Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Diane Arbus and a Civil War Re-Enactment

I ended up at a Civil War re-enactment last Sunday. I was never big on the idea Civil War re-enactments, or period re-enactments for that matter, but I made a promise to myself that I would try to be open-minded, especially when it comes to photography. I'm trying to maintain the idea that anywhere can be a photo-op, and before I react with a "not interested," when propositions, invitations, suggestions arise, I immediately try to look at not only the photographic possibility, but the learning potential as well.

I think it’s important to let your photography be a vehicle for learning, for stretching your range of experience. What is interesting is that if you venture out with an open-mind, into the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, you will inevitably come away with having learned something, with a new appreciation, or with a different perspective.

This attitude can guide us toward some unforgettable experiences and (hopefully) some wonderful photographs. It worked for Diane Arbus. My favorite Diane Arbus quote is from the first line of her famous Aperture monograph:

"My favorite thing is to go where I've never been."

I've always loved how this quote opens her book, a book of work that is a journey, for both the viewer and the photographer, away from the normal, and out to the fringes. It’s a great attitude for a photographer to have, and one that even the lowest rank of us amateurs can adopt and put to use.

I agreed to go to this re-enactment, primarily because it was a Sunday family trip, and also because the real purpose of the family trip was to ride a train through an old growth redwood forest. The re-enactment was just an OBTW happening ocurring on the grounds of this place called Roaring Camp Railroads. I figured I could make a challenge out of it, by doing something photographically different, but I ended up being surprised.

While the train ride was very nice, and a little less than I expected, I have to say that I was very impressed by the re-enactment, particularly the battle scenes (and the canons!). The level of detail and authenticity displayed by the participants also impressed me. They played the part very well, with a consistency that surprised me. For instance this fellow...

...was instructing my daughter on how a man and a woman, back in the 1800's, would hold hands while in public. It was all about showing respect for the woman, and taking care of reputations and appearances. Coincidentally, we later came across this couple:

Now, I swore to myself I wouldn't take pictures like this, but I had to take this one, because a photographer (not me!) was badgering this couple. This photographer had a big ol' DSLR (of course) and was trying to get this fellow to put his arm around the girl and hold her closer to him, but this guy wouldn't do it. He kept saying that his “…father would get mad at him." The photographer wasn't buying it and was getting pushy, but I knew why this guy would not put his arm around the woman. He was playing the part, and there was no way someone was going to catch a picture of him not playing the part. He never did it, and the photographer waved them off and walked away. That level of commitment and dedication to authenticity impressed me. It was something that I found from all of the participants, who actually camped in the park in these little white pup tents. This was serious business to everyone, and that commitment deserved some degree of respect.

All in all it was fun, and I would encourage all of you out there to try to see, not just the photographic potential of a place, or a happening, but also the educational potential and enlightenment (however small) that your photographic pursuits can bring you.

Here are a couple of shots that I'm happy with.

I took two cameras with me. This one, the Konica Hexar AF, had color film (Fuji Superia 200). I’ve several rolls of black and white that once I develop, I’ll post if they’re interesting.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

90mm Comparison

The 90mm lens comparison is in. Pictured above is the sheet depicting the lenses stopped down one from wide (f4). For the other two sheets and more details (and responses) click Here to go to the rangefinderforum thread.

The lenses pictured above (click to see image larger), starting from the top left and going clockwise, are Leica 90/2, M-Hexanon 90/2.8, Minolta Rokkor 90/4, Minolta Rokkor 90/4 (again, but at f5.6—one stop down from wide) and the Cosina Voigtlander 90/3.5. The film is Tri-X developed in D76 1:1.

Monday, May 22, 2006


I've been shooting a lot with the 90mm focal length. The 90 isn't the most common/practical length, but I've found that I'm using it more and more. I've primarily been using my 90/2 indoors at my kids' karate classes, as well as to shoot portraits.

This image was shot using a Minolta Rokkor 90/4 and Tri-X film. I catergorize this shot as a portrait.

I shot a 90mm test using my three 90's, and as soon as I'm done processing the film, I'll post it up either here or on If all goes well, I'll post sometime this week.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Day the Light Got in the House

This strange afternoon light made its way onto the wall, reflected off the countertop; it invaded through the kitchen window, and like a bird in a house, maniacal, confused, it found a safe perch, and rested, and waited.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


I'm appearing a bit like a voyeur here, but actually this was the first shot after a roll change. I looked up after changing the roll, put the camera to my eye, focused and clicked off several exposures. These California girls heading out to the mid-morning surf happened across the frame. This was the first clean exposure. You're looking at Tri-X shot through a CV 35/1.7

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Giant Camera

On the western most edge of the city and county of San Francisco sits the Giant Camera.

The Giant Camera is actually a camera obscura, a walk-in pinhole camera and minor tourist attraction. Visitors to the Cliff House will find the Giant Camera ensconced on the lower back deck, close to another minor tourist attraction, Seal Rock. The Giant Camera doesn't fit the decor of the rather modern looking Cliff House retaurant. The camera's design is really almost tacky, but it is loved by San Franciscans.

The experience of being inside the Giant Camera is magical. Several visitors at a time enter the camera through the front doors and find a position around a central viewing area. Once inside a guide closes the doors, and the visitors suddenly find themselves in a very dark, very quiet space. They wait in the for their eyes to adjust to the dark with nothing but the sound of the Pacific and their whispers and giggles.

Allowing for the adjustment, the guide then opens the aperture, which is located on the pyramid-shaped structure on top of the camera, and an image of the Pacific Ocean magically appears on a horizontal surface in the middle of the room. The guide can rotate the aperture to provide different views of the ocean, and even Seal Rock.

Most tourists and visitors seem underwhelmed by the experience. Afterall, there's a much better and realistic view just outside the door, but for anyone who has ever been remotely serious about photography the Giant Camera is wonderful, pure magic.

Friday, May 05, 2006


This is a place called


Fuji Superia 400

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mood Light

Not a very cheery image; I know. The fog will do that. This type of light presents a challenge. It seems to have a built-in mood and seriousness to it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's Your Summer Photo Project?

What's your summer photo project? I was asked this the other day, and even though I had a well thought out answer, I've always considered everything I shoot as a a shade of the one major project that we create over and over. Filmmakers make the same film, musicians write the same songs, painters paint the same painting, photographers make the same photograph. However, when we first choose a meaningful project it is a personal show of confidence, a sign that we are beginning to look at our work seriously, and (God forbid) take ourselves seriously.

I think projects are a good thing, especially when they are created in response to a concept, or an ideology. I love how Walker Evans' conceived his subway project, the work which eventually became the book, Many Are Called. The project idea arose from a strong ideological reaction to classic studio portraiture. Evans' felt compelled to create the antithesis of the studio protrait, and set about on his masterpiece. IMO, the result was very successful, a beautiful and fascinating body of work. To me this is the absolute best approach for a project. The desire to shoot cohesively should be driven by a greater need.

The wrong approach is one wherein the photographer seeks to handicap himself as a means of improving his "skill." Such projects usually entail the photographic equivalent to walking around for three days with your right leg tied back, in the hopes of improving the strength of your left leg. For instance, shooting strictly with a particular focal length, shooting only images within a one block radius of your front door, shooting only things that are the color red, are all handicap-based projects, especially when set about so simply.

For me, a self-imposed project should be an opportunity for discovery, or enlightenment, and it should be something that needs be written down. It doesn't need to be thematically grand, or ideologically driven. It can be driven by emotions and desire, but it should be purposeful and multilayered. For instance, it's one thing to want to photograph the simple beauty and the majesty of an old-growth redwood forest, but to set out to want to explore and convey, along with that beauty, the mysterious and mystical, or a sense of age and time, is taking the project to another level, a level that will challenge the photographer. By adding this additional layer the photographer adds a degree of measurability to the project that will help to determine whether the photographer was successful, or not.

The success of the project is ultimately determined by the viewer, so while a project can be a personal endeavor (and there's nothing wrong with shooting strictly for oneself), the feedback is invaluable, and any serious project should take into account the viewer, or the audience.

I hope to announce the completion of my summer project(s) here, and if anyone else is planning a summer project, and is posting online, and would like someone to view and provide feedback, I'll gladly help out in anyway I can.