Saturday, June 20, 2015

Travel Summer

It’s going to be a busy summer.

shoot-368After spending the last two weeks traveling by bicycle and train, I’m off by 4Runner this weekend to shoot some abandoned buildings out on the plains. Dan, Craig and I are working on a zine together, and we’re exploring to find new things and places to shoot. Which means by the time you read this Steph and I will be bouncing down the road on the 4Runner en route to the badlands with large format in tow. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday.

I think this summer will be more road time than not. I’ve been slacking, not putting enough effort in to my photography. It’s getting a little stale as a result, my skills are slipping some. This summer will be the time I go out and exercise those muscles and get them back in to shape.

The zine is designed to help with this problem. It will get me out and shooting more. Producing more work for consumption is what I need on more than one level. New stuff for the blog, the zine, and most importantly myself. In addition to honing my craft, it helps with the sanity levels and keeps me focused.

I’m going to be putting a heavy emphasis on large format from here on out. I’ll be shooting more of it, getting better at it, and then printing it. I’m getting a bathroom darkroom set up with an eye towards contact printing negatives. I’ll hang the best of the lot in the apartment until I tire of them, then replace them with new shots.

shoot-369Traveling and widening my horizons on tour made me happy. Hopefully, it made my shooting better as well. I want this to continue. Although shooting downtown Denver is easier and good practice, I need more than that to progress in my work.

So, there are going to be long drives ahead. Nights camping in the back of the 4Runner. Clear, crisp dawns in the badlands, with sunrise silhouetted windmills and all but empty towns. Grain silos, cowboy bars, and pickup trucks to shoot. By fall, I hope to have something to show for my efforts.

There will be interruptions, of course, I need to go back to the south at some point. We should see both of our families. We’ll probably do one more tour before the snow flies. Not as big, but still substantial.

For today, the badlands are calling and we are rattling down gravel roads as I rubberneck looking for abandoned farm houses and businesses. It’s time to get out there and see.

Travel Summer

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Post-Tour Lazies- Tour Tales


The half unpacked panniers are still sitting by the door. The bikes have resumed their usual place in the living room, still wearing traces of the mud that contributed to a bailout on the C & O Canal trail. Film waits patiently on the coffee table for development. My legs have improved from sore to merely stuff, but I still drop off to sleep instead of staying awake watching TV on the couch. 

Welcome to the post tour lazy.

In retrospect there were things that could have gone better. We didn’t have enough time. That got worse when mechanical issues surfaced. But we’d planned and postponed this tour so many times. Deaths in the family, hospitalizations, everything conspired to stop this from happening. We went anyway, on one level just as an act of defiance. It was worth it. We didn’t get the experience I wanted, but I’m glad we got the experience we did.

We’ll go back some day to complete the C & O. I still want the pretty parts. And in spite of our first segment on Amtrak, Stephanie likes train travel enough to give it a second try.  


Life on the back of a bike is too good to stay away from. We can’t wait for the next ride.

The Post-Tour Lazies- Tour Tales

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Going West, back where we belong- Trail Tales

We’re back on the Zephyr, after a day of shopping in Chicago. The Capital Limited was a nice ride, if a little slow.


Going West, back where we belong- Trail Tales

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Going Got Weird, and the Weird Got Going- Tour Tales

This tour has been challenging. We’ve ridden more miles in a shorter time than any other tour we’ve done. We’ve stayed in some bizarre places and some beautiful ones. But I think this last mechanical issue will get us. 


There’s so many tales I’ll be relating to you all soon. About the kindness of strangers and the willingness to help. About humor and encouragement shouted between strangers at 12 mph climbing mountains. About how trail people are the best people.



This didn’t exactly go as planned. But I keep reminding myself the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. Parts of this have been kind of an ordeal. But mostly, it’s been a grand adventure that I am glad we took. I have the best adventure partner in the world, and she has made it all bearable and worthwhile. 


The Going Got Weird, and the Weird Got Going- Tour Tales

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Showing through the cracks

shoot-363I’ve been wandering the city recently. Walking and checking things off the to-do list for the bike tour in my head. Sometimes I find myself in some spot I haven’t really paid attention to before, and find a surprise. Little bit of Denver’s past showing through the cracks.

Denver is changing, fast. In the last couple of years, all of the convenience stores in my neighborhood have vanished, and mixed use developments are going up in their place. It’s urban development come full circle. They tore down the older homes to put those in during the 70s and now they’re tearing them out to put homes back.

The lot behind Turin, where both Steph and I tested our bicycles before buying them, is gone. I don’t miss the 70s vintage exposed aggregate office building, but will miss the cute Victorian next to it. Things change. That is their nature.

Except sometimes, things don’t change. You find it in some weird spots. I’ve found houses sitting alone in parking lots, all of the neighboring ones demolished and paved over. Lone survivors from a time when urban housing was less dense, and of higher quality. Sometimes they’re wedged in between buildings, almost like that woman who didn’t want to sell her house and watched a mall get built around her. There’s one I’ve found like this, but it’s stuck in such a spot the light is always bad when I try to take a picture of it.

The ones in this post are behind an office building that was originally a motor lodge built in the 1960s when those were all the rage. It’s an odd spot in a town of fast paced redevelopment and increasing density. Like a bit of old paint showing through a chip in the fresh coat.

shoot-362They’re maintained, at least. Probably used for storage. The garages out back had a business name on them, which I wish I had written down. It looks like someone had set up a small mechanics shop in them in the 1920s and made a living.

Almost no one pays attention to this spot. Out of the way, just off Colfax, not in a desirable part of town. The land has been for sale for a number of years, but the adjacent manufacturing must require the new owner to do some clean up, as it hasn’t sold in that time. Still, it’s kind of cool at see how that part of town used to look right after the First World War. There was once an entire neighborhood like this, butting up against Cherry Creek and Colfax. The retaining walls had gone up around the creek after numerous floods, and Mayor Speer was giving away trees as part of his plan to beautify the city. A different Denver. Most of that is gone, swallowed by the asphalt of the adjoining parking lots demanded by the auto dominated city planning of the 50s. But still, it’s nice there are survivors, letting you see some of what the city used to be though little cracks.

Showing through the cracks

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reel Difference

shoot-360Some choices define people. Conservative or Liberal. Carnivore or Vegan. Drive on the left hand side of the road or the right. Polar opposites define us. But none more so than Rokunar reel or Paterson reel.

I can remember long ago in the Denver Darkroom, rolling film on to reels to develop. The other student who also went on to be a dark room rat with me and I had been selected to finish some odd rolls up and get them in a last tank so we could get on and develop. Everything went well until I picked up a Paterson reel and tried to use it after only using Rokunar reels. I promptly jammed it and had to pull the film out and try again. The second attempt did not go well either. Nor the third. I swore in the dark at the same time my colleague did. I asked her what was wrong and she said she had jammed the “effing Rokunar reel” trying to get a roll on it. We swapped reels, and balance was restored.

The reels aren’t that different. Made of plastic. Spiral loading. Adjustable for use with 35mm, 126 and 127, and 120/220 by unlocking the two sides and moving them further apart. They’re pretty much identical because they use the same approach to the task at hand. The spiral the length of a roll of film in so that the chemicals can circulate during development. But the difference is the feed.

Rokunar reels have a ramp that feeds the film in to the reel, leading right to the tiny metal catch used to push the film further in to the spiral, and the Paterson reel doesn’t. Which doesn’t seem like a large difference, until you are trying to spool film on to one of them in the absolute black darkness.

I always had trouble with the Paterson reels. They call them Auto Load reels, but I never thought so. I was perpetually getting the film fed wrong and jamming them up. Then you have to take the reel apart and start over.

shoot-361The ramp is used not only on the Rokunar reels, but ones made by Samigon and Omega as well. For all of my former colleague’s issues, I rarely have problems with this design, it just feeds the way it’s supposed to with no issues.

A Rokunar reel will cost more than the Paterson reel. It seems the Paterson is pretty much the cheapest one you can buy. Maybe because Paterson makes just about everything you need in the way of developing accessories: trays, tanks, mixers, jugs, squeegees. Perhaps the volume business gives them the pricing edge.

Me? I’d pay more for the Rokunar. Ease of use is something I can appreciate, even if I can hear some of you going on about if I want easy I should just shoot digital. Quiet, you Paterson users.

Those metal reel folks I left out of this conversation? Well, they’re just weird.

Reel Difference

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Amtrak and bikes

shoot-358It’s been a rough patch for those of us who travel by bike and Amtrak. Fatalities, injuries, and a lot of questions. Chief in my mind among them is: why?

The crash in Philadelphia was a monstrous tragedy. Leaving the cause of the accident aside, whether it was operator error or equipment or what, the technology is available to prevent it from happening. Positive Train Control was invented to prevent this exact sort of thing from happening. Of course, it isn’t active yet because the budget isn’t there. And immediately after the accident, Amtrak’s budget was slashed. Because the best way to solve a problem caused by not having enough money is to give it less money. At least that’s the thinking on Capitol Hill.

Conservatives hate Amtrak. It’s always lumped in with the National Endowment for the Arts and PBS as things that should be cut. The combined budgets of these three agencies accounts for 0.03% of total government spending, and yet these are the ones the conservatives always want to cut first. It’s hard to not frame this as some kind of extension of a class war, taking things away just to make the have not’s lives a little more difficult.

Amtrak’s annual budget was cut to 1.1 billion dollars, give or take. Which sounds like a lot of money until you put it in perspective. That’s about half what the Department of Defense spends in a day. More is needed. Most of the rolling stock on the long distance trains out west dates from the last time there was money in the 1970s. The locomotives are newer, dating from the 1990s. There’s not going to be much expansion anytime soon, since there’s just not enough equipment to do it. Ridership is higher than it’s ever been, and trains routinely sell out. It could break even or might even turn a profit if it had money to expand.

shoot-359Riding a bike gets short shrift as well. Denver has all of a mile or so of protected bike lane. There’s a three-foot law requiring drivers give a cyclist 3 feet when passing, but I’ve never seen it enforced. When I tried to report a driver for violating it, there was no interest on the part of the police in doing anything about it. Even when someone on a bike gets hurt, the driver just gets a slap on the wrist. A triathlete in Boulder wound up going through the window of a car that pulled in front of her and stopped while she was going down grade at speed, and even though the driver had a history of reckless driving, he was only fined. The triathlete will carry the scars of that accident on her face for the rest of her life and was lucky to survive. Her life is radically changed, but that was just worthy of a fine.

I guess the message is clear. If you ride a bike or take a train, you don’t count for much. It’s enough to make me want to do these things more, not just because I enjoy them, but to continue to be a thorn in the side of the powerful.

Amtrak and bikes