May 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
Spending some much-needed days off in Maine. One of the best things about being here is our wonderful neighbors across the road. When we arrive from the city, tense and tired from the faster life and the five-hour drive it takes to get here, they sit us down and help us regain our perspective with their good company, great sense of humor, delicious home-brewed beer, and an occasional home-cooked meal (including, once, a moose roast.)
The other thing I like about visiting them is that they live in the house where my grandparents lived and where I spent many happy hours as a child. My grandparents were professional photographers, and I used to “help” my grandmother in the darkroom, agitating film in large roll-film tanks. It makes me especially happy that our neighbors now have a grandson who seems to enjoy the house as much as I did.
Olympus E-PL1 set on monochrome, with a Lens Baby Composer
May 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
“There is music, and it plays on.”
This thought from Czech photographer Josef Sudek has kept me going through a lot of things, life events as well as photographic endeavors. It certainly sums up the spirit of his art, which is always lyrical and musical and life-giving, even though his life encompassed any number of horrors. He lost an arm in WWI, but his chosen medium was large, cumbersome view cameras that are challenging enough to use even if you have all your limbs. One of his favorite genres was landscape photography, but when the Nazis overran Czechoslovakia, photographing the landscape became a capital crime. And once the Nazis were gone, the rest of Sudek’s life was lived under Communism. But still, his “music” played on through everything.
I first learned of Sudek in the mid 1970s, when a friend showed me Sonya Bulaty’s remarkable monograph of his work. My early delight has gradually turned into a deeper appreciation of how these truthful, celebratory photographs can accompany us for a whole lifetime, offering delight, reassurance, calm, and a kind of wisdom.
Since I am always curious about photographers’ working methods, I did some research on the equipment Sudek used. There were many cameras, most requiring large sheets of film in the range of 5×7 inches to 8×10 inches plus an old Kodak panorama camera that he used to make some of his most beautiful pictures of the Czech countryside. Sudek appreciated the fine detail and smooth tonal qualities that were possible when these large pieces of film were contact printed, rather than being blown up as enlargements.
I noticed that he also used a smaller “pocket” camera (although it’s pretty large compared to our pocket cameras of today), called a Zeiss Icarette. It took 120 roll film and made negatives 2 1/4 by 3 1/4 inches. Sudek used this to make what he called photographic “notes,” tiny contact prints, usually of landscapes. Although I have sometimes used larger sheet-film cameras, my darkroom at the time was set up for roll film, and I decided to try and locate an Icarette of my own, just to see what it felt like to photograph with the same kind of camera Sudek used. This was before the days when the Internet brought the world to our doorsteps, but I was lucky enough to find one in the catalog of a major used-equipment dealer, and before long I had mine mounted on a tripod and was off to the nearby woods and fields. The resulting pictures don’t even remotely resemble Sudek’s, of course, but it was great fun to experience a little bit of what it felt like to work in his mode. Sudek began his work at a time when light meters had not been invented, and he simply learned to judge exposure times by experience. I remember feeling a little sheepish, waving around my Gossen light meter before each shot! I hope you enjoy these little “Sudek moments.”
Photo of the Icarette taken with an Olympus E-PL1 and kit lens.
May 25, 2010 § 3 Comments
May 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
Photographing these boundary markers at a local farmer’s field made me think about the time a few years ago when I visited the agricultural facilities at the University of Connecticut. I was busy taking pictures, mostly abstract, of a piece of rusty farm machinery, when a member of the campus security police drove up and asked me what I was doing. I explained that I was an amateur photographer on a Sunday outing. She asked me for my driver’s license and took it back to the cruiser, where she must have radioed in to some central location to see if I had a police record. She came back a few minutes later and was most cordial and said that I could go on about my business. As she was walking away, she said, “We can’t be too careful in these days of terrorism.” I am still not clear why someone taking photographs of a manure spreader in a muddy field in Storrs, Connecticut, would be a threat to Western civilization, but I am inclined to let the metaphor of the machine itself speak for my feelings. I hasten to add that the University of Connecticut is a worthy institution and that my stepdaughter got a very good education there. Enough talk. Here are the pictures, taken along the bank of the Connecticut River in Wethersfield with an Olympus E-P2 and a 14-42mm lens.
May 19, 2010 § 2 Comments
These were taken when we put an addition onto our house last spring. I was using the then-new Olympus E-P1. I have since moved on to the E-P2, but the pleasure of encountering the versatility of the E-P1 made me realize that there was a whole new era opening in photography. Many people who review the E-P series say things like “I have fallen in love with photography again,” or “photography has become fun again.” All true . . . these are very nice cameras!
May 16, 2010 § 1 Comment
These cameras were made between 1971 and 1982 and used the first instant film that did not require the messy peel-apart process. Polaroid gave me this camera around 1979 or 1980 when I was a participant in the Polaroid Collection program. Under this program, qualifying photographers received cameras and film and were required to submit a portfolio of the resulting work. If any of the images were selected for the collection, you would receive another carton of film and another deadline. So it went for as long as Polaroid was interested in your work. I had several years of success with them.
I never enjoyed working in the darkroom, so the SX-70 came as a wonderful relief from the darkness, the smells, and the isolation. What an incredible joy it was to be able to produce a finished print on the spot and in just seconds! And Polaroid did a great job of promoting the technology, so there was a tremendous feeling of being part of something new and interesting.
One of my images was chosen to be included in the book The Magic of Instant Photography by Peggy Sealfon. It’s the pair of ballet shoes you can sort of make out over the “right shoulder” of the camera in this picture.
The three images above, all ca 1980:
1) A still life I made from one of my first boxes of SX-70 film, plus my acceptance letter from the Polaroid Collection. And a bird flying above all in celebration!
2) A set of stairs at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
3) Truck reflector, Durham, New Hampshire
I still have the camera, although it has been through a lot and probably doesn’t work any longer. I still keep it, along with several hundred of the prints, with very fond memories!
May 15, 2010 § 3 Comments
This was a glorious spring day here in Wethersfield. The sky was bright blue, the sun was warm, the wind was strong and cool from the northeast. I sat for a while on our deck, just taking in the sun and listening to the sounds of the neighborhood. And I thought about how the deck was not even built a year ago. The whole back yard was a construction zone, with a backhoe, concrete forms, and wheel ruts in the mud. It was also an exciting time because my new Olympus E-P1 arrived just about when the construction started. Needless to say, I took lots of photographs! These two are of the muddy runoff from the truck that poured the concrete.