was run by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). The meeting was difficult and disheartening since the main objective of the BLM when it comes to Wild Horses & burros is to bring them to the brink of extinction as quickly as possible. This is no exaggeration on my part, but is known by every advocate (and the BLM) in the USA.


The day before the board meeting a “field trip” had been planned to show the board members and members of the public one particular HMA (Horse management area) that had been allocated to the Wild Horses & burros of Nevada in 1971. I drove, following a convoy of cars, for about 60 miles on dry dirt roads looking not only for the Wild Horses, but stopping occasionally to have the BLM point out how much “damage” the Wild Horses & burros had done to the rangelands. This is totally untrue, but I kept going, taking notes, and driving on the dirt road. At the end of a frustrating day without the sight of even one Wild Horse, I headed back to Reno, my SUV absolutely covered in dust and dirt.


The next day during the board meeting lunch break, I took my car to the local car wash. There was a bit of a line, but I was desperate enough to wait it out. Finally, I paid my $13 and headed toward the wash area. A man sprayed my vehicle down with a pre-wash, then sprayed it with a sudsy liquid, then used a large brush to scrub the entire car down by hand. I could see the typical automatic car wash in front of me and rather wondered if I’d be driving through anytime soon. The answer was yes! At his direction, I moved my car forward onto the tracks and we started to move. I was so surprised by what I saw that I barely pulled my iPhone out in time. As the usual car wash activity was going on (long strips of toweling flopping and skidding back and forth, more suds being sprayed, water rinsing…..) I started to make a short video for my grandson. Normally, I wouldn’t bother, but not only was there a lot of car wash action going on, there were colored lights that lit the scene up in blue, green, red, purple…..one after the other. It was really cool, but I didn’t realize until I had viewed my 25 second video that I had actually found a serendipitous subject again!


Back at the hotel, I viewed the video multiple times, fervently wishing that I had taken cellphone photos instead. I didn’t have the time to go back through the car wash (with a clean car this time!). So, after a bit of pondering, I started playing the video while simultaneously taking screen shots. It worked a treat! The results are the images you see here in all their abstract glory. They’re colorful, they’re lively, and they’re totally serendipitous!


iPhone 13 Pro
No Post besides cropping from the screen shots


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  • Allan Dew says:

    Nancee these are terrific images! For the life of me I could not figure out what I was looking at till I read your post.. brilliant. A nice way to end what must have been a very upsetting visit.
    On a positive note I’m guessing that if you slowed the video down and added some music it would also be very cool.
    All the best

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thanks, Allan! Going through that car wash was by far the best thing that happened to me in Reno!

  • Lad Sessions says:


    You’re amazing! I doubt many of us would have even seen the serendipitous colors and patterns, and few if any would have made something so lovely of them. Thanks for the images and the inspiration!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Lad. I’m pretty sure that any photographer who has posted on DS would have done the same. It was rather psychedelic, and quite surprising to see in a car wash. I almost didn’t get my iPhone out in time!

  • PaulB says:

    Surprise always leads to something interesting.

    Like Lad, I could not see the subject until you revealed it. Since, my imagination took me to photographing exotic adult beverages. Having lived in Reno during my college years, this seemed perfectly reasonable.

    If I had been driving, I doubt I could have gotten my phone out of my pocket before the wash was finished.


    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you, Paul! I’ve shown the images to quite a few people, and nary a one figured out where they were taken. Exotic adult beverages is as good a guess as any! And I almost didn’t get my iPhone out in time…..

  • Debbie says:

    Feeling the universal energy coming through these images, Nancee.

  • Mer says:

    Some great images and blurb to go with it. 4th and 5th are my favourites, they just feel right.

    This short article might be of interest . . .



    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thanks, Mer! I’ve heard wonderful things about the man in the article. I’ll pass it on the other advocates – thanks for sending it along.

  • John Wilson says:

    Nancee, what an amazing collection of images. I don’t even think about the car wash looking at them; just the colours and patterns. Stunning.

    Well Done Mi’Lady

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Wonderful. But of course we’ve come to expect that, from you, Nancee.

    A while back I was trying to do something equally bizarre – taking a panorama of an island 18 km (over 11 miles) offshore, just after dawn. When a local idiot came up, asked me what I was doing, and then said “Oh, I can do that!” – pulled out a cellphone and produced an image that looked like a deep royal blue banana with a severely serrated edge! He was as happy as – then, thankfully he left.

    A major problem we all face is “trying to be different”, when literally billions of people are trying to take the same photos we do. I think that’s why some landscape ‘togs still take those long exposure shots of waterfalls – it would never occur to the idiots with their cellphones to take a shot of the Victoria Falls, looking as if a giant was pouring thick cream over the side! – so the ‘togs that still choose that “milky” finish can rest in peace, free from plagiarists. After all, who WOULD want to imitate them? It looks even worse, when they do it to a fountain!

    But your solution is a great idea – nobody CAN follow you through the carwash – they couldn’t get into your car, for a start!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thanks, Pete! While photographing in an iconic locale, I’ve often been asked exactly what I’m shooting – I like to totally mess with the person by answering with something totally off the mark. For example, I was shooting a red rock formation in Utah, and when asked the “what are you shooting” question, I answered with “the ocean, obviously”! People tend to scurry away when you do that!

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Ha ha ha!

        I think you and I should go on a photo shoot together, sometime, Nancee – I love your sense of humour, as well as your photography!

  • Paul Perton says:

    Wow N. I suspect that I’d never have worked out what you’d shot without your narrative. As usual with your work, these are unique, smart and a complete delight. Keep ’em coming!

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Offering dreaming with mundane things… you did it again, Nancee 🙂
    Wonderful idea, and very beautiful images… my favourites with you first set on DS (the wet or iced reflexions on streets, that one so ancient I don’t see it on DS under your name).

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you, Pascal! Ask Pascal J. where those ice reflection images are – I think they may have been in a challenge or group post. I’m on the road currently and don’t have the list in front of me.

  • Pascal O. says:

    Dear Nancee,
    Your posts never fail to surprise – or not.
    As usual, your creativity keeps fighting hard to stay in the lead, ahead of the quality of your pictures. Or is it the reverse??
    I promise that from now on, I shall never look at car washes the same way after your glorious pictures.
    Thank you for sharing this exceptional set, and, for the sake of plagiarism, I shall just repeat what has been written above: please, pretty please, keep’em comin’!!!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Pascal! My theory is that there are photo subjects and ideas lurking everywhere and you just have to relax and open your mind to the possibilities. I’m glad that you’ll be looking at car washes differently from now on!

  • philberphoto says:

    Nancee, oh Nancee, why do you abuse words and the English language so? Reading your texte about “serendipity” conjured a vision of Vermeer saying to his wife: “you know what, dear, I happened to walk in on the milkmaid today, just as she was pouring milk. Look at what serendipity lead me to…”
    ’nuff said! Kudos!!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Oh, Philippe, you do know how to make me blush with your praise! The car wash is a far reach from Vermeer’s home, but I must say that I like your interpretation of “serendipity”.

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