Sunday, November 27, 2005


Thanksgiving. American style. In the Midwest.

We did it again. Went to the Midwest to spend a couple of days surrounding Murkin Thanksgiving with family. Now, I love my parents. And I love my siblings and their children. But love doesn't mean complete comfort level, of course. For a person who grew up in the "heartland" of the Excited States but who is now extremely uncomfortable with the values and lifestyle thereof, I sometimes question why I return and subject myself to discomfort.

The easy answer, of course, is that my parents aren't getting any younger. . . not that I am, either, of course. And while it means a lot to them for us to visit from time to time (especially since long travel isn't something they do as often as they used to,) seeing them and spending some time before they move on is important to me.

So what about the discomfort? Where does it come from? First, the what.

Attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of some of my family members. Some things really cause me pain. Illiberal, judgmental attitudes ... the negative point-of-view that is either explicit or lurking, waiting in the wings. Writing people totally off because they hold views or have lifestyles that are very different.

But why should this bother me so much? In point of fact, I've been somewhat depressed as a result since returning. I even had to get out of the house today to get some solitude. It had nothing to do with my wife, I just needed some solitude.

The why, I think, has to do with attachment. In Buddhist belief and understanding, attachment is at the root of suffering. Or at least, that's my understanding. I have only the most rudimentary understanding of Buddhism, but it is an understanding I will be seeking to expand.

Basically, it seems that being attached to a thing or being, in either a positive or negative way, is what can cause suffering. It is being invested in that object or being such that its nature or actions have a power over one, thus having a type of control.

As a final note, my spiritual views are informed by what I have called "Native American spirituality". I'm not sure that's an accurate or even appropriate term. I see great synergy between that perspective and Buddhism. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Recent Photos

In my first entry, I noted that I had started back on the road to photo recovery. Recently I have used my two Olympus 35SP cameras to shoot Kodachrome 64 and some Fuji Reala 100. The former is, of course, a transparency or slide film, aka a "chrome". The latter is a fairly low speed (by current standards) colour print film.

The 35SP is a vintage 1969-73 camera. As a rangefinder (RF), you do not view through the lens, but rather through a viewfinder window on the back of the camera's top plate. Focusing is manual, via aligning two images together in a central RF "patch". In other words, doing this finds the range, or distance of your focus point. This is a time-honoured and very accurate way of focusing, provided the RF mechanism is aligned properly. (I had both my SPs undergo a CLA [Clean Lubricate Adjust], so they are both accurate, with spot-on meters and shutters.) This method is especially useful in low light. And because there is no mirror as is necessary with an SLR, there is less noise and vibration when an exposure is made. So RFs (e.g. Leica, Contax, the new Zeiss-Ikon [drool!] and a host of others) are great for street shooting, discrete situations, etc.

The 35SP has a fixed lens, i.e. it is not interchangeable, as with a Leica, Contax, or ZI. The lens is a really sharp 42mm f1.7 G. Zuiko. (The G signifies that it has 7 glass elements, G being the 7th letter of the English alphabet.) 42mm is about the perfect focal length in 35mm photography to approximate the human field of view without peripheral vision. For much of my work in the past I have preferred a 35mm focal length; the slightly wider perspective provides some extra context, and is similar to what you perceive with that peripheral vision that the 42 (or up to 50mm) does not.

But in the last year or two I've considered that the "normal" (42-50mm) focal length has its merits. The perspective is enough different to force you to see differently when composing. And the slightly longer focal length, combined with the fact that these normal or "standard" lenses usually come with a wider aperture that limits depth of field, makes for some versatility when you need to isolate the subject by ensuring that the background is pleasantly out of focus.

In addition, I consider it a really important practice to really master a piece of equipment. So I make a point of often going out with a camera and only one lens. I.e., if I go out with an SLR, I can take along any number of different lenses. Choice is good, but the discipline of not having the choice of "which lens do I use?" has its own merits. It forces you to truly see, not just use gear.

Years ago I pretty much mastered the 35mm lens and the 100mm lens. Too bad I didn't master the 50mm (or nearly 50mm), since those are often both technically wonderful and cheap. (35mm camera manufacturers have made more 50s than any other focal length. They got good at the optical formulae, and they got good a production efficiency. Olympus produced at least five differnet 50mm/f1.8 lenses for the OM series. Then there were several versions of the 50/f1.4, the 55/f1.2, the 50/f1.2, the 50/f2 macro, and the 50/f3.5 macro. All were at least very good lenses. Even the early 50mm/f1.8 F.Zuiko, the least well regarded, had its charms. Wide open it wasn't great, but with its single coating (versus multi-coating), it had a glow and colour signature that was unique in the family. Use it with black and white film at mid-apertures, and you get a classical look.

So, I'm back to concentrating on the standard focal length, and the 42mm on the SP is a compromise between the 50 and 35. Sure, I'll use a different lens when the situation demands it, such as a super-wide for a large group shot, a 100mm for a tighter portrait and/or better background separation. But I'm going to wear the standard lens around my neck for awhile and let it teach me.

That said, I've posted a couple of recent shots above, made with the Olympus 35SP (body #1), shot on Fuji Reala 100 print film. The lab scanned the shots to high resolution TIFF files, and I then downsized and supplied minimal sharpening in Photoshop. My PS skills aren't well-developed, but I think they look OK. Both were taken at Durand Eastman Park in Irondequoit, NY, 05 Nov 2005.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why in the world am I doing this?

Actually, I'm not entirely sure. And no, I'm not going to tell you exactly who I am, where I live, etc. Not that I am hiding anything, but it's just more fun this way. Besides, those who know me will figure out those bits right away; I guarantee there will be lots of hints from the get-go.

The executive summary: I need to remake my life, both physically and mentally because the way I am living is preventing me from doing a lot of the things I love.

In the past I have worked at several jobs/professions. One of those was as a professional photographer. I didn't do weddings or portraits. Weddings are too high pressure, and the portrait market was too cliché and boring. I did a lot of documentation and illustration work. Most of my income came from legal work, documenting personal injury cases. There was never any greusome work. Mostly I photographed traffic accident scenes well after the accident. Lines of sight, highway signage, etc.; these were things that would be needed as exhibits in a trial. Often I had to testify in court as to the veracity of the photos, how, when and where they were made, etc.

The pay was good, and it allowed me to do other work that didn't pay well or not at all, such as personal work. I was good at what I did, but not much of a self-promoter or business person, so I wasn't really making a living. I was stressed out and decided to quit photography as a business before I started hating the art of making pictures.

It was a good decision. My interest in photography has lain dormant for many years, but it has survied thanks to that decision. Some of the equipment that remains (I sold a lot of my gear) developed problems like fungus on lens elements, etc. So now that I have a desire to make pictures, to express myself creatively, I'm having to rebuild some of my inventory. That's not difficult thanks to a certain auction site on the internet. It just takes a bit of cash and some patience. (Actually, it is a bit more complicated since I discovered an email list of people who are owners of the particular brand of 35mm equipment I use. In addition to being a bunch of very good photographers, they are even better at "enabling" the addiction to the equipment, which is of extremely high quality. I really DO need all three speeds of the 28mm wideangle. But I can quit, anytime, I swear...)

A bit more difficult is the issue of the darkroom. My current digs don't really have a space that can easily be used for a darkroom. I have not warmed to digital workflow. I am not against it, but my primary interest in black & white, and the workflow for digital B&W just isn't as good as colour. But more importantly, I don't want to make the investment in learning digital printing techniques that meet my standards. I can be far more productive using the knowledge and skill I took so long to learn. New technique can come later.

What does this all have to do with the "executive summary"? Well, I'm out of shape. Like 75% or so of all western adults, you say.... so what? Well, I have a disadvantage to start with. Due to a disease I contracted in infancy, I pretty much lost the use of my left leg. As I grew up, my weight outgrew its ability to bear weight, so I had to start using a crutch. So my mobility is limited, but I've always been able to adapt to that. But the other consequence of effectively having only one leg is that extra weight is amplified. I don't know the amplification factor for physical effort, but there is an emotional dimension too. Fatigue can open the door to depression, even mild in nature. For an emotional eater (I am), that can set up a vicious circle. Add a heart attack (full recovery) that has diminished my ability to pump corpuscles, and you get the picture. Oh, and I am a bit of a foodie; I love to cook and have meals with really good wine. Our current kitchen (yes, I am married) is not an inviting workspace for me, so I don't cook as much as I used to. Which sets up the "need" to make food that is quick and easy to prepare. Not a recipe for weight control.

So, my mission is to get to where I need to be. How much overweight am I? I don't know exactly. I have a decent idea how much I weigh (I'll get on the scale in the next day or so and peg a starting point), and I can look up my ideal weight/BMI in some sort of chart. But I instinctively know that I need to target 11-13 kg. If I dropped 9 kg I know I'd feel very good. But I want to be in great shape, not just good enough. I want to be in the top 5% for my age, considering the limitations of my disability. I'd like to prove that by paddling my canoe (open, not kayak) across one of the great lakes that is just outside my door.

What I would like from anyone who might read my blog is a bit of support, and maybe some helpful hints on nutrition and conditioning. And this is a NO ATKINS ZONE, so if you want to promote that low-carb, high protein/fat approach, don't waste our time. One heart attack is enough, thank you very much.

Update: I began this post way back in February 2005, and it's now mid-November. Since that time, I've made good progress in getting my photographic life in shape. "New" old equipment, some of it quite sexy just to hold, a stash of film, and shooting semi-regularly and getting my "eye" back. Some of the gear has been CLA'd (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust) and even recovered with fresh, luxurious leather. Some is just as is but in perfectly useable condition (for example, a 28mm/f2.8 lens for $11 that works very well) some still needs TLC, such as a German rangefinder from 1954 that has a very dirty viewfinder but otherwise in wonderful condition. German glass is special!

Not so much progress on the weight, but I've started! I wasn't quite as bad as I thought, and I've dropped about 1.5 kg what I'd like to lose. The key is, I know I can do it, and I have started. The next part will be to start "working out" and getting better exercise. Part of that requires clearing out the big room in the basement so I can do some weight work. I've started, but ugh, there's a lot left.