Thursday, June 01, 2006

summer means..

banned in the USA
Originally uploaded by JoeFriday.

as it is nearly summer in my neck of the woods, and having nearly skipped spring entirely (amazing how the temperature can go from a month straight of consistent 44 degrees (F) and rain, to suddenly being 85 degrees and sunny overnight), it's now time to play 'ketchup' on all the good times I should have been having for the last 3 weeks

of course that means drinking a lot and playing highly dangerous games! I've recently acquired an aging set of Jarts, which I intend to use to their fullest until I am arrested (Jarts are banned in the USA due to deaths and dismemberments) or lose an eye. Perhaps I can figure out a way to make them even more dangerous.. perhaps adding fireworks or requiring blindfolds?

that reminds me.. I have to check my insurance coverage

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

On this day in 1843

William Jackson is born in Keeseville, New York. His powerful photographs of Yellowstone helped make it the first national park.

Jackson received no formal training in photography. As a young man, he began experimenting with simple cameras, and he gradually mastered the arcane skills needed to capture images on chemically prepared glass plates. In 1866, Jackson joined a wagon train and traveled west to California, lugging along his heavy camera equipment. The awesome size and ruggedness of the western landscape sparked his imagination, and he began to focus his efforts on what would later be termed "nature photography."

In 1871, Jackson's ability to produce excellent images while working in primitive wilderness conditions attracted the attention of the geologist Ferdinand Hayden. Hayden convinced Jackson to join his government-sponsored expedition into the still relatively unknown wilds of the Yellowstone region in the northern Rocky Mountains. Earlier explorers of the area had returned with tales of towering geysers, vast canyons, and bubbling mud pots, but their stories and drawings of these natural wonders failed adequately to convey the beauty of Yellowstone. Hayden hoped Jackson could capture the miracles of Yellowstone on his photographic plates, so millions could enjoy the wonders seen by only a few.

During 1871 to 1872, Jackson produced hundreds of brilliant photographs of Yellowstone while traveling with the Hayden expedition. For the first time, the American public saw accurate images of the area rather than paintings or drawings. The photographs offered visual proof that Yellowstone really was home to many awesome natural wonders. Thanks in no small part to Jackson's photos, U.S. congressmen decided the Yellowstone region should be preserved in its natural state. On March 1, 1872, Congress established 1,221,773 acres of the Yellowstone area as the world's first national park.

After his work at Yellowstone, Jackson became one of the pioneering photographers of the American West. The magazine Harper's Weekly commissioned him to make a popular series of photographic reports on many sections of the West. Though he was also a successful painter, his photographs were far more influential in establishing the American visual understanding of the West.

Friday, March 31, 2006

One is enough for me

Originally uploaded by JoeFriday.

I recently managed to be in the right place at the right time, and actually had my camera with me.

I live rather close to the west shore of Lake Michigan, which supplies no end of photo opportunities. In this case, I happened to be driving along just before the sunrise, which is possibly one of only a dozen times I've even been awake at that hour. I decided I couldn't pass up the opportunity, even if it tends to be a photo cliché.

I had my Canonet QL17 GIII in my car, loaded with Fuji NPS160 film. Not exactly a good film choice, given the low light, but I thought I'd just give it a shot, so to speak.

I parked the car in a state park, and walked toward the water. As I brought the camera up to frame the shot, I realized the meter wasn't working. Dead battery. Fortunately, the Canonet can go fully manual, so I set the aperture wide open and started bracketing.

Out of a dozen shots, this was the only one worth saving. But one is enough for me.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I crack myself up

On a whim, I started yet another photoblog. This one is strictly for amusing, or the occasional exceptionally good, photos that I find on flickr. Check out Not My Photo.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

RFF book No. 2 is on sale now!

First announced on the Rangefinder Forum on November 10, 2005, the second book published by the RFF group has finally been released.

The 222-page softcover book, Rangefinder Photography-A Gathering, showcases photos by 97 photographers from around the globe.

I have felt very blessed, not just to have a few of my photos included, but to have been given the opportunity to do the layout of the book itself. I might be a bit biased, but I think it's an exceptional publication, worthy of any amateur (hell, any professional) photographer's coffee table.

I'd like to thank the other fine RFF members who were all instrumental in getting this book published as quickly and smoothly as was humanly possible. And congratulations to everyone who was able to be included. The list of contributors grew so quickly that the signup had to be closed after just a few days, otherwise the book would have been big enough to give the postal carriers a hernia.

The book is available to order directly from the printer at

Ciggy break

The company I work for has a strict No Smoking policy, as is common in the midwest these days. The employees who smoke have taken up residence in a garage adjacent to the building. It amazes me what these people will do to appease their addiction. For example, these shots were taken during a blizzard in which 16 inches of snow fell in 4 hours. The smokers put on their coats and boots just to run across a parking lot for a 10 minute smoke break.

Monday, March 20, 2006

RFF announces PDF 'book' swap

The friendly and creative individuals over at RangeFinder Forum who, like me, have entirely too much time on their hands, have decided to partake in a PDF book swap. The idea is to choose a handful of images and create a PDF 'book' to upload into an online library. The PDFs will be available to all for downloading and sharing.

Knowing the photographic skill of the RFF members, it should be quite a collection!

ultra cheap shot

Shooting neon at night is a photographer's cheap trick. The colors are always bright and vibrant, so you're bound to get a few "ooohs" and "ahhhs" no matter how much you screw up the composition. That's why I never miss an opportunity to shoot beer signs.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Commie cameras rule!

It's been a while since I've picked up my Kiev 4a, made in 1966. Shown here with a Jupiter-8 50mm lens and a hood .

I think the roll of film that's currently in it was loaded about 6 months ago. If I remember correctly, I put the film in the day I got a spiffy 'new' Jupiter-12 35mm lens that I found on ebay, complete with front and rear caps, bakelite canister, AND a matching external viewfinder. All for only $70.

I guess it's time to finish off that film and see what I get. I honestly have no idea what photos I'll get back. That's the joy of having so many film cameras. It takes about two months to finish off any one roll of film, and I frequently forget which camera was used for which occasion. It's sort of a 'grab bag' of images.

Here's a sample taken when I first got the camera. A beautiful example of the stunning bokeh the Jupiter-8 produces. But what I want to know is, why are my best images always from 'test rolls' of film, like this?

Taken in the Glenbeulah cemetery not far from my house... the cemetery is nationally known for supposedly being haunted. I didn't see anything unusual, but I have to admit the place certainly did seem like the type that could be a hub of supernatural activity. I think I'll have to go back in the spring during the evening. But I'll need to bring a friend this time. The Buddy System, ya know.

Gated community

This reminds me of the old joke.. Why do they put fences around cemeteries? Because people are dying to get in.

And another.. What unlocks the cemetery gate? A skeleton key.

The winter of my discontent

Winter is the worst time for being a photographer.

Not because snow covers all the details that I'd normally want to capture. On the contrary, the smooth curves of snow blanketing ordinary objects can create a landscape to which only desert dunes can compare. The stark contrast nature throws at us begs the photographer to put in a fresh roll of Tri-X black and white film and find some untrampled snow. Or, for that matter, fresh tracks to emphasize our ability as humans to persevere in any weather.

It's also not because of the cold. Although that certainly doesn't help. Try holding a classic metal-body camera in 10 degree weather without gloves and you'll soon start wondering how long it takes to get frostbite. On the other hand (no pun intended), a pair of mittens that are nicely insulated will make it next to impossible to work the fingertip camera controls.

All that aside, the hardest part of winter photography is the all-too-short days. For many of us who are only amateur photographers, the better parts of our days are wasted trying to remain gainfully employed. In my case, I leave the house within a half hour of sunrise. The next 4 hours are spent in a windowless office, wondering if the sun is still obscured entirely by clouds, as has been the case for 24 of the past 30 days. Then I have an hour lunch spent running errands, scouting potential photo ops, and occasionally remembering to eat.

This is followed by another four windowless hours, often occupied by looking at other people's photos online for much of that time (don't tell my boss, please). At 5pm I am released, just in time to glimpse the sun as it disappears beyond the horizon.

I suppose I should look at the bright side. Things can always be worse. I could be in New Jersey right now.

The Lone Photographer

This commentary by a fellow photographer, Rich Silfver, reminded me of one of the difficulties of being a photography fanatic in a world of photo neophytes. He rightly points out that photography is generally a solitary hobby, and even when done in the company of others, unless the photographer's companions are also photo enthusiasts, it can be a frustrating endeavor... both for the photographer and his cohorts, who are likely to be bored after a short while.

You see, when a photographer goes out looking for photos, it's a very rare instance that opportunities leap out at him. The vast majority of the time, the photographer spends a great deal of time studying a place or situation, looking for the best way to portray the subject. Or as is often the case with street photography, the situation might be set up perfectly, but the scene isn't complete until the right person is added. So the dedicated photographer waits, camera in hand, aperture and focus preset, until that split second when something happens or someone enters the picture (literally) it all comes together. Often the wait is 15 minutes or longer.

I can fully understand how a non-photographer would not see the excitement involved. Much the same as I understand how certain people don't like baseball. To many, the slow pace of the sport overrides the suspense and strategy that is set up with every pitch and swing of the bat. Instead, most people I know prefer football with its 'wham bam, thank you maam' tempo. If they can't see it, it must not be there.

And that's why I've gotten into the habit of bringing two cameras along whenever I'm with someone and suspect a photo op might occur. I'll have my preferred gear, usually a Leica or Contax, but also a decent P&S setup that is easy for anyone to operate.

I'll hand the P&S camera to my friend and offer a challenge. "You've got 36 frames. Take photos of ANYTHING you want, and we'll compare our photos when we're done." This result is usually that my companion is suddenly engaged in the spirit of the exercise. A very friendly competition can be fun, as long as it is understood that it's just that... for fun. And everyone loves to take photos, especially when they don't have to drop off the film and pay for the results.

It's also important to use film. A digital camera will change the process by giving the person feedback as she progresses. And often the feedback won't be positive to that person. Shooting film leaves something to the imagination and forces the person to slow down, knowing that the shot will be permanent, rather than easily deleted from the memory card. With film, every shot counts.

Once the film has been used up (hopefully both yours and theirs), drop it off at a one-hour photo lab. Go to dinner and let the suspense build up. But pick up the film as soon as possible. That's the reward for your friend's patience and contribution to the event.

Having done this a few times, my friends are often more than happy to go on photo excursions with me. Now, the only part that sucks is that their photos are often better than mine.

Eye of the beholder

There's something electric about having unprocessed film in your hand. This past week was spent with two cameras in hand. Not at the same time, mind you. Although that almost would work. One camera was a tiny Minox 35 PL. A plastic-bodied folder no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. The other camera is a beautiful Contax T, which is technically a knock-off of the Minox, but a much more solid unit, with a lens that is clearly where the $600 was invested. I dropped a roll of Superia in the Contax and a roll of Kodak BW400CN into the Minox. Having fed both rolls through the light-tight boxes, I potentially have 72 Pulitzer Prize winning photos waiting to be viewed. On the other hand, I also potentially have 72 underexposed fuzzy blobs waiting to be thrown away. And that's where the excitement lies.

My camera and film is essentially the film equivalent of Schroedinger's cat. For those among us who aren't familiar with the philosophical gambit, Schroedinger argued that a cat placed in a sealed box containing a mechanism entirely too elaborate to explain here (partly because I don't understand it, and partly because I'm just too lazy), is fated to be killed by an acidic cloud if/when a specific random event occurs within the sealed chamber. The debate posited by Schroedinger is that the cat maintains a state of being both alive and dead while the box remains sealed and unobserved, but instantly assumes one of the two conditions the exact instant the chamber is opened. Thus, it is the observer who determines the final fate of the cat.

And such it is with my two sealed rolls of 35mm film. This afternoon, when I pick up the negatives from the cute girl working the Target store photo lab equipment, I'll determine the outcome of my photographic efforts. I hope karma doesn't run over my cat.