August 25, 2011 § 4 Comments
One of the best things about the summer that’s just coming to a close is all the times that Margaret and I have been able to kayak on various lakes and ponds in Maine. The kayak is a perfect platform for photography. You can get close to shore, and you can skim into shallow inlets where there are all kinds of things to photograph. Once you get away from the more heavily populated areas, with their motor boats and jet skis, a wholly different world opens up–the world of nature itself, with its own rhythms and beauties. It’s very easy in my world of meetings and schedules and deadlines and superhighways and my suburban lawn to forget the fact that nature goes on with rules all its own somewhere out there beyond the glow of my back porch light. In the course of our many expeditions, we have seen numerous loons, an eagle, a great blue heron, several large snapping turtles, a water snake (yikes!), and a moose (up very close–Margaret got good pictures). But the thing I kept coming back to was the richness of the plant life, both in the water and in the places where the forest came down to the shores. Here are just a few of the many pictures I assembled over the past two months. For all these photos I used a Panasonic TS1, a tiny,weatherproof camera that fits easily into the pocket of my life jacket. Reviewers always seem to praise its weatherproof qualities above its ability to take sharp, clear pictures, but I have actually found it to be somewhat extraordinary and have made some rather striking 20x24s and 11x17s with it.
January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
This was my first “real” camera, which I bought sometime in the mid 1970s. Before that, I had an Argus C3 and a Zeiss Contaflex, both of which temporarily fed my growing hunger for photography. But finally I knew I needed to step up to something better. I was working at the University of New Hampshire at the time and asked Gary Samson, who was one of the university photographers, about which brand to buy. He said that if I could afford the Nikkormat, I should get into the Nikon system.
Opening that box with the brand-new Nikkormat was exciting! I had bought it one afternoon on my way to have dinner with friends. When I arrived at their house, I sat in the driveway for a long time, reading the instruction book and trying out all of the knobs and dials. I think someone finally had to come out and get me to come in to dinner!
For a long time, I was afraid to take the camera out of my living room. It was so expensive! My other cameras were second-hand and already had a few bumps and scratches, but the Nikkormat didn’t have a mark on it. Eventually, I could see that it was ridiculous to just keep this beautiful thing on the coffee table, and I began to take it with me wherever I went.
The Nikkormat was the first in a long line of Nikons. There were several more Nikkormats . . . the FT2 and the EL. Then there were a couple of battered, tough old Nikon Fs, several Nikon FEs, and finally a couple of F3s, which were glorious cameras. The chapter ends with a series of digital Nikons . . . D40, D70, D80.
But I never was completely happy with the 35mm format. The frame was always too long and narrow for me (in the picture above, you can see that I have cropped the image down a bit), and the quality of the images was not up to the 120 film that I liked so much. I did, however, appreciate the ability to use different lenses, so 35mm cameras stayed in my arsenal for a long time.
As it happened, when digital came along, I found myself drawn more and more to compact cameras, and actually sold off my Nikons in favor of smaller Canons, Panasonics, and Ricohs that fit easily into my pocket. Still, what a feeling it was to set off along the New Hampshire seacoast on a Saturday morning, with a pocketful of film and that shining Nikkormat slung across my shoulder!
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.
August 2, 2010 § 1 Comment
This is a half-frame Olympus Pen. “Half-frame” because it takes images that are only half the size of a regular 35mm picture. Which means that you can get 72 shots from a 36-exposure roll of film. I bought this copy at a tag sale in New Hampshire many years ago. There was a larger version of the Pen that had interchangeable lenses and that is now a collector’s item. The Pens first appeared in 1959 and were smaller than most cameras in use at that time. In fact, they were called “Pen” because they were supposed to slip into your pocket as easily as a pen and thus could be carried at all times. Olympus has always lead the way in making cameras small and easily portable. Their iconic OM series that came out later lead the way in persuading other manufacturers to reduce the size of their single-lens reflexes. Recently, Olympus has done the same thing with digital cameras, introducing their Pen E-P series, which has a fairly large sensor in a significantly reduced body. The thing I have always loved about my Pen EE is that when I have the film developed at the drugstore, two small images are printed side-by-side on a regular-sized sheet of snapshot paper. This allows for all sorts of random pairings, which appear by chance. Like these . . .
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 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!