Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Contax Tessar 45mm f2.8 lens-

Good morning everyone, if we can get started, I’ll go first. My name is Andrew, and I am a Tessar addict.


SS Hercules. Love that Ektar red

I own more Tessars than any other type of lens. I could rattle on about this or that aspect of the lens type that I find superior, but it’s really the totality of the look they produce that makes me love them. They are among my favorite tools.

When I found my Contax RTS II body on the cheap, I went looking for Zeiss glass to put on it. Unsurprisingly, the first lens I bought for it is this Zeiss Tessar 45mm/f2.8.

The Tessar was invented 112 years ago and while it’s not cutting edge, its’ strengths are undeniable. It’s a simple, inexpensive lens design that produces an excellent result, and this Contax version follows that formula well.

First test shot I took with it. HP5+

First test shot I took with it. HP5+

This little pancake lens packs a wallop for it’s size and price. It has the T* anti-reflection coating that Zeiss is well-known for. It can produce images  with excellent contrast and sharpness. And that sharpness is well maintained from edge to edge. Since I bought it, it hasn’t been removed from the front of my RTS II.

Ruby Canyon From the California Zephyr

Ruby Canyon from the California Zephyr

This is the first pancake lens I’ve owned, and I like what it does to the handling of an SLR. When I put this lens on the RTS II and take off the winder, I get a compact, capable camera that can swing to the eye and shoot with rapid ease. It allows me to get the image I want and not give up much space in my backpack or camera bag, which is perfection in my world.

Wide open portrait HP 5+

Wide open portrait. HP 5+

On the bottom of the lens, there are the words “Lens made in Japan” and those words elicit a strong response from some people. They say those words mean the lens, and the camera it is attached to, are not really Contax products. True, the camera and lens were made by Yashica/Kyocera in the 1980s, but as a non-purist, this does not bother me. On the contrary, the rejection of these cameras by the purist Contax community has a great side effect. It keeps them cheap and accessible. As a result, I paid about $100 for the camera body, and picked up the lens for $170. I will say the purists are right on one thing, this lens doesn’t quite have the build quality of the older German Zeiss lenses. However, the build quality of this lens isn’t shabby by any means, and it’s kind of nit-picking to say it.

So if you want to join me in a chapter of Tessar-holics Anonymous, I can highly recommend this lens.

The Contax Tessar 45mm f2.8 lens-

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A blank spot on the map

“Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” Aldo Leopold, 1922

I love those blank spots on maps. If you look at them on Google maps, they’re green areas with few roads that terminate in trail heads and no towns. Big blank spots that hide the best part of living in the west.

shoot-563I’ll sit and look at those nice green swathes and think about what they hold. If I’m curious enough, I’ll go get the topographic version and trace the dotted lines denoting trails with my finger. If something catches my eye, a pen will come out. It will tap on the table for a bit. If it gets serious, a Moleskine or Field Notes will come out and there will be scribbling. Scribbling is a good sign.

Sometimes, there may be an afternoon walk after that. A stroll down Cherry Creek to the REI store. I won’t always buy something, although often I do. But I will wander over to the ORIC. The Outdoor Recreation Information Center. I’ll go over to the huge tabletop map of Colorado and find that section I was interested in, and then I’ll ask questions. What about this green, blank spot? What about this trail leading in to it? How are the trail conditions? Are the bears behaving themselves? A water resistant topo of the area will be purchased and slipped in to a thigh pocket for the walk back home. The walk will be accompanied with a smile.

shoot-561Soon after, gear will go in to backpacks, film will go in to cameras, gas will go in to the 4Runner, and we will go on our way. Aimed squarely at that blank spot.

A blank spot on the map

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Rocky Mountain Photo Expedition

Sometimes, I get jealous of photographers in the north-east. I am envious of the fact they have a ton of fellow photographers to talk to and be around. And while shooting street is not my thing, the ease of doing it astounds me if you live in a big city. Just go outside your apartment and photo walk. No real logistics needed. Not so much where I am and shooting what I like to shoot. It’s more of a photo expedition.

Still, I’m thinking about mounting an expedition and inviting folk to attend, a western equivalent of a photo walk.

Of course, nature of the beast being what it is, it will be a different sort of undertaking. Distances will be greater, logistics will be more difficult, and in some cases, it will require a lot more fitness on the part of the participants.

The way I see it, a photo expedition could be centered around three approaches. Either landscape oriented, ghost town oriented, or wilderness oriented.

shoot-559Of the three, ghost town oriented would be the easiest to pull off. The Front Range is lousy with ghost towns, and the majority of them can be reached by high clearance vehicle. Abandoned mines, stamp mills, log cabins, tramways, and even the ruins of the hull of a gold dredge can be seen close in to Denver. Large format guys would be able to get shots without knee damage or over-exertion.

Landscape would be the next level of complexity. There would be a bit more travel, of course, and timing would be more of an issue. We could visit Rocky Mountain National Park, The Great Sand Dunes, or the Colorado National Monument, in any combination. Crowds would be more of a concern, of course, and it would take longer. Covering ground in between locations would take up more time than anything else.

shoot-558Wilderness would lead to some unique opportunities, but would be the hardest to pull off. I know an overnight camp spot with an arch, abandoned buildings, a cave, and amazing rock formations, but it’s got some caveats. It’s at a bit of altitude (9,500 ft), and it involves a bit of hiking (5 or 6 miles) with camping gear. That may be hard on sea level attendees.

I still want to get a group together for the Rocky Mountain version of a photo walk. I’m curious if anyone would want to come along.

A Rocky Mountain Photo Expedition

Saturday, August 20, 2016

From a moving train

shoot-556There’s something about taking pictures from a train. You get to take shots you can not take any other way.

I always spend time looking at the window and shooting. West from Denver is the absolute best train ride in America. The tunnel district with thirty tunnels, leading to the seven mile long Moffat Tunnel. The Big Ten Curves climbing out of Denver. The steep granite sides of Glenwood Canyon. The vastness of the deserts of Utah and Nevada. There’s nothing like it I’ve ever seen. Only the trip to Machu Picchu on Peru Rail comes close.

shoot-555You pass through Ruby Canyon and see things you can only see from a train. You go through ghost towns like Cisco, Utah and Hazen, Nevada that you would probably never see otherwise. Small town America, rolling through back yards and road crossings and along rivers. It’s a part you can’t get to from the interstate off ramps, and it doesn’t even register from thirty thousand feet. These are opportunities you’d never know existed any other way.

shoot-553Oh sure, it has it’s faults. The windows are always dirty. The footing is never certain, and centrifugal force is always waiting to trip you up. Things are bouncing, rocking and rolling. The sun is always throwing reflection on the windows and trying to fool your meter in to a bad exposure. The deck is stacked against you, from the words “all aboard.”

shoot-554It’s always nice to get a shot when the deck is stacked against you. I never feel like I’ve won a confrontation or anything, I just feel like my skill has been tested and I was up to the task. It makes me smile. And the feeling of nailing the shot from a moving train just makes the discovery that much sweeter.

Photos taken on FPP Retrochrome in a Contax RTS II with a 45mm/f2.8 Tessar and Kodak Portra in an Olympus XA.

From a moving train

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Back to the backcountry

For a while there, we weren’t spending enough time in the backcountry. I’m glad we fixed it.

As far as I can tell, backcountry as an idea is an American thing. It’s defined as “a geographical region that is remote, undeveloped, isolated, or difficult to access.” I find all of those traits desirable. The outback in Australia is much the same, I think. I’ve never been there, but I’d love to go and see what their wild places look like.

There are parts of it some people don’t care for. Some of them are the very things that I find attractive.

shoot-550It’s lonesome in many of those places.  That bothers some folks. I think it’s a good sign. When you trudge along on a trail, You’ll see categories of people. First, folks who have just popped out of their cars for a minute, looking at things. Then day hikers with small packs, out getting away from it all for a few hours.  And finally it thins out to the last two.

After three miles or so, you get backpackers, folks who are spending a night or two out in the wilds, recharging. Bigger packs, more food, usually having a bit more fun. It’s a spot of adventure, and they’re mostly all smiles. Beyond that, if you’re on a trail that leads somewhere, you get through hikers. Thin packs on thin people, whittled clean of any excess fat. Most of them are either totally silent or will stop and talk because you’re the first person they’ve seen in weeks. If you run in to them in towns, they are inhaling an impossible amount of food.

shoot-552These days, we’re mostly backpackers when time permits. One day, we want to through hike. But now, we’re in the backcountry as much as we can be. I always like it when we get far enough back that we’re beyond the day hikers. It feels like a demarcation point, passing from civilization in to the real backcountry.  It feels different, like we’re in a new country, and the trail is unrolling out in front of us, stretching on forever and always, leading somewhere we’ll never find. It’s ok we’ll never find where it goes, as long as we get to keep going, discovering, and being back in the backcountry.

Back to the backcountry

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sharpening tools

Many years ago, I knew an old carpenter who had taken up preaching in a now defunct church. A kindly man, wise, and understanding. The sort you hoped would turn out to be a preacher. We’d talked about working wood, and about the proper use of tools, and many things, but rarely about much more. He asked me how I was doing one afternoon, and I expressed frustration.

I’d had it with my career at that point. I was rethinking everything I had ever done. I was burned out, and wanting a change. I was finding my day-to-day existence tiring and I felt like I was getting nowhere. It was making me a bit down, and he listened patiently to my frustration while he put away his pocket knife as he had just finished whittling.

After I was done, he smiled at me. “Time spent sharpening your tools is never wasted.” he said. He patted me on the shoulder, got up, and walked away.

Sometimes, things are just that simple.

I’ve been unsatisfied by what I am producing, and so I’ve gone back to sharpen my tools.

shoot-547I’ve had a consistent issue in my developing that has plagued me for years. I finally sat down and reread some books and experimented, and now I am well on the way to fixing it. I’m fixing another problem I have had with c41 at the same time.

I’ve been sharpening my literal tools as well. I’ve torn down and rebuilt my 4×5 camera. I’ve cleaned lenses, replaced glass, scrubbed, re-timed the shutter, and replaced a few parts. I’ll have it out soon, and perhaps this time around the results will be worth seeing.

shoot-549I’ve been shooting with new glass, and making other changes as well. I’m trying to look at things and see them differently. I’ve been in the back woods, decompressing, and straightening things out.

I think they’re sharper now. Let’s see if that time paid off.

Sharpening tools

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Still alive

Yes, I am still alive. Thank you to those who wrote and asked.

I’ve been taking some time away from this website. Frankly, I wasn’t happy with the quality of what I have been writing and posting. So I stepped away.

I’m working on some changes. I need to move a couple of websites to a new hosting provider. I also need to start a couple new sites. The coming year is going to be busy, but I hope to have a lot to show for it.

After the move, which should happen next week, I hope to put up the new website for a new project about my beloved Inter-Mountain West. It should be a life long project, centered in Colorado but working up and down the Rocky Mountains, maybe as far north as Canada and south through New Mexico. I’ll post a link up as soon as it comes together.

I have another project I hope to bring online but I haven’t gotten my co-conspirators up to speed just yet. That might happen this summer as well.

shoot-545I’ll return to ride reports, tales of rails, and Gear Wednesdays. I’m still out there, still among the tall pines and wandering trails. Sleeping under stars and having coffee under the big sky. I’m rolling through life with my beloved, and every day is something new and wonderful. You folks hang steady. I’ll be back soon.

Still alive

Saturday, May 21, 2016


I hate going through negatives. I’m not much of an organizational person. However, I just received the best gift going through them. A realization that I have been working on a project without knowing it.

You know the realization. You like a certain type of image, a certain subject matter, and then you look though your shots and see a theme. You didn’t go out hunting for this type of image, but you found it anyway, and the theme just happened.

shoot-542In my case, I think I subconsciously knew I was doing it. So I was chasing the project before I knew what it was or what I was doing. But now it’s coming together.

It’s no secret I’m in love with the Inter-Mountain West. I moved 1,800 miles to be here and I consider that the smartest move of my life. I looked back through my negatives and realized, what I have going is a love story with the mountains.

By Wednesday, I’ll have a new pack, the last piece of gear I wanted before hiking and camping season. Since the high mountain passes start opening on Memorial Day, the timing is pretty good. I need to either get my Canon 7 CLA’d or get a backup body, and the repair guy needs to finish up with my Kodak Medalist, and then I can dedicate some serious time to the project. There’s going to be a lot of time under big skies and a lot of miles on foot and some on bicycle involved. And hundreds of frames, if I have my way.

shoot-543So I’m sharing this realization in an attempt to keep myself honest. I’ll need to work on it every possible moment I can. And if I tell folks about it, I have to go do it. So you should get some previews. These shots from a cheap plastic pano are the first step. The thrill of that realization should carry me the rest of the way.


Saturday, May 14, 2016


Spending a lot of time waiting and not particularly enjoying it. There’s a lot of “fixin to” going on now. Repairs, new camping gear, and checking on plans seems to be the new rut I’m in.

I suppose there is value to proper preparation and all that, but I’m getting a little tired of it.

The Medalist I dropped off for repairs a couple of months ago hasn’t been touched yet. It may not be touched for a month more. I’m kind of worried he’ll just decide he doesn’t want to fix it and tell me he can’t and to come pick it up. The new pack isn’t available in my size and desired capacity now. Parts are being shipped, and then I can replace the scratched ground glass in my 4×5, but shipping from the east coast seems to take forever. It feels like everything is just out of reach no matter how hard I pedal.

Really, I’m ready to get on with it already.

It’s marathon weekend. In spite of being sick, Steph is running anyway. After this weekend, we’re out of reasons to stay in Denver, though. Hopefully, weather will co-operate and we’re out and off and running. We may just do some day hiking out and back from a campsite just to get started and give the new tent a test run. A small amount of progress would be good, and might do wonders for my waning sanity.

shoot-539I have the feeling I’m going to get sick of waiting and just decide “the hell with it, let’s go!” one afternoon. Which will either be epic, or tragic, depending on luck. I miss being out and up and away. I’m getting twitchy.

Waiting is the hardest part. Or so said some singer in the 80s, so it must be true.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Lost time

I’ve been down with the roughest encounter with influenza B I’ve ever had in my life. Two weeks lost to feeling like crap all the time and hacking up a lung. Half the office has had it, and coughing echos through my apartment building as well. Nothing to do for it but just outlive it, so I have been working on little else. Fever dreams and a crushing weakness to cap it all off.

I’m feeling better. Steph, who came down with it as well, has turned the corner and is on her way to recovering. So now I’m trying to get it together to make up for lost time. Oddly enough, the film development backlog didn’t work itself out while I was sick. Nor did the horribly neglected scanning and cataloging project. Stupid elves or fairies or whoever was supposed to surprise me with getting everything done while I was bedridden didn’t actually do it. Fired, I tell you. They’re all fired.

The best thing about losing time is it inspires you to make up time. So this summer, I am going to start a project I have been putting off for a while. Steph and I are going to go camping often this summer, and the gear has been laid in to do it. We cashed in our REI dividend, and now have the nicest tent I have ever owned. I need to sort a new pack and some odds and ends, and we’re off. Trips to the Colorado National Monument, a return to the Lost Creek Wilderness, and an exploration of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison are in the offing this summer, among other places.

If everything co-operates, I want to ride the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota as well. Easier when camping it.

shoot-538The project is a love story with the American west, capturing it as well as I can. I’ve been pouring over maps, pulling out old lists, and finding new places. This project will take more years than I have to finish, but a thing worth doing is always hard and the best ones are impossible. So I’ve been turning it over in my mind and making choices. Yes to here, maybe to there, narrowing it down a bit.

As soon as the virus dies, I am going to hit the ground running  and see what I can do. Making up for lost time.

Lost time

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The public lands argument

The current advertising for the National Park system bills them as “America’s Best Idea.” I’m with Alan Spears on that, though. There are many American ideas better than the NPS. But public lands and National Parks are not a bad idea in any way. Which is why the unending attacks on their very existence puzzles me.

Much of this is just pure greed. The greedy want to transfer the ownership of Federal Lands to state governments under a “States Rights” argument. That alone should tell you what you need to know about this movement. “States Rights” arguments gave us the Civil War and the opposition to the Civil Rights movement.

shoot-534Colorado has many fine state parks, but state land is a good example of what will happen if greed wins and federal land is transferred. BLM land is usually used for grazing, with hunting and camping also available. It has the least restrictions on it I’ve ever seen. As far as I know, the rules for being on BLM land are: camp off the water so the wild creatures can drink, use fire responsibly, and if you’re going to park your vehicle for more than two weeks let them know, otherwise they send out a search party too soon. The equivalent state land is off-limits, not that you’d want to go on it anyway. Most if it I’ve seen is being used by fracking operations. Utah has done this with just about all its state land already and so wants the Federal land to do the same with. Never mind the fact that the state can’t afford to administer those lands if they got them.

There are people like the Bundy’s who want that Federal land. They interpret the Constitution’s Enclave Clause and Property Clause in a way that is insane. They’d be easy to dismiss but for the fact they are armed terrorists.

shoot-535Some people are ignorant on the role of these lands. Without sufficient aquifers, there’s not enough drinking water for the cities out here, and water is already pretty tight. Between rapid growth and climate change, it’s not likely to get better anytime soon. But they’re not seeing that, only seeing unused space.

So the opposition to public lands is made up of greed, ignorance, and terror. How are these people getting so much traction? Why are we listening to them at all?


Alan Spears opinion piece on the NPS as “Greatest Idea”

The public lands argument

Saturday, April 23, 2016


I’ve been on the road a lot recently, and it’s left me with a backlog of film to process, and no time to do it. Six day work week to boot. I may just have to give up and send film out to be processed, which is a new experience.

Still, it’s given me new things to see and fodder for photos. It’s good to get out.

I’ve recently had another of my camera reviews up on a bigger website. Emulsive, a fantastic site that’s a great resource for the film community, was kind enough to publish my review of the Canon 7 Rangefinder I love and lug about so often. I’m not big on technical information. I don’t pixel peep and wax poetic about lens coatings or know the names of all the formulas that create them. I’m not always possessed of the most accurate information about a given thing. In talking with Emulsive, I admitted that I really don’t have anything to offer but my experiences with a thing. And it turned out, that was enough.

shoot-532If we’re being honest about it, none of us has more than our experiences. We have things, but those really aren’t our own. Unlike experiences, those can be taken away. We have knowledge, memories, but those are secondary to our experiences.

So when I spend a day on the road, I wake up looking forward to the day’s experiences to come. Looking forward to what I will see and do before sundown and bed in another hotel.

I’ll be in town for a bit, working on a camera and hopefully getting another back from the repair shop, but then back out. This time with my beloved in tow for the first camping outing of the year and some epic scenery to photograph. Experiences like these, I look forward too.

Here’s the Canon 7 review on Emulsive


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Strange Trails

I’m back from a week on the road, and it made a difference.

I tend to stay closer to home during winter. It’s typical. I keep an eye on the weather so as to avoid getting stuck out, sleeping in a high school gym somewhere while the snow flies. I know unplanned elements just add to an adventure, but I spent enough time in those gyms in high school.

But it reminded me of a couple of things.

shoot-529I still haven’t seen all of this state I live in. I wandered over the Divide to the Western Slope, which I haven’t spent much time on. It’s really quite different. Far more rural and sparsely populated, I can see the allure. Aside from some poverty related problems, it wouldn’t be a bad place to spend time or even live.


shoot-531But most importantly, it reminded me I need to spend more time on strange trails than I do. I keep closer to home, so a lot of the trails I ride and hike are familiar in the winter. I need to get out and about and further afield. Weather getting warmer will help that. Being conscious of limiting my own choices will, too. As I rolled along the state highways, I couldn’t help but notice how many trail heads I passed. And I felt the pull of every one, leading me up and away from the road in to the forest.

So going forward, I won’t resist that pull when I feel it. This is going to be a summer of strange trails.

Strange Trails

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spending time in the woods

We’re planning on spending a lot of time outdoors this summer.

We’re at the cusp of the process that end with us in a home of our own. And as such, we’re saving a bit of money. So this summer will be playing out a little differently.

shoot-527Instead of a big cycle tour, this summer there will be many overnights in the woods. After all, once the gear is bought, the overnights just cost gas and food. Plus, there’s something to be said about sleeping under stars in a tent with the rain fly off. Far enough out you can see the milky way, and experience what dark really is.

We’ll be taking a train trip again, heading to San Francisco for a few days. Hiking about the city and shooting much film. We might run out to South Dakota and ride the Mickelson trail on a four day weekend, weather and all other factors being able to co-operate. But those may be the only long distance miles we bike this year.

Of course, the end result will hopefully be a place of our own with a nice back yard for Steph to garden and a place for me to convert to a dark room to practice alchemy in.

shoot-526In getting there, we will be spending time climbing mountains and hiking down valleys. We will spend time watching the world turn colors when the sun comes up and goes down. We will spend time counting stars, eating off of camp stoves, and drinking the occasional shot of whisky to keep the chill at bay.

I know it won’t all be picture perfect. We’ll also spend time huddled under a tarp as it rains, and slogging in mud getting back to the truck. I’ll spend time swearing at the stove when it won’t start, or the sleeping bag when it gets wet in the storms. But that time won’t really count.

We’ll be spending time together, out in the woods, on trains, and on bikes. And that is all that really matters.

Spending time in the woods

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Between solitude and surrounded

If you look at the photos I make, you notice something. There’s rarely any people in them.

I seek solitude by nature. I tend to prefer to spend time where people are not. And even when I find myself around people I sometimes frame them out of my shots. It’s my version of idealizing a place.

In the case of shooting at Boston Mine, it was exasperation. I would frame a shot, and another person would step right in to the middle of it or right in front of me with their cell phone. I got a number of shots of the backs of people’s heads that day. I was infuriated.

To borrow a quote from Bukowski, I don’t hate people, I just feel better when they’re not around.

There are exceptions, obviously. My beloved.  A few friends. Fewer acquaintances. But by and large, I prefer mostly solitude. Sometimes I can accomplish it. More frequently I just wish for it.

It wasn’t always the case. There were times I was deathly afraid of being alone in the woods. It wasn’t something I had to actually work on, or a goal that I set for myself to try to get over it, it just happened over time. Walking alone in the woods doesn’t bother me nearly as much now.

It's always the last shot on the roll you get the image you were looking for. In this case it was the one past that. Still works, though.

It’s always the last shot on the roll you get the image you were looking for. In this case it was the one past that. Still works, though.

But I prefer to be with my beloved. I enjoy her company. I like being with her while we discover things together. I love her and simply being with her makes me happy. And sometimes, you do need other folks with you.

There have been times when I was definitely not feeling well that Steph has been a godsend. Times when I needed her company to help me along and prevent me from making errors in judgment.

So here’s the area I want and need to be in. Somewhere between solitude and surrounded. Somewhere between lost and found.

I’m still working out how to find that spot more often.

Between solitude and surrounded

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A strange idea of fun

I don’t have many pictures of paths in winter time. Honestly, I don’t spend that much time on paths in winter.

I have the gear to get out in the cold. Well, except for snowshoes and those are pretty easy to come by. Just jaunt down to the REI and rent them for a day. But honestly, I tend to stay down low and out of the snow as much as I can during the cold spots of winter.

shoot-523Winter changes the landscape. It makes it more challenging. It’s not just the monochromatic snow covering everything and making it a little harder to properly meter photos, it’s the fact it slows you down, sometimes tripling the amount of time it takes to get somewhere on foot.

And somewhere along in the huffing and puffing, I always question my sanity.

“OK self,” I’ll think, “Here you are again doing something dumb. It’s freezing. The wind is howling. You just had to stop for a bit to get your breath back so you could curse at the weather. I’m pretty sure what we’re doing here is not what people generally call fun.”

And in a general sense, it’s true. Most people don’t think it’s much fun post-holing up a trail in slushy snow with a 35 mile an hour wind blowing on you to be an amusing undertaking for a Saturday afternoon. Especially when you’re having to keep an eye on the clouds to the west in case they want to come overhead and dump more snow on you.

But not all exercises are purely for fun. Some of them are just to see what happens. Just to see if I can make it.

shoot-521This particular exercise was not successful. The mountain won, and I trudged back down, disappointed. But even in that, it was at least a partial success. It told me I need to work on some areas of fitness, and it’s time to replace my boots. Extra huffing and puffing caused by taking two steps forward and sliding back was not as productive as it could have been.

And yet, hidden in all the swearing and floundering, I was still having fun. Unconventional fun, but still. Between that and what I learned, I still called it a win, and then trudged back down the mountain.

I’ll get it next time.

A strange idea of fun

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tired things

I’m up a bit early for a Saturday, and heading out soon. I’ve got some tired things to deal with.

I’m taking a very tired Kodak Medalist to the shop today. It’s a war baby, made during the Second World War, and it’s put in some miles. It’s spent some time in the southern part of the US in a closet, and picked up the characteristic smell of mildew. But it’s avoided getting any of it in the lens, and the camera mostly fuctions, so I’m opting to give it a CLA and see if I can use it. If I can, it’s likely I’ll be putting some slide film in it to take on a few trips this year. Mostly, I want to take it to California and shoot the Golden Gate with it. I’ll need to procure more film, metal 620 rolls, and a 120 case or two from Japan Camera Hunter to carry the re-rolled film in. I bought it for a less-weighty medium format option, and because I like 6×9. I’m looking forward to some bigger, wider negatives in the future.

shoot-520I’m headed up north to have breakfast with Craig and Dan and talk about our project. I’ve some images, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been looking at my own stuff so long I’m tired of the sight of the things. I no longer know if it’s any good or not. So fresh eyes will be a help, and maybe can see what I’m missing now.

It’s been an eventful week. I managed to get some portraits done with a rangefinder, which I’d never done before. And it turned out I like them. There was a one two punch of news I could have lived without, however. First, I can no longer find any Agfa APX 100 fresh in the States. I’ll hit up some sources in Europe and Asia and see how badly the shipping will maim me. I think it’s gone out of production again. Second, Nikon has discontinued service of the F3 camera. I figured it would happen sooner or later, and the F3 did go out of production 15 years ago, but I plan on using mine forever, so I was hoping to get mine factory rebuilt before they quit. I missed out, unfortunately. Still, I’ll keep using it until it becomes a tired thing as well.

Tired things, after all, have been well loved.

Tired things

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Adventure your own adventure.

If you spend any time reading websites from adventure types, you get the impression they’re all pushing the envelope. They’re assaulting the Dawn Wall, or rowing across the Indian Ocean, or helicoptering to the top of a mountain to ski sick powder before anyone else, or doing some other extreme thing. Then, when they are done, they write a book about it, tour and talk about it, then go back out and do some other absurd adventure.

Alastair Humphreys is the only sensible one of that lot. He realizes that the other 99.9% of the world can’t do that sort of thing. When the mortgage has to be paid, even getting time off to ride the Trans-America on a bicycle is a challenge.

shoot-517But a lot of them are kind of infuriating. There’s this underlying “go big or go home” machismo that makes any thing you would undertake so insignificant, you might as well not try. You want to take a month and cycle tour? Pfft. Doesn’t count unless you go around the planet. Driving a four wheel trail? Ha! Unless it’s the Road of Bones, you’re a wimp. Going for a hike around a local wildlife refuge? If it’s not the Empty Quarter, you’re a waste. Any setting less than eleven is a waste of time and effort.

But here’s the thing, any time you stretch your boundaries, and extend outside of your routine, you better yourself as a person on every possible level. Getting out and doing gives you self-confidence, that you are able to accomplish something challenging. It leads to better fitness, which always leads to a better outlook on life and greater happiness. It reduces the anxiety you feel day to day, a new coping mechanism.

So really, screw those guys. I’ve had to tell myself to stop listening to them, stop reading their blogs, or listening to their interviews. Good for them that they have done those things, but really, they’re not worth the time. Do what you want, do what you can, and do it for yourself. Hike your own hike. Adventure your own adventure. You’ll be happier.

But do pay attention to Alastair. He gets it. Just read about his micro adventures, and you’ll see.

Adventure your own adventure.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

I miss winter

Winter only made a brief appearance, and I never thought I would say this, but I miss it.

The winter gear is already in the sale bins at the sporting goods stores, and the running store we went to last night was mostly sold out of gear. People believe spring has already sprung. They’re outside doing their training runs and hip deep in their fitness routines.

It’s absurd for it to be this hot this time of year.

It was hotter than this in 2012, but I don’t remember that year with fondness. Water was scarce, and the summer baked us. Fires raged all around the state, and when you went outside, you breathed in the smoke of thousands of trees burning. Coupled with the fact there were weeks over 100 degrees, it was not a fun summer.

And while I’ve availed myself of the sales, including bagging a really sweet water-resistant/wind stopping mid-weight coat, I’m starting to worry. Snow pack is doing pretty well, but high temps could start the runoff early. In fact, a number of streams are showing higher than average flow already.

shoot-514When I located out here from the south, I was pretty sure I would freeze to death on a regular basis. My coats were not up to the task. I went out on Saint Mary’s Alice to learn how to self-arrest for a mountaineering class, and the wind cut right through everything I had. I’ve never been colder, before or since. I purchased a set of ski pants, not to go skiing in, but to walk to work in. I was actually pretty concerned about how cold any given day was on a regular basis, watching the temps like a hawk.

But now, I miss winter.

I miss the crispness the cold brings to the air. I miss the soft silence of a snow-covered evening. I miss the crunch of it underfoot. I miss the solitude it brings to even a crowded street in downtown.

I miss winter. I want it to come back.

I miss winter

Saturday, February 27, 2016

One of those guys

I have become one of those guys. One of those guys that wonder how long they have to wait until their REI dividend check shows up.

I’ve hit pause on my GAS this year. A moratorium is in effect. No new camera bodies until 2017 rolls around on the calendar. There is one exception, but it is something I was looking at buying last year and I never found a good one. I’m not going to identify what it is, since every time I say “I want X” the price of X triples. Also, lenses are OK to get under this rule, so I can still exercise that particular demon. But this year I’m concentrating on two other things.

First, I’m getting out there more. And making that happen is going to need some new gear. Namely, it’s time to retire the unbranded mystery tent of great crappyness. Although, that tent has been a good lesson on what not to buy. It has a lousy rain fly, it lacks ventilation, it’s heavy. It was cheap when I didn’t have a lot of cash, and it has a good vestibule, but that’s all I can say about it that’s positive. So this year, a new place to crash in the back country will make getting out more fun.

shoot-512Second, I’m turning a more critical eye on the work I am producing. On both ends of the process. I am going to choose where I shoot with more forethought. While there’s nothing wrong with happening on to something by accident, I’m going to stop counting on that happening. It’s caused me to come home empty-handed more than once. I’m also paying more attention to my development, changing my agitation strategy and paying more attention to temperature control. And as for scanning, well, I’m using the same scanner, but I’m changing almost everything else.

So, the refusal to be stagnant this winter is turning in to a full-time job. But I’m not only going to get good things from it, I’m going to come out on the other side in far better shape and ready to run though spring at full throttle.

Creation over consumption. Not just a plan, but action.

One of those guys

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Making plans like the stream in winter

This winter has been more busy than most. I’m finding myself spending as much time as I can outside, hiking more than usual to stay as fit as I can, and trying to be as diligent as I can working on projects. I’m trying to be the stream this winter, and not the ice.

I’m not always hitting my goal of at least 1,500 words a week on one of the ongoing writing projects, but most weeks I am close. I’m making a cut on final images for another project, and in the process I am becoming better at scanning. I’m making steps toward starting a new project involving portraiture, but with little to show for it so far. But nice constant progress is afoot, and there is nothing more exciting than that.

Of course, there was an off-hand discussion on Twitter a little while back, and now I’m looking in to another little project.

It’s no secret I love the state I live in. I chose it to make my home, and I wouldn’t live much of anywhere else. For the first time, I’ve found a place I belong, instead of feeling stuck somewhere. I’m pretty bad at beating the gong about the place as well. So when a random comment I made about getting together a photographic expedition in the state was well received, I started to put a little time in to planning.

shoot-510My beloved knows I do love to plan. She’ll always know something is afoot when the obscure Internet searches begin. Then maps will get drug out. There will be specific books referenced. I think the process amuses her.

It’s still early. There are a lot of variables. Should it be a vehicle accessible only tour so the large format guys don’t get a hernia moving gear around? Should there be some hiking? Should it concentrate on natural beauty in forests and mountains, or should there be ghost towns and abandoned mines thrown in there? Stay in small town hotels, or camp out? Climb high or shoot up to get vistas? Time it for peak wildflowers or peak fall foliage?

Narrowing down variables and doing the scouting legwork is fun. And on top of that, it’s making it easier this winter to not become the frozen water, but keep being the moving water.

Making plans like the stream in winter

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Saturday Ritual

First, the coffee. If it’s a day with a bit of time, use the french press, and the tea kettle to boil the water. Just the right amount of cream. Pour in the mug and set aside so it can cool to the perfect temperature.

While that cools, you mix chemicals. I’ll use a gallon of filtered water I’ve set out at room temp to mix them up. Precise measurements in a graduated cylinder of the raw chemicals before dilution. HC-110 first, then white vinegar for the stop bath. The fix is almost always ready, unless it’s close to exhaustion and I have to make up a new batch.

shoot-509The film comes out, and then in to the dark bag, and out again inside the tank. The proper selection is made from the Ultimate Dev Chart, and the times are followed. In between agitations, the coffee is consumed.

After the film is done with its dance, and dry, it is scanned as the weekly words are written. Lightroom makes its appearance in the process. Then the words and photos are uploaded.

Once that is done, a camera is loaded, and it is lunch time. Over lunch, the merits of bicycle ride or hike are discussed. Then the merits of this or that trail. The camera is slung, the spare rolls put in pockets or a bag, and then we walk to the 4Runner to begin the days adventures outside.

And somewhere, pedaling or putting one foot in front of the other, there will be less tension, less stress, and life will right itself again.

We will drive home in the 4Runner, sweaty, hungry again, but better. There may be another meal stop, but then we go back to the house, ritual complete.

The next weekend will be upon us soon, and our ritual will begin again. As close to church as we ever come, more needed than most rituals to keep our sanity.

The Saturday Ritual

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I forget

I think I forget that photography is magic.

I’ll get too caught up on pedaling down the road because we have to make a certain town for the night or because I’m hungry and I need to be fed, and I’ll pass up a photo opportunity as I go. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’ll know I won’t get that particular opportunity again, but I’m moving on.

Or I’ll raise the camera to my eye and then lower it without taking the picture. There’s some wisdom in doing that. It spares you from the frustration of knowing you’re missing the shot you want. But that isn’t always the only consideration that should have weight.

I’ll clamber along and realize I don’t have the right lens to capture the scene I see in front of me. As a matter of habit, I don’t often carry a lot of equipment with me. Minimalism is a key part of what I do and who I am. But sometimes, I’ll forget something, or I’ll plan incorrectly, and then I’ll be stuck at tree line with a 50mm lens when what I really want to use is a wide and it’s back down in the truck. Dropping back down off a mountain to get a lens isn’t an option. Hiking five miles back and losing a couple thousand feet of elevation takes time, so I live with not getting what I want.

All of that is perfectly reasonable. Logical reactions to the situation at the time.

But they’re all what happens when I forget.

shoot-507Snap shots in the moment are frequently better than well planned out ones. Sometimes, you need to place your trust in the magic that happens in that little light light box, and just see what happens. Sometimes, I should tell the schedule to get bent and just stop the bike and shoot. I should take the damn shot anyway. Film is still pretty cheap, roll the dice on a frame and see what happens. I should just look at the light and capture what I can and not fret about what lens I have screwed to the front of the camera.

Getting out and then having disappointment stain the moment is not the way to have fun. Trust the magic. See if that 1/125th of a second lives forever and makes you happy. Worst case, it doesn’t, but there are a huge number of other fragments of time to try again. Best case, the magic happens, and you find yourself with something new and worthwhile. But forgetting leaves you with nothing to show, either way.

I forget

Saturday, January 30, 2016

One of those days.

Lots of blank pages. Nothing but blank pages. The cap is firmly screw on my pen, not posted. I don’t have a camera loaded. The only camera in a bag is just there because I haven’t unloaded it from the last outing. My screens are white empty word processing pages only populated by blinking cursors, mocking me. I’m tired from not sleeping well. Uninspired. I’m having one of those days.

The well established way to try to restart the creative juices among photographers is to go buy a new widget and play with it. See if it opens up a new approach to the problem. Many times, that works. New gear forces you to look at things in new ways. This approach is not all bad. But for the foreseeable future, I am not going to buy anything new. Well, other than film. I have gear I haven’t used, and that chafes. A camera is potential, and unrealized potential is a waste. Plus, there are some pretty major undertakings in the future, and I need to save up a bit.

shoot-505I may revisit some older gear. I haven’t bought any instant film for a long time. Over a year, at least. I tried to sell my Minolta Instant, which uses Spectra film. There were no takers, so it’s sat unwanted on a shelf. I still have a few packs of Spectra film. I may have to drag that out and see if that has the same effect as buying new gear. See if it forces a perspective change.

The weather report has been variable. By which I mean they say it’s going to snow, rather a big snowstorm, but no one can agree to exactly when this is going to happen. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. One of those days. It’s slightly complicating the planning.

I may just grab some random film, slap it in one of my XAs and pedal out for a while. I love the bike paths here, but all but one of them has construction going on. If I ride south, I’ll have to roll though the warehouses for a while, dodging the work. West the detour drops you on a two lane that feeds from the interstate to an industrial district, leaving you to deal with semi trucks on a road with no shoulder. Cherry Creek is awash in roadies who think the path is their own personal raceway, and if you show up and make them slack off their target heart rate, they get nasty about it. Sand Creek to the southeast sounds best, but it’s still diverted for flood restoration and construction of the new commuter rail line to the airport, and the detour wasn’t particularly well-marked last time I tried it. We may just have to flip a coin and let it choose our poison.

I dislike days like this. But the only way around them is through. And the sooner I get a move on, the sooner it will stop being one of those days.

One of those days.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Contax RTS II

I had a bit of bad luck, which led me to buy a RTS II. I’d just about finished collecting all the Meyer-Optik lenses I wanted in M42. And on the brink of my victory, the M42 body I had rolled over and died. I shouted “KHAAAAAAAANNN!” at the heavens, and then went looking for a replacement.

I failed to find a good, cheap M42 body. Nikon to M42 adapters are iffy. The Spotmatics mostly had dead meters, and the ones that didn’t still required a battery modification. I sighed, resigned myself to dropping $400 on a Bessaflex, and started saving up.

shoot-504Along the way, I happened across a Contax RTS II body for $100. I stopped long enough to make sure I could get an adapter and bought it. It showed up from Japan in good shape. The body had brassing, it was obviously a user, but the light seals were brand new, and that’s a big consideration in an SLR of this age. The leather looked good. I put in the battery and the Kipon M42 to Contax/Yashica adapter and grabbed a couple of lenses to go shoot.

The RTS II was the Contax flagship professional SLR in the 1980s until replaced by the III in 1990. I had looked at buying a III, but it seemed to have some features I felt were problematic, like the vacuum system to hold the film flat. I liked a little less automation in my camera bodies. The RTS II offered the same level as my beloved Nikon F3, which it was a direct competitor of. Apparently, I am the target demographic of SLR manufacturers circa 1986. Too bad I was flat broke in those days.

The RTS II is smaller than the F3, and handles a bit differently. It’s not an unpleasant difference, it’s just noticeable. It does seem to be as robust as my F3, with a titanium shutter curtain and dependable electronics. The shutter is quartz timed for greater accuracy. The pentaprism isn’t modular and can’t be switched out, but you can change out the focus screens if you want. The metering seems to be highly precise, more so than other in camera meters I have used.

Although everyone I talked to suggested that the RTS II was more dependable than the I or the III, the only drawback I felt was the fact that repair of the camera seems more difficult to obtain. If something goes wrong with mine, I’ll just have to take it to the local guy and hope for the best. Manufacturer support is long gone. That concern was outweighed by two things: the accessories and the lenses.

The system accessories are pretty easy to find and have been fairly cheap. I managed to find a perfectly working W-3 power winder for $19. The remote shutter release for the camera is proprietary, but pretty reasonable. The infrared triggers seem to be hard to find, but I haven’t looked very hard for them. The lenses, though.

The lenses that were designed to be used with the Contax line are Zeiss, that magical manufacturer. And the Zeiss lenses in the C/Y mount this camera uses are the least expensive of them all. I plan on getting the Planar 50mm f1.4 of course, and trying the 85mm f2.8 Sonnar. But first, I want the 45mm f2.8 Tessar, because I am addicted to Tessars, and because the camera with that little lens on it will be the smallest SLR outfit I have owned but still extremely capable.

I don’t know how much time my RTS II will spend in the back woods, but I bet it will be the choice for portrait work going forward. My little gateway to Zeiss goodness.

The Contax RTS II

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is that really in your bag?

Everyone knows those “In your bag” sites. Japan Camera Hunter runs the best and most famous one. There will be a picture of a bag, with all the gear pulled out and arranged , and a description of what the gear is, and why it’s carried. I look at the gear some people say they carry and I wonder.

Are they really carrying all that stuff around?

I don’t carry three to five bodies and six to eight lenses all the time. I don’t see the need too. Plus, I think carrying a Mamiya RB67 with four backs, a Yashica Mat 124G, a Nikon F4s, a Nikon D4 and a Leica M6, plus a couple spare lenses, a couple of flashes, a laptop, chargers, film, an iPad, spare batteries and so on isn’t well thought out. If you shoehorn all that in to a shoulder bag, you’re going to kill your shoulder carrying it all. Hell, carrying that level of gear is approaching the point where you’re better off hiring a Sherpa.

I just don’t feel the need to tote that many things in my bag. I’m getting older and I like being comfortable when I walk. Comfy shoes or boots, adaptable clothes, nice and even weight distribution, and minimal gear.

So what do I carry around?

shoot-502This time of year, if I want to go light, I wear an M65 Field Jacket. I put an Olympus XA and a reused Rollei film case that carries two spare rolls in my pocket, and away I go. No bag required.

If I’m on my bike, I’ll add an additional camera, probably a plastic 35mm pseudo panorama, one of Japan Camera Hunter’s film cases, the smallest Gorilla pod they make, and a couple of spare button batteries. It all fits with ease in my seat bag and leaves me room for a couple Clif bars.

I bought a Tamrac 4252 Jazz Messenger 2 on the cheap. KEH was selling them for $10 one day, and I have a bag problem, so I ordered it up. It’s about as big a bag as I ever walk about with. One body, a spare lens or two tops, and a couple rolls of film. It turns out to be just the right size to fit in my day pack as well. If I’m going to the back country, I’ll put it in the klettersack I use, on top of the clothes and food I’m taking with me. Pretty much the same if I’m traveling, although I’ll have less outdoorsy gear and add a laptop at that point. If I’m around town, I’ll delete most of the clothes and let the laptop keep it company.

I do have a whopping Domke bag that holds my 4×5, but that’s for door to door transport more than anything else. I’ll take that bag on the train some times, but the cameras get left behind when I do.

I’ve been amazed at what I see on some of those bag sites. I have an urge for simplicity that’s far too strong to let me carry around as much as most of them. Plus, that would mess with the default level of lazy I like to use.

Is that really in your bag?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What you find

It’s interesting how when you aren’t really looking for new things, you find them. And then you also find yourself making plans because of what you find.

I found the Adventure Cycle map, and realized there are more routes than I thought there were. The overlay that shows you the Amtrak routes is especially good, as it gives me ideas on how to connect the dots with the train. With enough time, I could cover a serious amount of ground on a bicycle. I noted the Great Parks South route is entirely inside Colorado, and logistically the easiest to get to. Stephanie noted this also has many, many more mountains to climb. All of the routes that traverse the Rockies in Colorado use Monarch Pass. I don’t recall if I’ve ever been over Monarch. If I have I don’t remember what it’s like. I may have to go run some recon this winter before making any decisions about trying that route or not.

Stephanie has expressed a preference for the flatter, more eastern routes. I’m sure climbing the divide isn’t going to be easy, but I definitely know I do not want to ride any of the southern routes through Arizona. Walking to the car in 115 degree F was no fun. I can’t imagine exerting in that kind of weather.

shoot-499Although, I have a mind to spend a couple of weeks next winter in the Superstition Mountains. In February, when the high temps are low enough to be bearable. May even decide to take a group trip offered through REI.

I’ve started preparing for a new photography project as well, forcing myself to get some portraits done. I’ve tried them in the past, but I’ve never been happy with what I’ve managed to produce. This time, I’ll throw everything out and start from scratch and see what I can manage to do.

Plus, there will be a continuation of documentary photography in the west, but I feel that will be going on for years. There’s a lot left out there to find.


Here’s the Adventure Cycling Association Interactive Route Map

Today’s pictures taken with Analougue for iOS. An excellent brand new app for your phone. I’m still getting the hang of it, but it’s fun so far.

What you find

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Where I am home

I never go back to the place I came from during the holidays. I’m just not the holidays sort. Largely, because that’s not where I feel at home, where I feel I belong.

shoot-496I am home on a softly rocking rail car, awake in the middle of the night with the lights out and the curtains open. Watching the darkness stretching out along side us, broken only by the occasional lonely house with a light left on in its’ window. The driveway will reach out to the road that reaches out to the tracks and then under my sleeping compartment lit by the red light of the flashing crossing signal.

shoot-498I am at home pedaling along gravel in green tunnels, wondering what is around the next bend, finding good trail food and eating well. Talking to new people and then falling asleep to and waking up with the anticipation of new miles to pedal in the coming day.

I am at home afoot in the wilds, among the trees, the rivers and the streams. Waking stick in hand and pack on my back as I go. One foot in front of the other. Meandering and seeing new things, smelling the pines and crunching leaves underfoot. Breathing deep and clambering over rocks. Stopping as I go, admiring and capturing views.

I felt at home along the back roads of Peru, where I didn’t speak the language but that didn’t keep me from finding a pastry shop in every place I went.

shoot-495I am at home with my beloved. She is always with me on these adventures. Always taking care of me and I her. Always looking out for me. Always loving me.

Home is with her. The only one I ever knew. The only one I want to go to. The only place I ever belong.

Where I am home

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year's Day means nothing

Funny thing about New Year’s Day, is that it really doesn’t matter. January 1, if you think about it, doesn’t have any significance.

It’s not a change of season, winter went right on kicking without a notice. It’s not even mid-winter. The stars overhead don’t line up in any significant way. It’s just another day.

In fact, New Year’s Day is only New Year’s Day if you use the Gregorian calendar. A good chunk of the planet doesn’t. The New Year comes at a different time for those who use the Rural calendar from China. India has the Saka calendar. Various faiths have their own, such as the Hebrew and Islamic calendars. Which is much the same origin as the Gregorian calendar , created by the Roman Catholic Church.

The significance of New Year’s Day is largely made up. I love the traditions associated with it: Hogmanay, First footing and the like. But really the day is arbitrary.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

People think that New Year’s Day is a special time of change. True, but the day is not the significant part of that. Change does not wait for a day on the calendar. It happens any time you want it. Any day can be New Year’s Day. Any day can be the start of change.

shoot-492So go ride your bike. Go try new things with your camera. Get outside and see something new. Travel, and expand your world. Have a better relationship with your partner or your family. It’s not a New Year’s resolution that makes it important. It’s deciding what you want and then going after it.

The date is not important. You are.

Change doesn’t wait for the calendar. It waits for you.

So Happy New Year, whenever it happens. But don’t wait for it to make change to make your life better.

Now is always a good time to make change.

New Year's Day means nothing