am I seeing things, or is that just an inversion?

There’s this thing that happens on Lake Michigan, and the other Great Lakes, and probably other large bodies of water, too. When conditions are just right–and here, that’s when the air starts to warm up but the lake water is still cold, or late spring–there is a confluence of temperature and bending light rays that lets you see things you aren’t ordinarily able to see, namely buildings and light that are far beyond the reach of normal vision and the curve of the earth. It’s called a temperature inversion, and like rainbows and fog-bows and northern lights and water spouts and other magical things, when you get to see one you feel a little changed.

I won’t get science-y about it because I don’t want to write about things I don’t understand all that well, but the first time I got to see this phenomena was a Memorial Day weekend about five or six years ago. There was a small group of us on a neighbor’s deck, and I kept wondering if I was seeing some abnormally tall freighter out on the horizon. Only it wasn’t moving, and soon it was joined by other abnormally tall freighters that weren’t moving, and then as the sky darkened there were white and red lights around these structures, some blinking and some steady, and we realized we were seeing the buildings from the city across the lake… which was 80 miles across the lake. One of my neighbors fortunately knew that we were seeing was a temperature inversion so we weren’t in the dark about it for very long.

Anyway, last evening I just had a feeling it might happen. There is a chunk of land south of our cottage that juts out into the lake, and a few hours before sunset it looked weird. Weird as in higher than it normally is, and if you watched this chunk of land as you walked down the bluff to the water line, it changed. It looked like a mirage was happening. I figured the conditions might just be right for an inversion.

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I don’t have a high-end lens for capturing things far away, so these will have to do. The first image is from the top of the bluff, and the second is how things looked just walking down the stairs to lower on the bluff. It went from looking like a cliff to looking like a big alligator jutting out into the lake. On a normal day, this bit of land looks more like the top half of the second image (the alligator’s top jaw and up). A little elevation, yes, but no cliffs.

I wish I had pictures of last night’s inversion, but I don’t think I could have done it justice. So, maybe just imagine it: a crisp, dark night full of stars; a chorus of Spring Peepers; a fairly quiet Lake Michigan; a quarter moon leaving a dazzle on the lake; bright lights, white and red, some blinking rhythmically (think traffic lights), in city clusters, for miles and miles across the horizon.

 

in need of inspiration

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Joe Louis fist statue, Detroit, Bronica SQ-A with Fuji Acros 100

I love this statue that sits in the boulevard at Woodward and Jefferson in Detroit’s financial district, across from Hart Plaza. It’s the boxer Joe Louis’s fist. Pow, you’re in Detroit. To me it denotes strength, grit, power.

I’m a little unmoored this month. My daughter’s graduation and move to Texas for work. A lack of focus and direction on my part. Work is busy; that’s good. But I feel unsettled and bit lost, and rather suddenly not young anymore. Sort of waiting for Joe Louis and his giant, bronze fist to punch me in the gut. Pow, ideas and focus, a project, artistic inspiration.

I took some pictures in Austin last week, but haven’t dropped the film off yet. Maybe the greenery and blooms and Lake Michigan’s freshly-scrubbed shoreline will set me straight this weekend, or some other light bulb will go off in my floaty head.

still waiting for spring

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My best friend and I spent a few days getting the cottage ready for the summer season, which presumably is coming even though the weather is doing its very best not to comply. We drove across state in rain the whole way with the threat of snow, sleet and ice for the following day. We tempted fate by not bringing snow boots, because, you know, the forecast is sometimes wrong and it was mid-April, for heaven’s sake.

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We ended up getting snowed/iced in. Well. I’d like to say that’ll teach us but I’m not prone to learning my lesson. We managed, it was adventurous, and we had fun. Isn’t that all that matters?

In a break from the precipitation, I did get a brief walk on the beach with the Bronica SQ-A loaded with Kodak Porta ISO 160, a new film for me. The colors that day were muted but lovely; golden grasses and sand, teal water, a dark freighter, white snow; the sun poked through the clouds just a few times, making the water sparkle. I think this film captured the colors and the mood accurately.

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The beach really took a pounding this winter, leaving even more staircases stranded or worse, broken and many miles away from where they once lived. A huge tree trunk that I’ve been watching get sand-covered and uncovered for years, and that was a quarter mile north of my community, is now lodged on my neighbor’s beach (I think it’s beautiful). We will have to find creative ways (rappelling? installing a lift?) to get from the bluff to the water line this year.

I can only hope the water levels start to recede so the beach begins to rebuild. It’s all cyclical, we know this. But I so miss walks on a big beach.

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Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

Growing up, my parents never took us to Belle Isle, an island park in the middle of the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. They were huge nature lovers, too, but Belle Isle, let alone downtown Detroit, just wasn’t in their rotation. So I grew up never experiencing the delights there. Then again, I’m not quite sure how delightful Belle Isle was in the late 1960s and 1970s. I know the Detroit riots in 1967 shook my dad up. He was a middle school teacher at the time, a new father, young and politically aware, a bit of an outsider himself as a bearded, dark, Italian man in a very golden suburb.

We didn’t go there as teenagers in the 80s, either. There was Greektown and Hart Plaza and Mexican Village, all places to find some trouble and have some fun. And then I left town for a decade and by the time I came back, Belle Isle was neglected and in disrepair. But some years ago the state took it over and it just keeps getting better.

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conservatory dome

One of my favorite places on Belle Isle is the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. It’s muggy and green and earthy-smelling and feels like a sauna and makes your glasses and camera lenses steam up.

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Fernery entrance

I was there in early March and used the Bronica SQ-A with Fuji Velvia 50 ISO, which is slide film, and which I don’t totally know how to work with. I brightened up a few images in Lightroom but mostly these are as The Darkroom developed and scanned them. Slide film is less forgiving and I think I have to figure out how to meter it differently. I also think the roll turned out much more blue than color negative films I’ve used. Anyway. All experimentation, but I’m not unhappy with these results.

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greenhouse, shadows
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greenhouse and cracked pane
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rake and blue panel
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greenery in a greenhouse

Also, I really have no idea what I’m doing with Flickr. I set up an account and added some albums so that I could link to photos there rather than fill up space here. I’ve made the albums from the last two posts public. But, I’m not sure I want to have public Flickr albums. I’m just not sure how I feel about Flickr in general. Pros, cons, anyone?

Saint Joseph

I spent a few days in a little town on the west side of Michigan called Saint Joseph. I was there a week ago, and I can’t go there without spending some time on the beach.

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I like my beaches empty and windblown, moody, wild.

And I still can’t get enough of my Bronica SQ-A and the 6×6 medium format. The camera isn’t perfect; I’m getting some lines on my negatives that I can’t quite sort out how to get rid of. But, I’ve never been much for perfection anyway.

I used Kodak Ektar 100 ISO for these images. And I completely froze, although you’d never guess just how cold and windy it was from these photos.

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surfer
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driftwood
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late afternoon shadows on the fishing pier
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blue, reflections
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windsicles
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beached
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101

possibilities, and light

So many things I’m looking forward to. One is the time change this weekend. More light! Longer days! I’m kind of acquiescing to the fact that I’m not a morning person, so I’ll relish in the addition of late afternoon light. I’m spending a few days with my dad next week, and I’m going to attend a writing workshop at the end of this month. A graduation next month, and then I will help my daughter move nearly 1,400 miles away. Road trip! New scenery!

After what seems like (aside from work travel) a few months of humdrum and not much else, I’m starting to get excited about what’s coming. I’m thinking about summer, and travel, and projects, and new adventures. Here’s to the coming light.

Two weekends ago I joined a group of photographers to shoot a former grand theater-turned-parking garage. Here in Detroit, we are in the midst of a renaissance. We are repurposing, rebuilding, revamping, recreating. Like crazy. But this place doesn’t fit in, at least to me. A nondescript square of a building from the outside, bits of grandeur left inside, gutted and exposed.

view from balcony toward what would have been the stage

I’ve seen some interesting photos from this place, but it was different than I expected. Much darker, less visible color. I wanted to capture it on film so I brought the Bronica SQ-A and used Kodak Ektar 100 color film. It was challenging, but a learning experience.

ceiling detail
ceiling at front of stage
ceiling over lobby
former lobby ceiling and arches
reflection
hallway and worklights
light and shadows in the mirror room

midwinter Midwestern diversion

Pacific Ocean, Minolta X-700, Kodak ColorPlus

Two weeks ago I stepped into the Pacific Ocean. I wasn’t prepared for a dip, but I might have done it. I mean, unless a beach is snow-covered and there are ice floats in the water, a Midwesterner worth her salt is at least going in up to her ankles. Maybe even knees, if she’s wearing the right clothes and isn’t going out to dinner with co-workers right after.

Pacific Ocean, Minolta X-700, Kodak ColorPlus

 

evolution, changes

And here things go again, all changing and rearranging.

I only just got used to the idea of my oldest graduating college and then the idea of her interviewing kind of snuck up (I know, it’s sneaked, but I like snuck better even if it’s wrong) on me and then just really out of nowhere it appears that just weeks after she graduates she’s moving too many states away from me. She’s leaving her mama.

How does that happen? (I’m only partially asking rhetorically. I’m dumbfounded.)

I’m excited–so excited!!!–for her. I’m obscenely proud. I will be thrilled to visit her when she invites me. But selfishly I want her right here, a couple of towns away from me, where I can drive to her when I need to lay eyes on her. She is capable, I know this. But I remember the first time I sent her to camp for two weeks and it felt like forever and I worried endlessly (and needlessly) and walked around feeling like a part of me was absent, like I’d left a piece of my body somewhere I couldn’t see. Out in the rain. And the wind. Dangling from a cliff.

I felt like that again when she moved off to college. You settle into these things and they begin to become okay, that odd feeling that a part of you is not attached ever so slightly starts to fade. You adjust. I know I will adjust, but oh how this part is bittersweet.

So, there is that. An end, a beginning, new adventures. These are good things.

stone rail, foot bridge in fog in distance
foot bridge railing

I sent four rolls of film to the lab and hoped I’d get them back before I went to California for work last week. One was a roll of 35mm Lomography Earl Gray film shot on the Minolta SRT 102, and the other three were 120mm film–Kodak Tri-X, a Kodak T-Max and Fuji Acros–all shot on the Bronica SQ-A (the square shots are the Bronica).

foot bridge detail

These first images are from a neighborhood park on a day that remained foggy all day.

I don’t know about you, but I kind of love fog. It’s mysterious, you know?

ice floats on river
ducks and ice

The rest are some of the images from that snowy hike with my son a few weeks ago.

My son.

I don’t want to put pressure on the kid, but with my daughter leaving I’m kind of hoping he sticks around a little longer.

the one I hope will stick around a bit

I know, I know. It’s what they’re supposed to do. I’ll roll with it.

frozen brook
branches and tree
snow on fungus on tree
the kid and the 8 x 10
8 x 10 and light leak

So, an oddity… I never have light leaks in the Minolta SRT 102, but in shooting the 8 x 10 in the snow I have this lovely light leak shooting through. Isn’t that interesting?

tiny nest
shelf, fungus
tree fort
leaf curls, close-up filter
milkweed pods with close-up filter
winter dried leaves

 

patience

If you shoot film, you know about patience. Even if you develop your own film, there’s the waiting. I think even if I was set up to develop my own film right now I’d still probably not have the time to run straight to my darkroom and develop the rolls I’d just shot (but wouldn’t that be lovely?). Even with digital you don’t always have the time to come home after a shoot, upload, sift through for the best shots, process those, etc.

There’s never enough time for the fun stuff, it seems.

Anyway, I spent last Saturday hiking and shooting film with my son, which was wonderful not just because I was out doing my favorite thing but because I was with this human that I like and I was doing my favorite thing, with him. There’s an interesting thing that happens when your kids are grown and you find things you have in common and do them together. Kind of magical, really. You spend all this time parenting them when they are little and then poof, they’re grown up and you’re not hanging out with each other because you have to but because you both want to. Also it was snowing while we were hiking, and that’s just magical in itself.

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my kid and his 8×10

So I just sent four rolls of black and white film off to the lab and now I do the waiting thing, obsessively checking USPS tracking to see when the package will be delivered. Checking the lab’s website. Checking email for an email from the lab.

I’m trying to get better about this, really, I am.

When I want to shoot color and I want film back quickly, fortunately there is a lab near me that does a great job with C-41 processing. They’re quick, their scans are great, they’re accommodating of my experiments, and their prices are pretty great.

I shot a roll of Rollei Chrome (which my local lab cross-processed) and a roll of Kodak Ektar on a sunny day with my friend Jane a few weeks ago. The cross-processed Rollei Chrome came out super funky and I quite like it. When I asked the lab to cross process it (they don’t do E-6, so I knew I was taking a chance) they warned me that sometimes the roll will come back empty. I was pleasantly surprised by the weird coloring and extra-crunchy grain.

A running theme for photo shoots with Jane is that we always seem to find the mud. That day was no different–we drove to our favorite marsh and found plenty of mud to bring back on our boots.

I also had the Bronica SQ-A with me that day. Kodak Ektar is one of my favorite color films a) because it’s affordable and b) because it offers up rich, true colors.

 

half-here

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. I don’t write much about work here, but I have a pretty amazing job at a company that doesn’t scrimp on showing its employees that they are valued. More than that, though, it’s the people I work with. They make it all even better.

I spent a week in January at my company’s office in the San Francisco Bay, and while it was busy and I didn’t get to spend any time outside (my favorite thing) at least it was nice to have not only a change of scenery, but to be able to wear cute shoes and not ruin them because of snow and salt. I’m luckier still that my dear friend will be joining our team in just one week, and I will be flying again to California to help get her started.

I also think that it’s a luxury to have a job like this. I hear too many stories about people hating their job, their workplace, or their supervisors and tolerating those things, sometimes for decades, because they have to. I’ve either been lucky or I’ve played my cards right, but my career has been full of friends, mentors, and people I respect. I wish everyone had that.

Anyway, maybe because I was there three times last year, I’m starting to have dreams about California. It’s starting to feel more like home.

And I’m getting itchy for another non-work trip. I poked around a bit on Airbnb last night, dreaming of different skies. When I do that I feel like I’m half-here, half-somewhere else… one foot in my normal world. It’s a strange feeling, but not an unpleasant one.

But I also dream in pictures. And most of my pictures, or at least the ones I feel like I’m meant to be making, are here in Michigan and of the lake, the plants, the landscape I feel connected to.

These photos are from my first roll of film of 2018. It was snowing like mad and I left the cottage to wander into the meadow and woods with the Bronica SQ-A and a roll of Ilford FP4+. There are some odd lines on a few of these images and I’m not sure what might have caused them, but they are on the film and not just on the scans. I was more worried about correct exposure with all the white, but I either lucked out a bit or FP4+ is forgiving. Either way, I like my snowy shots and feel a little more comfortable shooting in the snow now, in terms of metering (it’s still challenging in terms of managing gear, snow on lenses, cold, and wetness!).