Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of the year

It’s traditional to do a post about the best things you shot or did at the end of the year. I’m not doing that. I think the best things I shot this year are being saved for a reveal at the end of a project in the new year. You’ll see them soon enough.

Some people do resolutions, but I’ve never been one for those either.

But here are the directions I’ll be going in 2016:

I’ll be rebuilding my 4×5 camera. I need to replace the ground glass and mounts, and decide if I want to retain the focal plane shutter. I need to remove the rangefinder as well. Then I need a proper tripod to use with it. Once those are done, I’ll be on the road with it more.

My Canon 7 will be over my shoulder more in the coming year, and I’ll be further back in to the mountains to find places to use it.

shoot-490I purchased a Contax body for the first time, and it’s going out with my M42 lenses on it. There will be more wide angle shots from high places as a result. I’ll be investing in some Zeiss glass, and want to use it to finish a portrait project.

I’d like to shoot more portraits in the coming year. I find them difficult, so that is why I want to do them.

This coming year, like all of them, has promise. I can’t wait to see what it brings.

Happy Hogmanay, sassenachs! Lang may yer lum reek!

End of the year

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Word bashing

I’ve never identified myself as a writer. When I was in J school, I was systemically disabused of all pretense of art when writing. The purpose of writing was just bashing noun and verb together to cover the five Ws and move on. Deadlines didn’t allow for more, and writing with any semblance of art drove editors in to apoplexy. Head down, crank it out, move on.

It was always vaguely unsatisfying. There was never enough time to ever get anything right, or inject any humanity.

But then, I wasn’t writing. I was bashing words together.

I’ve been undoing that learned behavior, slowly but surely. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write artfully. But I want to quit bashing words together.

shoot-489I’ve been giving myself permission to write more than 300 words about any given thing. I’m moving above writing for the sixth grade reader. I’m trying new things, and seeing how it goes. And I think I’m getting there.

So this coming year, I’m committed to cranking out at least eighty thousand words on one story, telling it as well as I can, and finishing it. That’s an intimidating number of words. So I’m just thinking of it as 500 words I can squeeze in to a lunch break while I scarf a sandwich every day during the work week. Those will add up over time, and I still get weekends to go shoot and walkabout.

That’s the plan, anyway. Bash enough words together that maybe I can move beyond it. Tell something worth reading, interesting enough to everyone involved to give it life. It’ll need to be interesting to keep me bashing it together, as well.

When it’s done, then what? I’ll have to try it again, of course. You don’t get good at anything just doing it once. What will I do with it when I’m done? I’ll worry about that when I get there.

If I can stop word bashing and get closer to actually writing, I’ll be happy with that.

Word bashing

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas comes this time each year

Happiest of Holidays to you all.

shoot-487May your Christmas be as good as mine. Tools to fulfill your dreams are the best gift of all. Not an ends to themselves, but a means. A doorway to future happiness and unending joy, making your life better than it was and pointing the way to how good it will be.

I’m already looking forward to what I can create in the new year, and having good tools is part of the joy of doing it.

Happy Christmas!

Christmas comes this time each year

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Simple pleasure

There is a simple pleasure in just walking around with a camera. No real goal or destination, just an amble with a roll of film loaded and a good set of hiking boots on.

shoot-483You don’t need to take much on one of these hikes. A bit of something to eat, because I don’t seem to be able to go for a walk of any real distance without wanting to snack on something. Although, bonus points to you if you can end the walking route with a spot that serves good eats. Pizza and beer are always good eats.

I don’t carry a lot of gear on a walk about. Simplicity is liberating. Just one camera, just one lens, just a couple of rolls of film. That’s all. Simple pleasures become less so when you clutter them up with too much crap and too many gizmos. Which is why I like to walkabout with cameras like my Petri 2.8. Fixed lens, simple construction, even the shutter speeds are limited. Complexity is not what you want when in pursuits of simple pleasures.

shoot-484I won’t even take a pack most of the time. If I’m out in the back country I’ll need to hike a bit more gear, obviously. But for most of these I’ll just be happy in being away and among the trees for a while, so I tend to stay a little closer to home. Tramp along with no expectation of what sort of pictures I’ll be taking. Well, I’ll expect those trees to be in it, but that’s just me. I’ve always preferred the company of trees to people and that’s just getting stronger as I age. But beyond that, I’ll just go see what I can see, and whatever appeals to me is what I’ll take home.

Of course, if you have good company on one of these walks, that’s even better. Someone who can come up with a good subject and talk about it. Someone who can equally be happy in silence while you listen to a stream traverse rocks.

The best part of these simple walks is they are a sum of individual simple things. Each one of the things a joy in and of themselves, combined in a wonderful simple creation.

Simple pleasure

Saturday, December 12, 2015


This time of year, I definitely do not take the outside for granted. I am always very appreciative of the time I do have outside.

Take right now for instance. At the beginning of the week, I thought it would be a good day for a bicycle ride. Instead, I’m dealing with a rather hard-core chest cold and it is snowing pretty hard. So I’m indoors, for the second day. Not my usual thing.

shoot-480Even during the work day, I manage to get outside and wander around. Most of the time it’s pleasant. Sometimes less so. But it needs to be done for my sanity. Weekends, this is even more so the case. Today, the weather and the germs have won. But it’s still a valuable experience. It will make me more appreciative when I do get back out.

My world shrinks a little in the winter. It always has. Treeline expeditions up in the mountains stop. Long rides grind to a halt. More local hikes and bikes happen. There’s not as much light for shooting while on these adventures, so there are fewer new photos as well. But when all of those variables come together, and I’m out trooping around or pedaling, and the shots come out great afterwords, all is right in the world. I sit back after developing the film and eyeballing the negatives with a deep sense of peace, very appreciative of the day.

shoot-482It’s easy to take days like that for granted during the summer. They’re lined up one after another for months. The only thing that breaks them up is the occasional storm and having to go to work. Which is why I tend to cherish them more during the winter. In a way, the economists were right. Scarcity does increase the value.

Today, snow and hacking my lungs up have sidelined me. But I’ll be better in a few days, and I’ll be heading out for another beautiful day to be appreciative of.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Staying on center

It’s been a hard few weeks in the world. A pretty heavy bombardment of bad things happening. Stress levels are pretty high, to boot. I’ve been touchy, off center, and hard to deal with as a result. That’s not helping anything.

Sometimes you just need to do something that makes you feel better to take you back to centered. The only time I’ve felt even slightly on center this past week, I wandered out of the office and away to take pictures.

shoot-477It wasn’t very far, just a few blocks of walking. It didn’t take long, I managed to do it on my lunch hour after I ate, but it helped. I need to walk and shoot to stay centered. Sometimes I seem to forget this fact, and life is less pleasurable as a result. So last week, I wandered the streets and took pictures of places I live near and work near and felt better. Head cleared, I could find center again, and go back to being the sort of person you want to be around.

shoot-478I think there’s a lesson in here. I think it could be time to spend a little more time out of the office when I can shoot. It’s hard during winter, when the sun is down before I get out of the office and not up for long before I go in. Soon enough, it won’t be up before I go and long down when I leave. Those months, it’s hard to be productive. But I will try. I think it’s time to pull off some of those banked vacation days from the shelf and put them to good use.

Unused, they’re not doing me any good. Used to keep centered, they make me a better, happier, more tolerable person, and that doesn’t help just me, but everyone around me as well.

So I think I’ll be spending more time out taking pictures, cold be damned. If things are going to keep going like they are, I’ll need to be centered more than I need to be warm.

Staying on center

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Changing the tires

This time of year, I have a debate with myself. Is it time to change the tires, yet?

Permanently out to pasture

Permanently out to pasture

It’s gone from unseasonably warm to unseasonably cold pretty fast. I didn’t spend enough time riding this year. Too much work, too little bicycle is a bad thing. A very bad thing. I miss my saddle time. This year I have had some great riding experiences, and some struggles, but I just don’t think I put enough miles under the bike to call it over just yet.

At some point, I’ll walk to the window with a steaming mug of coffee in hand and stare out over the snow piling up outside. I’ll pull out my phone and check the temperature. I’ll look out and consider again. And then I’ll admit that winter has won and start the process of changing out the tires on the bicycle.

Winter rides are solitary

Winter rides are solitary

Souls who are more hearty than I change their tires for studded ones and continue to ride outside. I am a weenie, and change mine for the worn out slicks I use while the bike is on the trainer. In the past, I’ve ridden outside as much as I can in the cold, but lately I’ve just switched over to walking during the winter months. There’s already been some significant wind chill this winter, and moving at a higher speed just exacerbates that problem. And while I have a pretty good track record riding on the snow and ice without any nasty spills, riding on the streets with cars on the snow and ice makes me a bit nervous.

So this morning, I got up and looked outside and wondered if it was time. Time to switch in to full winter mode, and change the tires. To peruse Netflix and prepare the winter queue for hours of putting the bike on the trainer and pedaling. The addition of HBO Go this year should at least improve my viewing options. But today I am being an optimist. I’m not giving up on having that last ride outside just yet.

Besides, I can’t remember where I put the other tires anyway.

Changing the tires

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestegon 29mm f2.8

Some time ago I wrote about the best commie glass I had encountered thus far, the Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestron 50mm f1.8. That lens was the sweet spot of sharpness, good construction, and ridiculously low price. shoot-472When a Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestegon 29mm f2.8 came up, I clicked buy it now and wanted to see what it could do. The seller indicated it had a very faint cleaning mark, but I can’t see it. The focus is a little bit stiff, but for $40, I figured if it worked at all it was a win.

I ran a couple of rolls through and realized, yet again, that those East Germans had not let me down. The build quality was just as solid on this lens. It’s a solid, all metal construction with a nice looking zebra paint scheme. It’s a good sized piece of glass, the fattest M42 lens I’ve bought. But the results, though, really appealed to me.

shoot-471The only review I’d found of the Orestegon before I bought it sung the praises of how it handled color reproduction. And yes, it does very well with that, giving a nice vintage look that is not terribly surprising given it is a nice vintage lens. But black and white is where the Orestegon shines most strongly. It gives a nice contrast to the images, and the light fall off in the corners works for me. Even though it’s a wide, the distortion isn’t all that noticeable. It is a multi-coated design, and it resists flare very well. The close focus distance, just like the 50mm, is very close. Really, I can’t find much to dislike about the lens, especially at the price.


Top of Green Mountain. The meter said this was very overexposed, but it was a bit under.

It has exposed a couple of problems with the M42 body I own, namely an annoying light leak and a meter than has gone less than accurate. But having good M42 lenses to shoot with makes me certain to replace the body with something better. So there’s a bit of shopping going on there.

Of course, I am now also interested in the Meyer-Optik offerings in 35mm focal distance, since it’s my favorite. The hunt for that lens is on the horizon. Communist lenses with great build quality, consistent performance, and multi-coating. Sure, they have some imperfections, but they are ones I find attractive. I find perfect lenses sterile and boring anyway. Given the price is absurdly low to boot, there’s nothing to dislike.

Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestegon 29mm f2.8

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Coffee Days

Unforeseen snow on the ground, a bite in the air, and winter is here. I was considering going out, and wondering if I should, but I think it’s going to be a coffee day.

I love coffee days. They’re productive, but in their own specific way. They usually start when I have the last cup in the pot, and then decide that wasn’t enough. A second pot is a luxury. I never get one before I go to work on the weekdays. It’s rare I have the opportunity to have the time to enjoy a second pot. When I do, it’s something I always savor.

Without coffee days, this website wouldn’t exist. One happened early in January of 2014. I had been considering doing a web site for a while, but I thought about how many pitfalls it entailed. How could I come up with new content on a consistent basis? What if I was so boring no one cared if the site existed? So I decided, on the second pot of the day, that I wanted to find out.

I always get good ideas on coffee days. The first bicycle tour. The dedication to complete a novel. The decision to leave the worst relationship of my life and the decision to begin the best one.

I’m not hip enough to frequent many coffee shops, but when I do like one, I’m dedicated to them. This morning’s coffee is Danger Monkey from Pablo’s. I’ve had cups there on random walks and before camping trips and hikes. I drink a lot of Huckleberry coffee as well, exposed to it on a whim one afternoon. My only field trip to Boyer’s school house cafe led to their coffee being in the cupboard often. I’m lucky there’s so many options in this city. I’ll be busy trying new places out and adding to my repertoire for a while yet.

shoot-469So what’s today’s coffee day going to lead to? It’s too early to tell. There’s some development to finish and a final edit of images for a project to be done. The 90,000 word goal of the novel isn’t going to get closer without putting some time on the laptop. There’s some travel planning that needs to be attended to. And, looming in the background of it all, the mountains are calling me and I feel that soon, I must go.

But first, coffee.


Pablo’s Danger Monkey- an excellent dark roast

Huckleberry Roasters- no bad choices here, but I love the Ethiopia Ardi

Boyer’s Coffee- Site of the first Rocky Mountain Film meetup

Coffee Days

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Temptation of the path

I can resist a great many things, but not the temptation of a really good path.

I mean a good path. A really good path. Not some urban ramble of a couple of miles of sidewalk. Not some ambling squiggle though some downtown park where you never really get out of the sounds of traffic and car horns. That’s pretty much what I think of as commuting. And while commuting by foot is good for you, it’s not inspiring to the soul. It requires headphones and podcasts to distract you. It is the brussels sprouts of the offerings on the plate of hiking and biking.

Some folks really like brussels sprouts. If that’s your thing, then more power to you. But I can always look at them and say, no thank you.

Even if you cover them with cheese.

shoot-466A really good hiking path is surrounded by pines, and scrambles across rocks. It has a nice spot or two to just sit in the sun as the wind blows past and allows you to look down on a valley or river. It switchbacks when the grade gets tough, and gives you a nice spot or two to stop and look around while you catch your breath.

A really good bike path is mostly gravel or chat. It can give you some pavement, preferably asphalt, just to make you appreciate how smooth and beautiful it can be. Just enough to make up some time and get closer to lunch while you listen to the thrum of your wheels along it as you kick it up a notch and cover ground. But mostly, it needs to crunch as you go.

shoot-468It needs to connect something. A town or two, a good picnic spot, a nice overlook or lake to sit by are preferred. It needs to have character. The really long ones that can string all of that together are what I like best. If you can add in cool air and the crunch of leaves under your wheels, then you get bonus points.

And if you can throw in a good spot with a mean burger or tasty pizza along the way, well, I’m sold. I can’t resist it, and if you’ll excuse me, I need to be on my way.

Temptation of the path

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The one that fits- revisiting the Nikon F3

“Digital photographers buy cameras because they’re better than last years model. Film peeps are just looking for the one that suits them best” Dan K

When I first started this site, the very first Gear Wednesday post was an ode to the Nikon F3. I’d used one back in the day, and lusted after one, and finally gotten one. And it was a perfect fit.

An out take from this summer's project shot on the F3 with a 35mm f/2 on Rollei CR200

An out take from this summer’s project shot on the F3 with a 35mm f/2 on Rollei CR200

I tend to put some cameras down and not pick them up for a long time, and some just go away from me as a result. But this one gets picked up over and over again. There are many reasons. It’s about as bullet proof a camera as I have ever used, electronics and all. It’s not a young camera either, the serial numbers indicate it was made in December of 1983, so next month it will be thirty two years old. It’s been given a CLA once to my knowledge. I think the seals are original. I change the batteries in it once a year. The LCD works well, although one segment is getting a little dim.

Unlike almost everything else from that era, the ergonomics actually work. That is a testament to the genius of Giorgetto Giugiaro. Not much else from that era has any ergonomic utility at all. It’s still a  joy to use. When I pick it up it simply fits my hand. The viewfinder gives the right amount of information, and all of the controls are exactly where I expect them to be. Even though there is only a simple spot meter, it’s perfect every time. It’s the most automated camera I own, and I think it’s just the right amount. Anything more than this and I would be leaving it on the shelf instead of using it.

shoot-463I’ve only picked up a couple of lenses for it. A Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 and a 35mm f/2. Both sharp and well built. They fit my style of storytelling. I toy with the idea of a wide, like a 24mm or maybe wider, and I’d love to pick up a 85mm for portraits. I doubt I’ll ever get anything beyond that, though.

It still sounds like a love story when I write about this camera. It’s the one that suits me best.


Dan K’s images. And his Twitter.

The one that fits- revisiting the Nikon F3

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Inclusive photography

I was looking back on some of my reviews, and trying to see if any of the things I loved were worthy of revisiting. I did decide on one, the Nikon F3, and started to do a little more research on the camera, and why it still appeals to me after all this time. I will still revisit the camera in a future review, but the research derailed me. I looked at the referring data on the present review, just to see what search engine queries had brought people to it. I was curious to see what people wanted to know about the camera. But one that I found set me off. “Nikon F3 good for girl to use” read the query.


One of the worst things about photography is that it is a boy’s club. The reasons are legion. Photography was invented at a time and place when women had no real rights. Photographers were men. Photography was serious work and women did not do serious work. That attitude didn’t start to change for quite a while, and it still exists.

But here’s the thing. Just because something is a certain way doesn’t mean it should be.

Photography needs to change. Photography has to change. The majority of human beings on planet Earth are female. Discouraging them from being photographers isn’t going to help the longevity of photography. Inclusive works. Exclusive dies.


The rocket ship statute that looks like a laser cannon. That Shanghai film was lousy, but it works here.

Yes, there are many, many other things that are unequal and they all need to be addressed. Every single damn one of them. But photographers can start in their own area. It’s pretty simple to do. Just don’t be a dick, and stop looking down at people. In fact, those are pretty good things to do in general. People don’t generally hang out in groups that don’t make them welcome.

So to the person who wondered if the Nikon F3 is a good camera for a girl, I’m pretty sure you’re making assumptions I don’t like. Are you worried it’s too complicated for a girl to use? Are you worried it’s too serious a tool for a girl to use?

I’ll tell you the best camera for a woman to use: the one she likes. If she wants to give a F3 a try, stop being condescending and get out of the way. If she likes the F3, then it’s for her. If she doesn’t, she’ll try something else.

Photos today by my beloved, Stephanie. She is really good with a Holga (that in-camera diptych up top is one of my favorite ever). I need to replace her broken one so she’ll shoot more!

Inclusive photography

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The season of the graveyard

Over the years I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve strolled through a graveyard taking shots. From all the way back to strolling through Mount Olivet in Nashville with the Sisters of Mercy blasting on my headphones to wandering through Saint Louis Number One in New Orleans. If Denver has a shortcoming, it’s that it is not old enough to have an really interesting grave yard.

shoot-456It’s the season of grave yards. All Hallows Eve.  Although, in my neighborhood, if I want to go to the nearest spot people are buried in, I don’t go to a grave yard, I walk Cheeseman Park. Every time they repair the sprinklers, they find more bodies in that place. It was originally a graveyard before it became a park, and the people hired to remove the bodies didn’t. They just pocketed the money and left most of the graves in place after removing the markers. There’s a rumor some of the bodies were just moved under the marble band stand, but I don’t know if that is true.

shoot-457I do love the small towns out in the mountains, though. Their graveyards have character. Some are still in use and a source of civic pride. They will be perfectly maintained and some even have large monuments like Cripple Creek. They have a Huey helicopter over the graves of the Vietnam War dead. Others are left in a state of benign neglect, like Central City.

I love the Central City graveyard. The roads are mostly gone, and there are just winding social paths through the aspen trees where gravestones jut from the ground at drunken angles, marking the random resting places of the dead. Nature is reclaiming the place and the buried souls within.

shoot-458I don’t walk graveyards and take photos much anymore. I do like the peace of those places, offering quiet and isolation even among crowded cities. Maybe it’s because as I get older I realize I’ll be there permanently soon enough, and so the allure of my amateur taphology has waned as a result.

Still, it’s hard to resist a graveyard photo walk this time of year.

Blessed Samhain.

The season of the graveyard

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Seasons change, the road does not

Abruptly, it seems like fall. Warm weather was late to arrive this year, and it snowed all the way in to May. Late to the party, the heat didn’t want to leave on time, and it’s been in to the 80s more days than it should have been in October. So the arrival of rain, temps in the 40s, and a freeze warning all at once felt like an eviction notice for summer.

I love fall. I love the turning of seasons. If this season could be made a few months longer, I’d love to see it happen. I’ve written how I look to the mountains and wait for fall. This year I felt like I was racing it, somehow.

I’m working on a project and it seems like I can never get enough time to go out and shoot for it. Too many hours at work. Too many days tied up in a thousand other things. But when I do get out, I’m off to a forgotten place, to try to remember it.

I’ve taken to the back roads, and spent more than I usually do on gasoline this year. Everywhere I’ve been has been too far to bicycle. Well, not too far to bicycle in miles, but rather in time. I have to fight my schedule to make a hole for the freedom to go. I’d love to revisit some of these places on a bike, taking advantage of the flat road of the eastern part of the state.

shoot-455But for now, I keep a bag packed and ready. I keep film and camera close to hand for when I can escape. The road is calling me now, but I’m in for the weekend, I think. The next one is up for grabs, though. I should burn some vacation time, since it’s overflowing.

I frequently think of the Tolkien quote about the road being dangerous. That you put your feet on it, and you never know what will happen. You may well get swept away. The attraction of that particular danger, though, is very strong.

Seasons change, the road does not

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Toward Tangible

I’ve got an odd quirk most photographers don’t have. Little tangible evidence. I live in a loft with piles of cameras and a few photo books spread around. The living room contains the typical furniture, but a good chunk of the floor space is taken up by bicycles. Every bit of storage space available- closets, shelves, foot lockers, under the bed- is taken up with gear for getting out there. Backpacks, shoulder bags, camera bags, panniers, seat bags, frame bags all waiting to be filled. Stoves, food, water filters, compasses, maps, and a thousand other things you need when far from civilization are there as well. It’s pretty obvious what Stephanie and I like to do with our time.

But, aside from the camera storage shelves, you can’t really tell I’m a photographer. You don’t see one thing: any of the photos I’ve taken hanging on the walls.

That is changing.

The great photographer Michael Dunn once said, with equal parts wisdom and pith, “Print yo shit.” The hashtag #printyoshit has made the rounds on twitter thanks to him. It’s popular because it’s right. Our work, as he said, isn’t supposed to be pixels on screens, but rather real, tangible things. If you can’t touch it, hold it in your hands, or put it on a wall, the image isn’t a finished product.

I’m awful at hanging things up. I have prints in binders and hidden in the closet, and I’ve sold prints to others, but none are hanging on my own walls. The only thing hanging on the walls in the adventure loft is a hand printed quote of three words: “Dare Mighty Things.” Theodore Roosevelt said it, and it’s priceless advice. But there’s not a single image I’ve taken hanging with it. It’s time to fix that.

MonstroCity, where Steph slid down slides

MonstroCity, where Steph slid down slides

I’ve always had a twofold problem with hanging things. One: it seemed somehow like bragging to hang your own stuff on the walls. I’m not too much in to bragging about what I’ve done. I always liked Imogen Cunningham’s answer when asked what was the favorite picture she had taken. She always said “the one I’ll take tomorrow.” Which leads to number two: I’ve always only seen the shortcomings in my work and not the positives. I always look at my stuff too critically and fail to see anything of value in it, so I really have nothing to brag about.

So I’m setting aside both of those concerns. Things are going up on the walls. Nothing too much to begin with, a shot from the Andes of Peru, some from the Rocky Mountains, one of my beloved going down a slide. Nothing major, but a start.

I’m daring a little thing. I’ll add more tangible things as I go, and see how I like it.

Michael Dunn

Dare Mighty Things

Toward Tangible

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Interstitial space

Summer has passed at breakneck speed. The fall is upon us, and I’m already getting pictures from my more adventurous friends who hike up high of snow fall on the mountains.

I love fall. It’s my favorite season, and if someone could make if a few months longer, I’d love them forever.

I adore the times when seasons change. When you are through and done with one, and beginning another. But I like those times in my life as well. There’s an element of uncertainty to them, but always excitement. There’s always an element of discomfort, but always focus. Everything I’ve even done that has been worthwhile in my life has been done on the cusp of a new season as the previous one has ended.

Architects call it “interstitial space” and I long for it, and desire it more than anything.

I’ve already been hard at work making some of the changes. I’m on the verge of purging my camera collection. I’d rather rid myself of shelf queens and concentrate on those I can consistently produce good work with. I’m becoming more thoughtful with my shooting. Branching out some and thinking about what I want from an image more thoroughly before I make it. I am always asking myself “What am I saying here? What do I want to say here?” before I go forward with an image. I’m liking the approach much more.

shoot-451I’m also working on some other projects that will bear fruit a year or so down the line. I always wanted to be a novelist, when I was a wee sprout, but I never became one. I asked myself what was truly stopping me, and when I realized nothing was, I banged out six thousand words on what I hope to have finished as a novel by early next year.

Even though I’m pretty far detached from the G.A.S. I used to have, I’m going to add some more cameras in the future. I’m treating my shelf space as sacred, pricey space going forward. Nothing that is a quick fix to a need. Nothing that is not going to give me the result I want. Only proper equipment will take up space in the future. If you’ve noticed, my Gear Wednesday posts have already stopped being so frequent. This will continue, but when they arrive next, they should be far better ones.

I’m making the most of my interstitial space this year.

Interstitial space

Saturday, October 3, 2015


I prefer to go out on hikes that have their climbing on the first part of the hike. Climbing, it seems, is not always my favorite thing to be doing. But it’s always unavoidable. I’ve never lived in a flat part of this country, and I’ve never been able to experience a hike that led me out and back without changing my elevation. Colorado, it seems, is especially lacking in flat places until you drive a few hours east in to the plains.

So I’ve spent a lot of time climbing on foot and on bicycle since I made Colorado my home. At first, I wasn’t a fan. I’d set out up a mountain with a two-day or bigger pack on my back and I’d have to spend time huffing and puffing. I’d try to keep up with the group, pushing till my heart pounded in my ears and sweating. Exertion, weight and altitude together put a pretty good strain on you. As time went on, it got easier. Although it still gets hard when I spend too much time behind the desk and not out climbing.

But the end of a climb is always worthwhile. Mountains spread out as far as you can see, or a view of a valley, or even sometimes just a spot where a nice cool wind flows over you after climbing in the harsh sun for a while. Always a nice spot to stop, and catch your breath, and have a sip of water while you take it in and enjoy it.

shoot-449I don’t mind the climbing so much anymore. I know it has a reward. But I still am slow, and I kind of feel bad that I make Stephanie wait for me to catch up. She doesn’t seem to mind too much, but I still feel bad about it. I used to be involved with a woman who hiked far more than I did and when she would get to a climb, she would go as fast as she could to the top and then berate me as I slowly caught up. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last. It put me off hiking for a number of years. But now that I’m back, and I have the best hiking partner in the world, the climbing doesn’t seem nearly as bad as it used to.

But I still prefer the climbing to be done in the first part of the hike. Hiking ten miles or so and then having to climb up to get back to the car is just sadism on the part of the trail builders, I think.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Too much Time Magazine Camera on my hands

Flash back to the 80s.

Back in the darkest pasts of history, there was a thing called magazines. They were physical things, made of paper, with glossy pages filled with information and pictures. Unlike the internet, they only arrived once a month, or bi-weekly at most. If you wanted the news more frequently, you had to pick up a news paper, which had lower quality photography reproduction, or you could watch the TV. The news would come on once an evening. Newspaper guys used to scoff at the shallowness of TV coverage. Real, intelligent people read newspapers. People that wanted top-notch photos and in-depth reporting got magazine subscriptions.

None of that exists anymore.

Time Magazine used to pride itself on its photography staff. And in celebration of this excellence, if you subscribed, they would give you a camera. The idea wasn’t unique to them, Sports Illustrated and a few others did it as well.

Cap Hill Balcony. Presentable if not terribly sharp.

Cap Hill Balcony. Presentable if not terribly sharp.

The free camera was about what you could expect for the price. Plastic, with a host of pseudo-features. “Focus free” lens (fixed focus). A genuine simulated power winder. An ersatz pentaprism hump on top of the body. To give it some heft to imply quality, they put a nice hunk of lead in the base. To be honest, though, the camera had some things going for it. A tripod socket. Working flash shoe (you could order a flash that matched the camera for a sort of reasonable fee.) The lens was glass, at least. The focal length was 50mm-ish. It has an aperture system of a sort. You can select four f stops with corresponding weather hieroglyphs. The shutter is around 1/50th or 1/60th depending on who you believe.

Unlike a lot of other crappy cameras from the era, it doesn’t have a unique enough look to have caught on with the hipsters or to be overcharged for by Lomography. It was worth the $8, I suppose, though. I got the complete box set, case and all. It was still 1985 in that box, right down to the new plastic smell. Pure, weaponized nostalgia.. It made me want to invade a small country for no reason at all.

I’m thinking I may be done with crappy cameras after this. It’s such a caricature of what it was billed as and what people wanted at the time, I may have hit peak cheesy.

Too much Time Magazine Camera on my hands

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Without art, but learning

I know squat about art.

Anyone who ever looked at my pictures can tell you that.

I learned in a technical school, from technical teachers. There wasn’t a discussion of artistic norms or merits. No one told me about lighting, other than you have to work with what you have. No one told me about posing people in a scene because that was unethical. No one ever said a camera was anything other than a recording device. Art was that snooty thing people in the sculpture and painting studios did.

I learned that years ago, and it’s still a strong force in my life. I took a class recently during which I was encouraged to move my subjects around to get better lighting or change the way they were holding things or their expression even though I was shooting them on the street, and it initially seemed odd. Then it seemed impossible.

shoot-443When I go out in to the world, I take it a face value. It presents me with tableaus, and I do my best to capture them. Here’s the extent of my alteration of a scene when I shoot. When I went to Boston Mine Camp, there were people hiking around and milling about on the structures. I wanted to just capture the buildings, so I merely waited until they all wandered out of frame before taking the shot. I only once said something to one of them, but that was because he walked in front of me just as I shot the picture and that was rude. That’s as close to an artistic choice as I have ever made.

Even when I shot portraits of a friend for her modeling portfolio years ago this ingrained work ethic stuck with me. She wanted something other than what I gave her. When I asked her what was disappointing about the result, she answered with a smile “If I ever need a series of pictures to tell a story I’ll come to you. But I don’t think I’ll come to you for anything else.”

Well, ouch. Also a fair cop.

So now I’m reading a little, experimenting a little, trying some new things. Trying to look at the world as a canvas to work on instead of a stage show to watch. I’m in that stage where you thrash around and don’t make much progress now. Maybe I’ll get past it. Maybe I won’t. But trying something new and challenging myself is a good thing.

Without art, but learning

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The death of “Analogue Photography”

I passionately despise the term “Analogue Photography.”

Part of it is the linkage between the term and Lomography. The company and the accompanying movement did do one good thing for film photography: it created a new demand for film by making crappy cameras trendy. Of course, the price for that was the escalation of prices of previously cheap crappy cameras. And hipsters. Oh, so many hipsters. The horror . . . the horror .

I disliked the term because it was largely meaningless. It defined the medium of film by differentiating it from digital, a medium that came after it, which is backwards. Rail travel is not “Pre-flight travel.” World War One is not “The War that came before the War in the 1940s.” The subsequent invention of digital photography did not change what film photography is.

shoot-441Sure, it impacted the volume of film sold, and greatly slowed the development and number of new film cameras made. But it did not change the nature of film photography. To invent a new name for something because you’re new to it is silly and confusing. Oddly enough none of the people who use this term I’ve talked to have known who knew who William Henry Fox Talbot was. Or Man Ray, or Robert Capa, or Lee Miller, or Imogen Cunningham, or Dorothea Lange, or Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Berenice Abbott. The history and significance of photography started when they picked up a camera and didn’t exist before them. It is a term preferred by know-nothings.

I think what irritates me the most about the term is it relegates film to something unimportant: a thing that happened and then was superseded and forgotten, a trivial footnote. As if the documentation of human history and the world for the last 150 years or so is of no consequence. As if the creation of fine art and inspiration means nothing.

So what do I use instead? I just call it what it is. Film photography. Or wet plate. Or Daguerreotype. If you have to come up with a cutesy marketing phrase, I suppose “Legacy Photography” might be the least off base. Or “Alternative Processes” for the latter types of photography.

Let’s kill the phrase “Analogue Photography”and be done with it. The words you use are indicative of your thinking. If the collective IQ of photographers can’t be raised enough to kill this phrase, let’s at least sound less pretentious and ignorant.

The death of “Analogue Photography”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Habits and digital cameras

I hadn’t shot with a digital camera except my iPhone for years until this last weekend.

I took a class that required me to have a digital camera. I had to break down and rent one. Originally, they had said there would be digital Leica M’s for everyone to use. But Leica only sent two, so that didn’t pan out. It was catch as catch can renting at the last-minute. I wound up renting a massive D3, which was all they had. It was an odd choice to try to shoot street photography with. Between shooting a new-to-me type of photography with an unfamiliar camera, I didn’t get any results I liked.

Thinking back, I think the last time I really shot with a digital camera was a concert in late 2009 and some studio work in 2010. I didn’t realize the difference shooting with film would make.

For instance, we went and shot at a park and downtown. When it was all said and done, one of my classmates had shot 1600 frames in a few hours. I had taken 40. The assignment called for six images.

Next time, I stick with what I know.

Next time, I stick with what I know.

I missed a few shots because I couldn’t break one of my habits. After taking a shot, instead of just hitting the shutter a second time to get another, I would lower the camera from my eye and reach up with my thumb for a non-existent winding lever. I would then realize what I was doing, frown, and have to put the camera back to my eye to re-frame, missing the follow-up shot. Habits always bite you.

It was good to get away and challenge myself and try something new. But I don’t think I’ll be returning to shooting digital anytime soon.

After I got home, I offloaded the images in to my prehistoric version of Lightroom and set to work. It took me far longer to fiddle with the images and get acceptable results than it would have to develop and scan a couple of rolls. I didn’t want to invest in plug-ins, so I didn’t get the look I was wanting. In the end, I was dis-satisfied with the result.

I only got a couple of frames off with one of the Leicas. Those things are exquisitely built. It was very solid, and the focus feel and sharpness of the Summicron lens was like no other piece of glass I’ve  used. But the camera’s output wasn’t inspiring. The color rendition was off and required more work than I wanted to put in to it to fix. It’s black and white mode wasn’t as good as I had hoped either. I think I’d like to see what using a film Leica would be like. I suspect it’s going to cost me a lot of money when I do it.

Next time, I’ll use fewer new variables and get a better result. I’ll just stick to a film camera and eliminate that bit of uncertainty.

Habits and digital cameras

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Untrammeled trees

Sometimes I look at the pictures I’ve taken out in the woods and think, “I spend too much time in the trees. I’ve got too may shots of them. It’s getting boring. No one will want to see them.” Which may be true, if I’m being honest.

But the past few weeks I’ve been worn down dealing with people. I want nothing more than to be away from them, among the trees.

Dealing with people is sometimes a lot of bad noise. Dealing with trees is nothing but the pleasant sound of the wind through pine boughs. Being among people is the smell of pine bathroom cleaner or a car air freshener. Being among trees is the actual smell of pines.

I listened to a podcast a few weeks ago, The American History Guys podcast “BackStory.” It was about he state of wilderness in America. They made many points, but the one I liked best was the idea of “pristine” wilderness.

shoot-437There really isn’t any “pristine” wilderness. There probably never was much of it. The idea was brought about by settlers running in to areas where there were no Europeans and deciding that meant it was untouched by human hands. Truth is, the Native Americans had been there for a long time by the time we got there. And now, the pollution the cities put in to the air and water reaches far back in to wilds, contaminating it. The idea of an untouched wilderness is one that doesn’t mesh with reality. But there is such a thing as “untrammeled” wilderness, where it hasn’t been crushed underfoot by humanity.

I like the untrammeled parts of the country. I prefer to go out and be among the trees there, away from people. I seem to have a deep seated need to do that, and recharge.

I don’t think I’ll get to spend time among the trees this weekend, as I’m staying in Denver to take a class, and that is OK. They’ll be there waiting for me the next chance I have to go out and visit them.

I’ll have something interesting to report from this class, hopefully. Then I’ll return you to the regularly scheduled allotment of trees.


Here’s the BackStory podcast I spoke of.

Untrammeled trees

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Beyond making do- gear plans

I have a friend who refers to Creole and Cajun cooking as “the food of making do.” I don’t think the thought is original to him, but it is correct. Most cuisine of the south is that way. Recipes that consist of what you can easily get, and how you can make it palatable.

So are my camera choices.

I always end up with cameras that are, shall we say, less than stellar options. Well, to be fair, not always, but pretty often. I do have the occasional bit of kit that’s spot on, like my beloved F3. But the other SLRs I had were not really all that good: Zenits, Practicas, off brands. A lot of cameras that didn’t function very well and I spent time having to work around their foibles and malfunctions.

I can always achieve the results I was gunning for when I use these cameras. But they don’t make it simple to do. So picking up my F3 is like enabling “easy mode” when shooting. I know the meter is spot on. The lens will not flare. And, when I advance the film, it will have proper spacing without me doing any sort of interpretive dance.

shoot-436I’ve always said “it’s the eye and not the camera” and such in the past. And that, I’ve found, is true. I’ve taken some lousy shots with a Hassy, and great shots with a Kiev. But I’m starting to think it would be nice to have gear that just worked just like it’s supposed to, every single time.

What’s this mean?

I suppose it’s time to contemplate ridding myself of the bits of kit I have that are difficult to use and replacing them with gear that’s less frustrating. Now, there will always be exceptions to this, I’m sure. I love the look I get with my Zorki. It reminds me of the work you could get out of a Leica in the 1950s, which was the look I fell in love with. I prefer the lens I use on my Kiev to the ones I’ve tried on a Hassy, even though that makes me odd. And there are some plastic cameras I’ll keep. But those are supposed to be crappy, that’s their charm.

I’ll probably move up to a Bessaflex TM to use my M42 glass on, for instance. A newer camera with more life left in it than the typical ones I’ve been using. I’ll probably upgrade my medium format options as well, but that will require a lot of research.

It will be nice to spend my time doing better than just making do.

Beyond making do- gear plans

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A life among the pines

When I walk out to take pictures of cabins in the woods, I frequently stop and think about owning one.

There are times when living in town wears on you. Traffic, nearly continuous noise, constant human interaction. And when I am in the midst of these times, I think about a cabin up on the mountains to call my own.

Admittedly, most of the cabins I shoot are solidly in the fixer-upper section of real estate. No cable tv service. Broadband is non-existent. The roads are a little rough getting to them. I doubt UPS or FedEx would deliver to them. I doubt even Amazon’s drone fleet will. There are no coffee shops within walking distance, or grocery stores. In fact, most of them have no roof, no running water, no electricity, and are a little short on other basic amenities as well.

shoot-433But every time a siren runs past going full blast, or I get yelled at while riding my bicycle, I begin to think that these may not be as big an obstacle as I first thought.

The rub, of course, is that money problem. How do Steph and I both make a living close enough to a cabin far enough back in the woods to be attractive. It’s a pretty good question. I have no answer as of yet. Well, besides the unoriginal and unlikely lottery win. Which is why we still live in the city, and the houses we are looking for are not out in the mountains.

the patio

the patio

But there are times when I am walking out in the tall grass with my camera slung over my shoulder, among the smell of sage, lodgepole pine and douglas fir, that I feel the pull, the urge to get out and move in to a high lonesome place of our own. Somewhere where the loudest sound is the wind when it rushes through the trees, or the thunderclaps reverberating off the mountains. Where the white noise isn’t traffic, but a small stream running over smooth, well worn rocks. Where the only neighbors are likely to be hawks and owls, who probably won’t bump EDM in to the wee hours of the night.

Maybe I should knock out those novels I keep erratically working on and become a rich author who moves in to the mountains with his wife to lead an eccentric, colorful life among the pines.

Life goals. We all have them, but mine are rough hewed wood in forgotten places.

A life among the pines

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

HC-110 is my favorite shirt

Dan had discussed his developer choices a week ago. Like most times, we were great minds treading over the same ground. I’d begun to think about developers because I’ve burned through my most recent liter of HC-110 syrup. Finding the bottom of the bottle has led me to a revelation.

I’ve never really experimented all that much with chemistry. When I learned to process film and print in a small dark room in a small town years ago, it was pretty rigid. There was but one developer in the whole building- D-76. It was used for film development and printing both. As far as the instructors were concerned, D-76 was the only developer in the world. In fact, when they said “developer” they meant D-76, and when they said “film” they meant Tri-X. There were no other options.

When I went back to developing at home some years ago, I actually thought outside the box. I went looking for a different developer. For the quantity of film I was developing, the traditional D-76 wasn’t all that handy. It’s cheap as anything, a quality that may have driven the old darkroom to buy it in the first place, but if I made up a gallon, it would go bad before I used it all. Since then I’ve found they make a packed that yields a liter of developer, but at the time the only packets I could find made too much. Even though it was cheap, wasting chemicals just sat wrong with me somehow.

shoot-431I thought about XTOL, just for the environmental aspects of it, but heard too many horror stories about it giving no warning before it goes bad and just suddenly quit working. I settled on HC-110.

Mostly I was enamored with the shelf life of the stuff. It will last almost forever. I’ve taken to decanting it from the liter bottle in to 8 ounce amber bottles for storage, and that helps elongate its lifespan as well.

I like contrasty images, and HC-110 gives me that. I use Dilution B almost exclusively. First, the math is easy. Dilution B is one part developer and 31 parts water, so it’s pretty easy to mix up in a 32 ounce bottle. When I shoot Rollei Retro 80s, I use Dilution E, which is basically Dilution B twice as dilute.

While I’m currently trying out some paper developers, since I’m going to start contact printing this winter, I’ve settled on HC-110 for film, and I don’t think that is going to change. I’m not choosing to ignore other options, like the place I learned in. I’m just treating it like a favorite shirt. I like how it looks and it’s nice and comfortable.

HC-110 is my favorite shirt

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Not everything left behind is good

When you look at abandoned mine sites and see what remains, not everything they left behind is good.

You practically can’t throw a rock without hitting a mining ruin in Colorado. Estimates vary, but most agree there are at least 20,000 mining sites abandoned in the state. Some of them have entire ghost towns nearby, some of them are merely holes in the ground haphazardly filled in and left by the miners. While I love exploring what they left behind, the worst part of the remains of mining is something you can sometimes only notice by an absence.

Preston, the mining site I took these photos at, is a good example. Once it was a town of 150 people, working a mine and a stamp mill. Not much remains. Part of the stamp mill still stands, it’s decay arrested by the local historical society. The mine shaft on the mountain above that once sent down ore via a tram system is fenced off with a high modern fence. I don’t know if the activity is current mining or cleanup. If it is cleanup, it’s a pretty rare place. Most of the mines in the state have no clean up operations at all. The huge expensive houses just down the road from the site might explain why action is being taken.

shoot-428All of these mine sites need to be cleaned up. Few of them will be. The most dangerous, like the Gold King mine that blew out not long ago will get attention. The reason is that these mines are governed by outdated laws. The mining companies pay no royalties, unlike coal mining and oil, to take gold out of the ground. There is no requirement for remediation after they close. They use toxic chemicals to extract gold from the ore, they pile the waste up in mounds, then they walk away, cost free. And if anyone else comes behind them and cleans it up, that someone else is responsible for any future problems. The owners’ responsibility is negligible at best.

Todd Hennis, the owner of Gold King Mine, had pushed for more clean up. In fact, he had pointed out the nature of the problem and had tried to get it dealt with properly, but other mine owners in the area are sitting back and denying any responsibility.

The pond by the stamp mill in Preston is an odd shade of green. There are no fish in it I saw, nor in the nearby stream. No tadpoles, no nothing. The water looks clear while it moves, and I don’t know if it is polluted, but there doesn’t seem to be anything living in it.

Not everything left behind is good

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When the GAS falls away from you

There comes a point when the GAS snuffs out, like a flame in a strong wind.

Or, more like, it’s a wind that has filled your sails, driving you on, and has suddenly died or swung away from you. Your sails go slack, your momentum falls off, the water flattens, and you are becalmed. The roaring of the wind in your ears stops, and you can hear again. Instead of looking ahead as it drives you on, you stop and look around.

I have been becalmed lately. My GAS has died out. I’ve found it relaxing, and I have turned my attention elsewhere.

Instead of spending cash on things, I’ve been spending cash and time on places and experiences.

I’m beginning to think the experiences are doing more for me than the things. I can see how some of the experiences were driving me to buy certain things. But largely, seeing new places and being in them is doing more for me as a person and for my art than getting new lenses or cameras.

shoot-426Tramping around raising small clouds of dust along trails laden with the smell of pines is better than pouring over equipment reviews. Rolling along back roads with the windows down out under the huge sky above the plains is better than scrounging around eBay. The excitement of filling the travel mug after loading up the truck before leaving beats waiting for the status to change to “out for delivery.”

So what does this mean for the weekly Gear Wednesday post? Am I going to give up gear reviews? Probably not. I need to replace our tent and rig out the back of the 4Runner for sleeping, which is going to give me fodder to write about. And hey, if a stellar piece of gear crosses my path for a good price, I’m not going to be above snagging it.

But for right now, I’m not interested in new things. I want new places, and new experiences.

When the GAS falls away from you

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The place where I didn't take a picture

Sometimes, when I trip the shutter, I know.

I know I’m in the right place, the right time, and looking at the right thing. I know the shot I just took worked.

That place is where I want to be.

Sometimes, I’ll trip the shutter and hope. I’ll hope that what I see is translating to the emulsion. I’ll be mostly sure I have what I want, I’ll be fairly certain, but not completely.

That place is not perfect, but it’s not a bad place to be either.

The opposite of that is when you put your eye to the camera, frame the shot, and just can’t bring yourself to trip the shutter. You know it’s not going to work. You know the result is nothing you’re going to want. In fact, you know the result is just going to aggravate you. It’s going to be a reminder of how you missed it, and how you almost succeeded. It’s not a failure, but it’s not a success either, at best it’s a muddled mess you kind of wish you didn’t have.

shoot-425In a way, that’s not the best place to be. It’s certainly not productive. Especially when you have a goal in mind. You’re trying to make work for a project, or you’re trying to get a specific shot of a certain site you’ve hiked miles to get. Sometimes it’s you. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s the light, or the clouds, or the rain, or too many other people cluttering up a spot, or too few people to give it a human interest. Regardless, you’re not making progress.

But still, this is a good place to be.

Realizing when you’re banging your head against a wall before you actually hit the wall is pretty nice. Being able to see the frustration coming and just stepping out of the way to let it pass while you wave and escape unscathed makes life more pleasant.

The best trick to make that place a better place to be? Put the camera down. Breathe. Center yourself. Just be in that moment, and enjoy it.

The place where I didn't take a picture

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bicycle Thoughts

Everyone knows I love doing things the hard way. Large format. Film development. Doing my own scanning. Taking the train. But this one time, I’m beginning to think about making things a little easier on myself.

I ride an internal hub bicycle. Everywhere. I’ve ridden nothing but internal hub bikes for the last eight years. My current bike is a Globe 3, which actually has seven gears. Mostly I commute on it, but I’ve toured across several states on it. It does well enough, but lately, I’ve been thinking about other options for touring.

I started with a three speed hub. Cheap and reliable as a brick. Well, it was after I figured out the hub had holes on it larger than my spokes which is why they breaking all the time. The generous application of washers around the spokes solved that. Later, I gave that bike away and moved up to a seven speed hub from Shimano in this bike. It’s also as reliable as a brick. In five years of owning it, the only maintenance I have done is having the lube changed once, which cost me the princely sum of $20.

My custom head badge painted by my beloved.

My custom head badge painted by my beloved.

But on the recent tour, I exposed a couple of weaknesses. I knocked the rear wheel out of true, and it’s been a pain getting it fixed. It still has a hop in it, and I think it’s probably not as round as it should be. If I had a cassette in the drive train, it would be simple to just swap the whole wheel out. But since it’s a hub, I’ll probably have to pay to have someone build a whole new wheel for me. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a bit more pricey to do, but mostly it’s time-consuming. I have to take it to the LBS to do, as I lack the skills to build a wheel myself, and let them do it. Since it takes time, a repair like this tends to get pushed back some while other, quicker fixes get addressed. I can’t blame them for doing it, but it does leave me without a way to commute.

The other problem is one typical of internal hubs. I am always wishing I had a gear in between the ones I have when climbing. My options are always too high or too low. And on the flats, my top gear is still too low, but I can’t really change that without sacrificing my low gear’s effectiveness.

I suppose it’s time to consider a drive train change or a new bike. Doing things in a little easier way might not be a bad idea.

Bicycle Thoughts

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The question about the goal

I got asked why I do this blog the other day. That question is both an opportunity, and a deadly trap.

Why am I doing this blog? I have to force myself to ask this question now and then. It’s a down side to being a process guy. I’m involved and invested in the experience to the degree that I sometimes forget that having a goal is not an entirely bad thing. I don’t think it should be the only thing, or even the greatest thing. I still believe that if a thing is worth doing, the doing of it will be an enriching experience. You will learn, you will grow, and you will better.

Which was one of my motivations: bettering my writing and photos. Maybe I could produce something worthwhile. Maybe I could sharpen my vision and life. Requiring myself to focus on what I am doing has only made the experience better. It wasn’t the stated goal, but it is a very happy result.

But there isn’t a goal that I can reach and say I am finished. I don’t think I’ll ever hit a spot where I go “yeah, that’s good enough.” and just quit. I don’t think I can say I’ve ridden the bike enough miles, or run enough film through the cameras, or been outside long enough. I don’t think that day will ever come.

shoot-421So what do I do if there’s no finish? What do I do if this journey is not like a hike, with a start and a finish? I kind of feel that kind of goal is a trap. If you finish something, it’s over. I’ve listened to an interview with one of the guys that climbed the Dawn Wall, and finishing that climb kind of destroyed him. He’d dedicated years of his life, climbing segments of the route, pouring over maps, investigating possibilities, looking for a way to do that climb. Then it was done, and his life suddenly had a huge gaping hole where that climb used to be. He had nothing to fill it. It left him lost.

I don’t want a goal like that. I don’t want that to be the result. So my goal doesn’t have a finish line. I will die without ever becoming as good a photographer as I could be. Instead of being depressing, that’s a great, wondrous thing. I have my whole life to make strides and better myself. Every single day will offer me the opportunity to do it. I want as many of those days as I can have. I am going to enjoy every single last one of them. Even the days filled with frustration and lack of result are good ones. If nothing else, they feed the next day a breakthrough occurs and make them sweeter.

So there is no finish line. There is no finite, quantifiable goal. And if you enjoy the process, this is the greatest thing in the world.


The question about the goal

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nippon Kogaku W-Nikkor-C 35mm f/3.5


My beloved, high above Golden

Your lens choice dictates how you tell your story. I tend to shoot with a wide-angle. A 35mm focal length suits my style of storytelling. I’d previously played with a Jupiter 12, the Soviet offering in this focal length. I didn’t care for that lens’ finicky performance. I went on the hunt for another lens in that focal length and happened across this one- the Nippon Kogaku W-Nikkor-C 35mm f/3.5.

I like lenses from this era. They’re not as sharp, but the sunlight we get up here is pretty harsh. A soft lens balances that out and gives you some nice images even around mid-day. The lens is coated (the C denotes coated) and doesn’t seem to flare much at all.  The W denotes a wide-angle. It is a four element Tessar design, and goes a bit soft in the corners. I love Tessars, and the feeling they give an image. It’s performance is a bit lacking for modern glass, but is pretty good for the mid 50’s.


Foundation of a long gone incline railroad station

I enjoy shooting with this lens on my Canon 7 Rangefinder. Nippon Kogaku was the company that became Nikon. Using Nikon glass on a Canon body is an oddity that makes me smile a little. Of course, this is just the M39 mount serving as a standard that could be used by everyone. However, like it’s SLR equivalent the M42 mount, this got tossed by the wayside. Every manufacturer wanted their own mount they could license and make money off of. Still, it’s kind of nice to have the best of both manufacturers. I like Nikon glass, but their rangefinders are pricey. I’m finding that Canon RF glass is going for pretty high prices as well. Even the older, imperfect ones I like.

With this lens I have a 50 and a 35 for my M39 rangefinders. That’s really about all I ever need for a camera. I saw a cheap 135 lens the other day, but when you dial that in to the viewfinder on my Canon 7, the area you are focusing on is tiny.

shoot-417When I first saw it, I wondered if this lens collapsed. It does not, but it’s pretty small. The focus lever took a moment to suss out. It locks at infinity  and occasionally slows me down while I unlock it. That’s as big a complaint as I have about it.

This Nippon Kogaku W-Nikkor-C 35mm f/3.5 is probably going to be welded to my Canon 7 for a while. It’s a nice, compact walking around lens that gives me the result I want. Just a bit of character, just soft enough for the look I want, and cheaply priced. Perfect in its imperfections.

Nippon Kogaku W-Nikkor-C 35mm f/3.5

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stories and wonder

I think it’s probably my J school training showing up, but I can’t seem to take a picture of something or somewhere without doing some research to see if there is a story.

Most of the time there is. It may not be an earth-shaking story, but I want to know the back story behind what I am shooting.

I’m re-shooting some shots of a few small towns in the plains of Colorado. I have some results I am not happy with of some, and some other film was ruined in development. This has been a step forward and two back pretty consistently. But I’m learning about a part of Colorado I’ve never spent time in and learning more about a type of photography I never did before.

I’ve learned that a particular abandoned gas station I’ve shot was once a Conoco opened in the 1950s by a man named Don Cooper. The abandoned tourist court next door, the Prairie Lodge, was run by the Calvert family.

shoot-415I’m unable to keep myself out of the mountains, though. Or off of the back roads.

Shooting this summer has been as much a research project as anything else. I’ve been looking through things so much and tagging maps online I’m considering getting a larger state map to put on the wall to mark shoot locations and cross-reference them with histories.

I’m not self-aggrandizing enough to think that my actions are helping to immortalize these histories. I’m not doing it for that. I do it because I enjoy discovering. There hasn’t been a place I’ve discovered yet that hasn’t had at least one story that I found that I didn’t like reading, finding or hearing.

There are a legion of stories of miners and how they entertained themselves in far away nooks and crannies of mountains. Most of what I have found of the plains has been more recent, tied to changes in the way we travel, but they are still interesting. How a place came to be first because of the railroads needing to water their steam engines and exchange goods, to providing gas and lodging on state highways, to everything closing up when the interstate passed a place by.

I hope to have something to show for my efforts this winter, when this project ends. I won’t stop looking for and listening to the stories, though. Steinbeck once said the world is peopled with wonders. I feel in most places, the wonders are the people and their stories.

Stories and wonder

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Vivitar PN2011

Creepy inscription on the Federal Courthouse

Creepy inscription on the Federal Courthouse

The 1990s had a strange fascination with faux-panoramic and crappy plastic cameras. I’ve previously written about the Ansco Pix Panorama camera. I’ve also written about the Ultra Wide and Slim. Somewhere in between the two lies this camera: the Vivitar PN2011.

Vivitar, in classic fashion, merely hung their name on this camera. It seems to have been sold in Europe as the PN919 without the Vivitar badge. The Vivitar PN2011 was a “focus free” (fixed focus) 35mm plastic camera with a twist. With the flip of a switch, you could convert it from taking a wide angle shot to a panoramic shot. It wasn’t a true panoramic camera. There is no swing lens in that plastic body. There is a cool system that narrows the frame, essentially performing an in-camera crop to the shot.


Marriott downtown

When I first heard of these cameras, I was pretty stoked and went looking for one. Unfortunately for me, Lomography had just run an article on them and the eBay prices had shot up to absurdity. Eventually, they moved on to a different flavor of the month, and the insanity subsided.

This is the first plastic camera I’ve owned that I can talk about the build quality and say it actually has some. The plastic this body is made of is substantial. Unlike the Black Slim Devil, everything is easy to work and does not flex when I try to do it. The same feel applies to the mechanisms inside the camera that perform the panoramic crop.

The lens is a plastic 28mm f8 protected by a switch that is marked PacMan mouth open or PacMan mouth closed. While the viewfinder gives you much distortion, the lens thankfully does not. When it flares, though, it’s spectacular, often to the point of wiping the whole frame out. The lens is soft, more than I expected. The shutter is a single speed of 1/125th of a second.

Museum of Science and Nature

Museum of Science and Nature

The body has a tripod mount, which is a bit odd. The only shutter speed is too high to require a tripod. There is no way to add a shutter release, and the camera obviously lacks a self timer. I think the only way to shoot a self portrait with it is the classic My Space one arm approach. Which will probably end up being too out of focus to be usable. Which leaves only the Facebook bathroom mirror approach. The benefit is you can just scan the negative backwards and be done with it.

I’ll be tossing my PN2011 in a backpack for a jaunt up a mountain soon. Faux panorama cameras have earned a place in my tool box, and this is a fine one.

The Vivitar PN2011

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Boston Mine Camp

Too cold. Too far away. Too high up. And ultimately, not worth it to the miners. Boston Mine Camp.

shoot-408I love places like this. They call to me in a way few others do. Places where the desire to get rich led people to what was the outer reaches of livable land to set up shop. The Old Boston Mine was a vein of gold in a mountain that drew people to live at 12,000 feet. Mountains aren’t especially forgiving at that height. Not too long ago, people were killed at the treeline by lightning from the typical afternoon thunderstorm while they hiked. I can’t imagine living in a place like that.

shoot-405Ultimately, the gold was too full of impurities. It wasn’t possible to make any money mining it, and the people drifted. They left behind the mine, the tipple, a few cabins, and a boarding house.

During the 1980s, someone stabilized one of the cabins and did some mining of their own. It didn’t pan out for them either. After a while, they drifted too.

Sometimes I wonder what became of these people. These places weren’t significant enough to have a history, and no one seems to have written down who the miners were or what became of them. They were here, they worked for a while, they were gone.

shoot-406Old Boston is probably as populated now as it was then. Hikers camp above the ruins on the mountain or pass through on their way to the summit. The gulch is picturesque, drawing photographers to shoot it. The meadow adjacent to the camp is a riot of wildflowers, a carpet of beautiful color and buzzing bees. And aside from the sound of wind and water that shaped the mountains eons ago, it is quiet.

While we were there, children scampered among the ruins and sent selfies from atop wood beams. DSLRs snapped away. And yet, when the cold drizzle thinned everyone out, it was peaceful to be there. We’ll probably come back, and camp above the ruins with the hikers.

shoot-409Places like Old Boston are my favorite places. Too far up, too far away, and too hard to love. But beautiful and desirable in their own way

Boston Mine Camp