November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
I have owned hundreds of cameras and have enjoyed all of them. But the one that has meant the most to me and the one I have kept the longest is my lovely old Rolleicord. I purchased it in New Hampshire in 1974 from a man who had bought it new when he was stationed in Germany. I asked him what he was doing there, and he said “government work.” I asked what kind, and he said, “I’m not allowed to say.” I’ve always hoped that he was photographing the Berlin Wall for the CIA or some other spy mission!
From 1974 to the early 1980s, this camera went everywhere with me. I shot Tri-x and Panatomic X and measured the exposures with an old Weston meter, but through constant practice I got so I could accurately guess the proper Tri-X exposure without metering. I photographed landscapes and still lifes and abstracts and friends and my family and much more.
I had one experience with this camera that I will always remember. I know it sounds like science fiction, but perhaps it can be excused on the grounds that I was new to photography and intensely involved. One bright, sunny day I was photographing in the vicinity of Durham, New Hampshire, when I came across an old barn with sunlight raking across its weathered boards. I had the Rolleicord on a tripod, and after framing and focusing, I pressed the shutter release. At that moment, I was sure that I “heard” the intense light ricochet off the side of the barn and slap hard against the film inside the Rollei, thus creating the image. It was a mystical moment, certainly, and I am not accustomed to them, but it made me understand how important photography would be for the rest of my life.
The Rolleicord is a stripped-down version of the legendary Rolleiflex, the mainstay camera of press and fashion photographers in the 40s and 50s. Look carefully at the hordes of press photographers snapping pictures of the Beatles and you will still see a lot of Rolleis at work even into the 60s. The Rolleicord was intended for amateur photographers who didn’t need a camera with advanced features. Even though it wasn’t a first-line camera, the Rolleicord was built like a tank and had a very sharp lens. The only downside was a somewhat dark viewfinder. But I overcame that by having a new ground glass installed by Bill Maxwell, whose astonishing products revolutionize the way older cameras work. With the new Maxwell screen, the Rolleicord became a complete joy.
(Info re Maxwell at http://www.mattclara.com/maxwell/index.html.)
I don’t use the Rollei much anymore. I no longer have a home darkroom, and the cost of having film commercially developed and proofed is a little steep. But this is one camera that I don’t plan to sell or trade in. I still admire how lean and efficient it is. To get a large, detailed 2 1/4-inch square negative out of such a relatively small and lightweight box always seems like a miracle. Even in the dazzling age of digital, the Rolleicord remains my favorite.
November 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
There is a new show by the German artist Anselm Kiefer at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. “Next Year in Jerusalem ” deals with Kiefer’s familiar theme, characterized by Roberta Smith in the New York Times as “Germanness and its discontents.” Born at the end of WWII, Kiefer was one of the first post-war artists to tackle the scar his country had left on history. The works in the New York show are vintage Kiefer, enormous constructions, many made of lead, representing destroyed airplane parts, U-boats, and ravaged landscapes. Mixed in are ashes, torn bushes, burlap, synthetic teeth, snakeskins, and multiple references to early German theologians, Norse goddesses, and various ancient religions. As in all his works, Kiefer appears to want to go back to a place before the colossal failures of modern times to find belief systems that might allow us to go forward in some way intact. His extensive use of lead in his sculptures and paintings suggests a hope that alchemy might help here, lead being the base material that was supposed to be transformed into gold. And many of his works contain either sunflower seeds or sunflower plants, which I imagine as representing another kind of transformative hope that we can begin anew to follow the light. I was happy to find these wintering sunflowers in a local garden, soon after reading the exhibition review in the Times.
Here is a quote from Kiefer, taken from the Gagosian press release.
There is a special border, the border between art and life that often shifts deceptively. Yet, without this border, there is no art. In the process of being produced, art borrows material from life, and the traces of life still shine through the completed work of art. But, at the same time, the distance from life is the essence, the substance of art. And, yet, life has still left its traces. The more scarred the work of art is by the battles waged on the borders between art and life, the more interesting it becomes.
November 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
These were taken at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center in Alfred, Maine. Before it was Notre Dame, these buildings were a Shaker settlement. There is a wonderful bakery there now that supports local efforts to end homelessness. Quite a powerful place of the spirit. I wonder if Native Americans also felt the same thing. I wouldn’t be surprised.
November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
I hope you will visit and return frequently to my new photoblog at
November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment
November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment
Poladroid is a wonderful app that makes any of your pictures look like they were taken with the legendary Polaroid SX-70 camera. It’s free, and you can download to Macs and PCs from this address: http://www.poladroid.net/.
You just drag your image over the little Polaroid camera icon and then it makes the sort of whining, growling sound that SX-70s used to make when the camera ejected the print. You have to wait a few seconds for the picture to “develop,” just like you did with a Polaroid. When you’re done, you have a vignetted image with unpredictable colors . . . heavenly!
The top image is called “Looking Out,” and the original was a black and white picture taken with an Olympus EPL-1 and a Lens Baby Composer.
The next one is called “Maine Root,” and it was made with the same equipment.
The bottom image was made with one of my compacts set to black and white and is called “Pleasure Machine.”