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 The reason is that these mines are governed by outdated laws.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