I miss you, Mamiya

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fog on inland lake, Mamiya 645 1000s and Kodak Ektar 100

Last winter when I was taking a black and white film photography class, my son lent me his Mamiya 645 1000s camera, a behemoth of a thing (compared to any 35mm camera I have), with a sturdy feel and the most satisfying shutter-click sound. It intimidated the hell out of me with its 120 film and its battery fussiness and well, just the sheer size of it.

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abandoned farm outbuildings, Mamiya 645 1000s
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rusted, Mamiya 645 1000s

It eats batteries like crazy (as in, put in the battery, take a picture, take the battery out–or else you drain the battery mid-roll) and it’s hard to maneuver. The shutter is easy to accidentally misfire (I had at least one, often more, accidental or blank shot on every roll). I swore at it while using it, but always apologized immediately because it’s hard not to be charmed by its quirks, really, and the detail in the negatives of 120 film is enough of a bonus here.

In any case, I mostly happily shot maybe 8 or so rolls of black and white film with it during my class and got comfortable working with 120 film, and in doing so, I really fell hard for the camera. I joked about stealing it from my son, but that would mean a lifetime of lies (“no, really, that was shot on 35mm film, I swear”), and a few weeks ago I very sadly handed it back to him. I was even pouty about it for a few days. I know I can borrow it any time, but it’s not the same as having it in my possession, loaded with film and at the ready.

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dead end, Mamiya 645 1000s
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country road, Mamiya 645 1000s

Knowing I would have to give it back to him, I ran a couple of rolls of color film through it to kick myself in the gut one last time see how it handled color. And, it’s as beautiful as I expected.

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rye, Mamiya 645 1000s
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reddest sunset, Mamiya 645 1000s

Sigh.

I miss you, Mamiya. I hope my kid takes care of you like I did (minus the swearing at you–I still feel bad about that). Even if I end up with my very own camera of your genre and we don’t hang out again, know that you were my first medium format love.

family links

It’s easy to forget where I come from because I don’t live near family, but my genetics are half from hearty Italian stock that settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We spent weekends and holidays of my youth traveling there from Detroit to visit with a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins. Food, of course, was the centerpiece of these gatherings. My Gram’s pastina soup (later I found out most people call this “Italian wedding soup,” but it will always be pastina soup to me), pizzelles, pasta. These are the foods I remember because Gram made them special for me–pastina soup with mostly the tiny, round noodles and broth, not much else, just the way I liked it; buttered noodles; pizzelle cookies not too dark, but thin and crisp. I was a kid–I never knew any of the politics or family drama. Just the food, the love, the cheek pinches and too-tight squeezes, the hot summer nights on the porch of that house on the impossibly steep dead-end street, the breezes in the dining room coming off the huge cemetery behind, the place where the fence to the cemetery was pried open and we could climb through and read the gravestones (Rose Love is one I particularly remember).

My father and his siblings are old now; some have passed. My brother and I took our dad to see two of his siblings this week, one of whom is very ill. Although our trip was short we saw cousins and second cousins from two families, two uncles, two aunts. In their faces I see my history, my heritage, my story, and mysteries we all have yet to uncover about our family name and the stories of our ancestors. The matriarch of this family enforced our togetherness, but her passing has made those links grow fragile and it will be up to the cousins to maintain the links, the stories, the relationships.

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My cousin shared this tiny notebook, which would have belonged to my Pap. I don’t know if this is Gram’s writing to Pap, or something she said to him and he wanted to note it that day in his notebook. Impossible to know, but wonderful to consider.

Camera decisions

In just over one week I will be traveling to Lima, Peru. I’ll spend a week there with my daughter, and then I’ll leave her and she’ll go off to teach smart computer-coding things to some high school students. How brave is that? When she told me she was doing this through her university, she had the audacity to chide me for allowing her to study Latin as her college language choice. Ha! Like I’ve ever had any influence over this kid. Pffft.

(I remember distinctly suggesting Spanish to her. I wish I’d studied it but I did not have a language requirement in college. So, kid, I told you so.)

In any case, we will explore Lima together for one week and although in some ways this terrifies me, I’m far more terrified of the idea of her traipsing about Lima all on her own. Capable as she is, Lima feels so… out of my comfort zone and therefore a scary place to dump my firstborn. My own Spanish is limited to what I learned in second grade from my favorite teacher, who spoke Spanish as her native language and taught all her students how to count to 10, say good morning to her, and maybe a few other key phrases that are escaping me right now. So the kid and I will struggle with our Spanish together.

When my daughter asked me to join her and I agreed to do this, I immediately decided that I would not bring my DSLR but would bring one 35mm film camera and maybe a second “fun” camera. I read that you can only bring one camera into the country, but I can’t find really good information on this… the second one might incur a charge rather than getting confiscated or anything dramatic.

The Minolta SRT 102 is heavy, but it’s my favorite at the moment and even if I don’t use this feature, I can do easy double exposures. The Minolta X-700 is lighter. And, the self-timer on it works. And, it has a program feature in case I don’t want to think about anything other than focusing. I have two additional lenses (aside from 50mm lenses) for either Minolta, in case I have room for an additional lens. The Pentax K1000? Bombproof, easy; but no extra features and no doubles. Okay, the Pentax is out of the running.

And then I fell in love with 120mm film after using it for several months in my son’s Mamiya 645 1000s. But, no way can I add that behomoth to my bag and, well, it’s not mine. I picked up a Holga, or really a knockoff Holga, and have had a ton of fun with that so far. If that fell off a bridge or got stolen I’d shed a tear but not be put out other than sad that I had 120 film and nothing to shoot it with. It’s smallish, cheap and plastic and I won’t worry about it one bit. The knockoff Holga is going. I have big plans for it.

So I think I’ve narrowed things down to one of the Minolta’s and the Holga. I have some Ektar 100 and some Portra 400 in 120mm color film and some Tri-X 400 and Fuji Acros 100 in 120mm black and white. For 35mm film I have some Ektar 100 and some other odds and ends, but I may have to pick up some more 35mm film. And how many rolls? Ah, another conundrum. I read I can only bring 10–but I can pack some in my daughter’s carry-on or I can simply declare more (I don’t know what that means. An additional charge?)

But then I start to second guess myself.

Should the DSLR come with me? Pros: No film to carry. Big memory card. I can take a million photos and I can see them immediately. Cons: Increases the technology I would want to bring (laptop to upload, or thingy needed to transfer images from SD card to my iPad). I’d spend more time uploading and editing every night and less time seeing/doing things. It’s big and conspicuous. If I broke it, dropped it, or it got stolen I’d be pretty devastated. If I bring it, I don’t really have room for a film camera.

Does anyone else obsess over these things? I’m arguing with myself about all of this. I am firm one day, up in the air the next.

I like the idea of relegating this trip to only film. If I miss a shot, I miss a shot. I know with digital I’m trigger happy–but who needs a million shots with only a few being images I really love? With film I’m much more deliberate. I might make some really bad shots but even those will have meaning (to me, anyway). I’m not saying one is better than the other–it’s all about where my head is, my process and exploration with both mediums. Right now it’s film. Tomorrow might be different.

So, what would you do? You know, just for the sake of discussion. And to help me quit obsessing over this decision. Even though I know what I’m going to do.

Sort of.

Spring, sort of

Last Friday’s burst of warmth and color quickly turned to chill, gray, lackluster. I crave that color, but I’m beginning to see things differently. Black and white film opens you up to that, I think.

Since January I’ve shot and processed (myself!) 16 rolls of black and white film, 35mm and 120mm. I have one more assignment in the class I’m taking and then I may need to go a little nuts with color film for a while after that, especially as I’ll be in California for one day of sightseeing before a few days of work and then after that in Lima, Peru for a week. I don’t know much about Lima yet, but I am imagining it’s a place requiring color film. I can’t wait to find out.

But despite the gray, there are green shoots, buds, the smell of wet earth, wildly chirping birds… all these signs of impending color and warm and sun. We are poised and ready and the wait makes the reward that much more delicious.

This week is exciting, different, changing. I have a new outlook. My youngest turned 21 this week, which feels like a new era… both my babies are adults. I shared an interview and photos with a community of film enthusiasts and the experience makes me feel lucky, like pinch-myself lucky, to be considered as someone with a passionate voice. I will have family around me this weekend and I will revel in that.

Good things are coming.

 

After the color

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There is still bright green, cheerful moss on the forest floor, surrounded by a carpet of now dry, pale fallen leaves and pine needles. The mushrooms have all dried and shriveled. I saw one tiny, purple thistle flower on the side of the road today; an accidental bloom.

Holidays are bittersweet. Even after 21 years, I miss my own mom as I navigate changing relationships with my young adult children. Moments of great laughter mixed with moments of strain, heavy dinner table conversations–I still have to tread carefully.

The woods makes me happy. This little lake makes me happy. Even with the absence of color, the gray skies, the bare branches.

I’m not unsure of myself in the woods.

Full circle

In the winter, I resurrected my mother’s old point and shoot camera (a Canon Sureshot circa 1980s). It came to me when my dad moved, I think, and I shoved it into a drawer or cupboard or closet and forgot about it.

A battery was left in it, which had corroded and the corrosion was leaking out. I painstakingly cleaned off the muck with vinegar and q-tips; carefully dried it out; gingerly put a new battery in. When that motor whirred to life I felt a jolt, a sudden excitement, like my mother had tiptoed back into the land of the living.

I put a roll of film in, which advanced as it should. And…

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my daughter as model

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…it worked. It has a ridiculously loud motor that made me laugh when I used it. And there is a unique joy that only a point and shoot can provide. No messing with settings, no choosing a focus, no missing anything that might suddenly come into frame.

In hindsight, I see a circular nature in this experiment. My mother’s old camera. My own old fake fur jacket, given to me by someone I once knew when I was the age my daughter was this winter, when I asked her to wear it so I could photograph her. My son, who developed the roll in his black and white film class a few months later, even though I didn’t have a way to see the images other than to hold the negatives up to the light and squint. And today, the delivery of a film scanner so that I can do more with the negatives piling up in my office because of this new film addiction.

Okay, maybe a sketchy circle. But it makes at least a little sense to me.

I’ll admit I’d been snobby about the idea of a point and shoot. But my mother’s camera was a breath of fresh air, a kick in the ass to remind me that fussy isn’t necessarily better, or more fun. And a way to reconnect with her, if only for the time it took to shoot a roll of film.

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Detroit, Fisher Building in distance

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Sadly the camera croaked when I tried to remove the film. The motor just flat out stopped, and no amount of cleaning the battery compartment or shoving newer batteries in there would coax it back to life. I took it to my local camera repair shop where I’ve had several vintage cameras worked on, and they said it wasn’t worth repairing.

It was fun while it lasted.

 

Summer, sweet summer

I’m in the place on this earth that I love best. The place my dad dreamed of, scrimped and saved for, and plopped down a shell of a house in 1972 that has been evolving ever since.

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the view

I know how lucky I am to have this legacy handed down to me, to be the caretaker–with my husband–of this sacred place. I know how lucky I am to have a career that has evolved so that I can live and work here. I am lucky, grateful, honored to care for and live in a cottage on Lake Michigan for a good chunk of the year.

And like the shores of this lake, which ebb and flow and deposit (or demolish, as is the case this year) sandy beaches, treasures of driftwood and perfect skipping stones, my experiences here change. This summer, after two years of learning to live with no kids in my home, said (grown) kids are here with me for the month.

There is a music festival not far from here that happens in a few more weeks. My kids are working to build the experience for the 40,000 or so people who will hopefully attend this four-day festival safely. My kids wake up to coffee here and spend the day onsite at the festival grounds, then come back to the cottage tired and hungry and not always cheerful (but mostly they are). It’s hard work, and they’re good at it. I am the coffee supplier, the occasional breakfast maker, the baker of brownies and cookies. The goodbye-er and hello-er and the hearer of stories after long days. It’s a little like it was before they left, but different because they are adults. We navigate the sometimes tricky path of communicating in a different way.

I am different here, too. It’s a stripped down way of life, different from the city both physically and emotionally. The days are longer on the lake and the distractions are fewer. I have said it before: I am most myself with sand in my hair, the lake water in my pores. And like the changing relationship with my kids, and the ebb and flow of this shoreline, I am navigating a changing relationship with myself. More acceptance, less chatter, nicer words, less worry. I’m working on these things, anyway.

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oh, hi.

Here’s another thing I’m working on. Or working with. It’s one of the first generation Olympus PEN half-frame cameras. This one is probably from 1960 or ’61. The whole half frame thing intrigues me… You get an image on half of a frame of 35mm film, which means you get double the shots per roll. Who doesn’t like that? I spent the week trying it out and will send my test roll for processing on Monday morning. I’ve got my fingers crossed, because wow, this little thing is fun to shoot. Hopefully I’ll have something to show for it next week.

So that’s where I am. In my favorite place, working, enjoying my kids, trying out a new camera. A divine start to summer.

Changing of the guard

I have bragged about my good stock. Nothing I have anything to do with, but just my luck. My father’s side, the Italians, are some sturdy folk. My gram made it to 98 and a half, and was pretty razor sharp up until the last several years.

My father is 86 and the second youngest of seven children, and he is still around (thankfully). All of his siblings were still around until only recently, and now the shift has begun. My oldest aunt died within the last year, and now we received news that another of my aunts has gone. It’s not unexpected, they are all in their 80s and 90s–but it is a blow.

The tide is changing; the old guard is moving on.

I feel a need to get the stories from my dad before they are lost. What don’t I know? In the last few months his health has been precarious and I have spent more time with him because of this. I heard stories I’d never heard before, and I realize it’s a dance of asking the right questions, him being in the right mood or right frame of mind to open up. When you’re young, you don’t know anything about your parents. If they are around when you mature, you begin to realize that your own story is intrinsically connected to theirs. You have their hands, their eyes, their skin color, their mannerisms, the sound of their voice even, their quirks. To know them is to know yourself.

My mother died too young and I feel that broken connection, the loss of not getting to know her as a woman beyond being my mother. I don’t want to lose this opportunity with my father. I’m mature enough to want to go there with him.

 

St. Joseph, again

I’m back in St. Joseph again for the weekend, a visit with my dad. While the weather isn’t as magical as it was last Saturday, it’s warm enough for an early spring and the snow is very nearly gone. It’s no secret how much I love the west side of this state, but geez, St. Joseph is just so sweet. I spent the morning walking to the beach and around downtown, enjoying a cappuccino at Tosi’s, saying “hi” or “good morning” to pretty much everyone I passed (they’re friendly here, Karen Thomas, you’d like it!), smooching a 10-year-old golden retriever as I talked with her owner about the joys (ahem) of old dogs. There are crocuses coming up here. I saw some green sprouts. Spring is coming!

The sky didn’t cooperate so much for photos today, but is it ever a bad time to photograph the lighthouse pier? I don’t think so. Well, maybe it isn’t the best time right now as it is still under construction. Didn’t stop me, though.

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from the end of the pier, the outer lighthouse

I thought the pier was closed because of the construction, but as I parked I saw a woman walking across the dune from the big homes on the shore. I asked her if the pier was open and we ended up talking for a bit as we made our way across the parking lot together. She had an accent (German, maybe?), a bright smile and twinkling eyes. She walked with a cane and told me she lives right over there (pointing to the big homes), and that she is 87 and walks this pier twice a day. We chatted a bit more and I learned she used to love to drive, would drive to visit friends in Chicago and Detroit. I thanked her as she ushered me ahead so she could rest a minute before continuing her own walk.

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on the beach, just starting to drizzle

I like you, St. Joe. Let’s get to know each other a little better.

In praise of naps

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the afternoon nap, perfected

This is my dad’s cat, Ginger. Like many house pets, she really knows how to nap.

This is an afternoon ritual. My dad curls up on his couch under a cozy blanket, and Ginger curls up on the back of the couch on her own cozy blanket. They can remain like this for hours, not entirely together, but together.

My dad’s previous cat lived to be 22 and I suspect this one will age just as well. She is spoiled (as all pets should be). She isn’t a lover like her predecessor was, but she is lovey in her own way–she’ll rub your legs, allow you to pet her, purr, stretch and blink and talk at you–but she’s just not a cuddler. They are all different, as are we.

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My dad has always been a napper. I am a big fan of naps, but my life doesn’t allow for many lately and the occasional luxury of one is greatly appreciated. I love a summer nap in the middle of a hot day with windows open and summer sounds outside. I love a fall nap when it’s raining outside. A winter or spring nap when the weather is chill and the days are still short, well, what could be better?

When I do make the time for a nap (or I just can’t keep my eyes open anymore and I have no choice but to nap) my dog is almost always happy to oblige and join me. Then again, she is almost always napping. But if I lie down on a couch or in bed, she’s there almost instantly, filling the empty space behind my legs or in front of my belly. Sometimes even under the covers. She’s my personal furnace like that.

Maybe 2016 should be the year of making time for naps? We should all nap more. What ill could come of this? None, I tell you.

Maybe I’ll try to fit one in today. Just as soon as I finish this pile of urgent editing projects on my desk…