Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fade to Black

These remarkably lifelike silk roses sat on a table near the window in an abandoned house in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.  They were photographed through a window though it’s not evident in the image.  The window gave enough illumination to provide highlights up front but allowed the background to fall into shadow.  That mix of light and shadow gives the flowers a sense of depth and of volume.

Bethlehem, a picturesque but threadbare resort town on the western slope of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, is famously a summer vacation destination for Orthodox Jews from New York.  The heady stew of Hebrew signs, Stars of David and New England farmhouses is eclectic and tinged with humor.   Green Acres meets Borough Park.   Gefilte fish and cider.  Yamulkes and bibb overalls.  Make me stop! 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not so fast

A week ago spring flickered and I went for my first road bike ride of the season.  Temperatures approached 70 and all was right in the world.  Then Mother Nature had a change of heart and arctic cold blasted and blustery winds swept across the mesa.  Fickle witch.  It was 11 degrees when I picked up the Sunday Times this morning and I’ll be back on the damnable stationary bike watching old Tour de France videos by this afternoon.

On the plus side winter's resurgence sets the table for a long overdue addition to my Sketches of Winter series.  I’ve neglected the poor thing. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is it that obvious?

Last week I charted my journey into the digital age and wrote of my years with cumbersome large format cameras.  This nugget was taken forty two years ago in Minneapolis.  The camera was a wooden Kodak Model 2D 8"x10" View Camera made by the Folmer Graflex Company of Rochester, NY around 1941.  It was and still is a thing of beauty, an artifact unto itself.  For years it stood near a window in our dining room in Massachusetts, an angular sculpture of cherry and brass, an icon of the midcentury photographic process.  Today it’s folded into its weathered leatherette case in the garage.  It’s one of the last vestiges of hours beneath a black hood composing upside down images in ground glass.  I doubt that I’ll ever part with it.

I bought the camera, three vintage lenses, a Simmon Omega D2V enlarger and a complete darkroom set-up for $250 in 1971.  Shortly thereafter the photograph above emerged from the Dektol, Fixer and Hypo Clearing Agent.  The lenses reside on a shelf in our loggia here in Taos.   Old lenses are among the perfect forms along with guitars and the female turn of hip.  Like the camera, lenses are elegant reminders of the big camera era and of storied practitioners lugging behemoth rigs into places like Yosemite, Point Lobos and Oceano. 

Looking back, my large format images were made in the style of those masters, perhaps too much so. They were too studied and too obvious in their reverence for their forebears.  Still those were exercises that helped develop a skill set; a foundation in the basics of composition, exposure, depth of field and the darkroom alchemy that applies to the digital darkroom just as it did in the wet one for nearly forty years. 
Images of the 2D and assorted lenses may follow.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Never Look Back

My journey to the dark side began with two photographs taken more than ten years ago.  One, Agave, was taken at San Marino California’s Huntington Garden with a five megapixel Nikon Coolpix 5000 camera and was so startling in its sharpness and tonal range that I began to see my future in photography.  Until that moment I had been a dyed in the wool large format guy but was being seduced by a sweet little image from a pocket camera. 

Still, that fall I bought a spanking new Cambo 4x5 from Calumet Photo in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I put my beautiful Schneider Symmar 180mm f5.6 on that puppy and spent early winter learning my new gear.  Then in March, if memory serves, Canon introduced its 1DS with whopping 10.1 megapixels of resolution.  As the first truly high resolution digital camera the 1Ds blazed the trail into the megapixel frontier.  The unprecedented resolution was not the only thing outsized about the 1DS.  It listed for , gasp, $7,999 which was some pretty serious cake for 2003.  But then I did have a trip to Provence scheduled and a digital SLR kit would be smaller and lighter and I did already have a couple of Canon lenses I could use.  And I did buy the thing for $7,700 didn’t I? 

Right after getting the camera I took some shots of fresh picked squash at a farm stand in East Conway, New Hampshire.  It had just stopped raining and was still overcast so the light was beautifully diffuse.  Later that evening when I processed the images I was floored by the acuity and the silvery midtones that I saw.  The photographs looked like they were made with a 4x5 and there was no grain whatsoever.  In that moment I knew I was destined for a digital path, a path that led me back into photography with a vengeance. 

I never shot with a large format camera again and sold my whole big camera shebang to Oakland High School in California for a few hundred bucks.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

There's close and there's really close

Railyards are ripe with subjects that can be interpreted abstractly.  Chunky mechanicals cry out for such treatment in my opinion.  That makes the Chama and Antonito yards of the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad perfect places to take closer look.  That’s closer as in look down closer, get in tight closer and limit what you see to what’s right there in your viewfinder closer.  This is not the time for the grand vista.  This is a killer drill for learning to see and for designing arresting abstracts. Hey, I’m as fond of a locomotive or caboose as the next man but trucks really get me going. 

What is a truck you ask?  A truck is a railroad wheel assembly that has two or more axles.  They're much like the wheels on your favorite skateboard which are also called trucks.  Get that thing out of the closet and take a look.  Ties, you know what they are. But what are the other things shown below?