Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Or: How I Unwittingly Joined a Trend

My friend DOF has been waiting for this post, since he wants to do a send-up on Moleskine notebooks. Uh, thanks, I think. Actually, DOF had been kind enough, when I had emailed him about my first Moleskine acquisition, to point me to a few websites, including the Moleskinerie blog, which focuses on Moleskine "hacks". Even if I hadn't already become fond of my small reporter Moleskine, the very thought of the techno term "hack" in the context of such a retro, even anti-techy object such as the Moleskine made me smile, and cemented my affection.

As I visited the links that DOF had sent, and found more, I discovered that use of Moleskines was something of a phenomenon, with lots of web and blog attention. Like any trend that is noted on the web, there will be satire, send-ups and downright derision. I'm not a trendy person by nature, but if I am to be lumped into this group, so be it; I'll even enjoy the more humourous characterizations.

As I began to use the Moleskine, I found it a useful tool for organizing myself. A typical organizer such as Day Runner, TimeText (are they still around?), Day Timer and others has a specific structure that may or may not represent my needs, my way of thinking and working. Most of them tend to be bulky because the publisher tries to cram in every type organizing funciton they can.

Add to that they are usually ugly, made of cheap materials that are not a pleasure to use. While the market may be somewhat price competitive, the cheapness of the cover, closures and especially paper make them no bargain in my book.

So the most appealing aspect of a Moleskine is that it is available in a variety of sizes, formats, types of paper, and is a complete blank page (pun intended) unless you really want one of the purpose-made books such as a calendar or address book. It yours to design and build as you see fit.

And the materials are first rate. Oh, you can find a journal with a nicer cover or binding, maybe more luxurious paper, etc., although the paper used in a Moleskine is quite nice and a pleasure to the touch. But for the modest price (yes, you can buy cheaper blank books, but they are ... cheap), the combination of utility and tactility is just right for me.

My first Moleskine was the small-size reporter model; it has blank pages and the binding is at the top, so it flips open from the top. In fact, though, I didn't use it much as I contemplated just how I wanted to organize it.

Actually, the delay worked out well. One weekend in mid-July I was camping with my wife and two other families and I absent-mindedly left open the front windows and sunroof of my car. Yup, it poured that night. And poured. And then it rained some more. We were safe and dry in our tent, and it was actually a pleasant storm to experience. Only the next morning did I discover the cost of my failure to close up the vehicle. Everything dried out pretty well, but the Moleskine was a loss. It was swollen more than twice its size, and it was evident it would never recover enough to be used.

The only valuable content was the signatures of some Toronto area Rangefinderforum.com members. We had met in late June in Port Credit, and I had everyone sign. So I've saved that page and the page with the "RFF made me do it!" entry. RFF, and the Toronto members in particular, have meant a lot to me.

Once I replaced the reporter Moleskine, I read through the hacks on the web, and fairly quickly gained an idea of how I would modify my Moleskine to suit my own life. I ended up using Post-It tabs and flags to help divide it into sections. Then it was simply a matter of deciding what subjects or categories were both important and persistent. Once I determined those, the rest was easy.

Now it is a daily companion. Some days I use it a lot, others not at all. But it doesn't require batteries or start-up time. Paper is nicer to use than plastic and a glowing screen. And I seem to like using a pencil or gel pen better than a stylus. It is my Personal Analog Assistant.

Note: The lead photo was made using a Konica C35 with Auto-up (aka, closeup) adapter, on Eckerd (aka Fuji) 200 film, procssed and scanned by "my current" mini-lab to high-res TIFF. I have found drugstore mini-labs to give variable results with respect to processing and scanning. So I am now spending a bit more (actually, about 50% more) to get consistent quality from a stand-alone, independent lab. Once I get a scanner of my own, I'll be able to do my own scans and have the lab do develop-only.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It was listed as a "lecture"

Images so powerful and compelling that the added intensity of sounds, poetry and music drives me to silence.

I wrote those notes after the first half of a multi-media presentation by Larry Towell, a Magnum photographer, and Mike Stevens. As part of the "Wish You Were Here" lecture series at George Eastman House, the format was certainly not lecture.

The first half presented images of The Mennonites, followed by photos of "the disappeareds" in Guatamala, then Palestine. All were accompanied by poetry and verse, bones and other percussion instruments all by Towell, and Stevens on harmonica and bell.

My gut was pulled out of me. The Mennonite photos were touching and moving, but the Guatemala photos were beyond moving. Near despair combined with rage are the only words that I can muster, and they are not adequate.

Thankfully, the second half was far different. Titled "The World from My Front Porch", the series of photos and songs composed by Towell document family life in and around his farm. Towell plays guitar and has a good voice, but as his accompanist apparently had remarked, only knows one key. And his melodies are all roughly similar, though pleasant. The songs are, to me, distinctly Canadian, being rooted in the land and with a rural flavour that is reminiscent of other Canadian songwriters of the folk genre.

My emotions were twisted and wrenched again, however. It all made me incredibly homesick, and my eyes welled up. I thanked him afteward for "making me cry", and we had a short chat about it.

Right now I am drained and affected. As one of his poems elucidated, Guatemalans died for cheap cotton dresses in North American stores.