middle-of-the-night inspiration

Freighters sing tonight;
their serene calls amplified
in the fog-drenched air

Last week the weather on Lake Michigan was a little too spectacular for early June. Summery, hot, beach weather mostly, with little wind and a bug population that hasn’t gotten out of control (yet).

My friend and co-worker came to the lake to stay and work for the week, and we set up shop at the dining room table and made the most of the lovely view, working when we needed to and breaking when the outdoors beckoned. I’m used to being alone here, but it was nice to have a reprieve from the quiet, especially after work. We had plans to have dinner out one night, maybe a lunch, too, but it was just too nice to bother to leave the beach. So we didn’t.

One evening, the fog rolled in and stuck throughout the night. I left windows and doors open because it was warm enough for it, and was awakened at 4 a.m. to the sound of a freighter’s foghorn, steady and gutteral, in the otherwise still night. Soon after, another foghorn in a slightly higher tone; a duet of call and response. There was no picture to take, so I wrote a haiku.

These are the things that make my heart swell. The night sounds, the morning dew, the sunset colors, the ever-changing lake.

Today the power went out and I couldn’t work for almost two hours. A minor annoyance; an enforced break to walk the beach. A neighbor’s generator hummed, but otherwise there was quiet aside from the birds and the bees, which seem busier this year than ever.

I’m thinking a lot about what there is happening when I have a camera in hand. Sounds, mainly, or a mood or feeling in the surroundings. Last evening I shot of roll of 120 film in the meadow, mainly of the seeded goat’s-beard puffballs dotting a small section of the meadow near the road (these look like giant dandelions that have gone to seed). The goat’s-beard shared space with other grasses and some rich purple sweet pea. It was another windless night; gray and dull skies, warm and a bit muggy, sweet-smelling and earthy. I could hear an occasional low growl of thunder from a storm out over the lake, but louder than that were the bees–near hummingbird sized bumblebees, working around me, a din of their buzzing. I added to my mosquito bite collection, getting fresh bites on my hands as I worked. One of the resident eagles soared overhead and disappeared.

I took notes so I would remember these things–the things that you wouldn’t know by looking at one of the pictures from this roll. The things I might not otherwise remember when this film is developed in a week or two.

This is what I want to explore. Can I impart the sounds, or a smell, or my heart bursting, or the pinch of a mosquito bite? Can I infuse these other-sense things into an image?

optical illusions

I promise, this is a freighter.

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It looks as weird in the photo as it did in real life; two nights ago, a rectangular block floating in front of the horizon, accompanied by a familiar low hum that drifted across the quiet, windless lake from the freighter’s motor. More mirages, or optical illusions, from the cold lake and the warming air.

May storm over Lake Michigan

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storm, view from cottage deck

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of getting to see a storm roll in over the lake.

I waited for this storm all day. It was uncharacteristically hot and muggy for even late May, and storms were supposed to roll in around noon but they stayed away and it got super hot and sticky. This one was awfully pretty as it came in but was more bark than bite, with no real thunderclaps and not much lightning. Doesn’t matter. I’m in love with them all.

All the storms are gorgeous. All the sunsets are, too.

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.

 

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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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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longshadows

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

winter landscapes

We got quite a lot of snow in December and the year started off snowy, but the rest of January has been kind of non-wintery. Even kind of spring-y. In fact the sun is shining as I write this, it’s nearly 50 degrees, and last weekend I went out with a friend and used color film, with some also pretty interesting results, which I got back today and will put up next post.

I wouldn’t mind using my snowshoes some more so I’m hoping for more typical weather to come ’round. In the meantime, I’m trying to catalog my negatives and keep myself organized (as much as I can be organized–I’m not the organized type) and peruse photos from the last weekend at the cottage before we closed up for the winter.

The day I wrote this was the last day of the year and I’d showshoed on the beach with two cameras and two films. These are the photos from my Minolta X-700 camera, with January 2009-expired Ilford SFX film. I had a 25A red filter on the lens, which I wasn’t entirely sure how would affect the results, but I had it in my arsenal so I thought I’d try it and there you go. It all looks a little muddy, but I think it also looks a little dream-scape-y, too.

You know I like to experiment.

ice pearls on Lake Michigan shore
ice pack, Lake Michigan beach
where the ice meets the water
more ice/water
dunegrass tips under heavy snow
beach stairs, stranded
pines in the valley
wintery pine cones
fort built for the boys who are now men

The other camera was the Bronica SQ-A, with which I am still smitten. Can you blame me? I love the square format. I love the shallow depth of field and the sharp lenses. It’s heavy, strong, sturdy, and the battery lasts forever (seriously, that’s a handy thing). I used a roll of Velvia 50, just expired earlier in the year, gifted to me by my secret santa in a film swap organized by this amazing place/blog/person-behind-the-curtain/resource. If you are interested in film photography and haven’t spent some time on that site, go right now. I don’t mind one bit.

ice pearl and splash
aqua blue, white snow, sandy ice
sandy ice pack on the beach
a neighbor’s summer shade
view through

December surfer

Just a few days shy of mid-December, I drove on a snowy afternoon out from the cottage to see what I could find to photograph and found myself at “the channel,” a small spot of public beach where a little inland lake feeds out into Lake Michigan. While I was gathering my camera another car pulled up, and I watched two men get out of the car, one with a surfboard. We don’t see many surfers at this spot even in the warmer months, although the kiteboarders love the area.

While one was surfing, the other stood on the shore and we chatted a bit. Tom (I think that was his name) is a local; said his friend was in from California and this was his second time in the water today, although the waves had calmed down a lot from earlier that morning.

I like how at first glance he looks as if he’s walking on water.

December surfer, Lake Michigan
December surfer, Bronica SQ-A, expired Kodak Tri-X

as the dark sets in

Oh, these short, short days. They always take me by surprise. I know they’re coming, but they still upend me a bit. It doesn’t even make sense to attempt to be a morning person… those are too dark right now, too. The daylight is over before it’s barely begun.

Anyway, I always feel like I have to get a last blast of color in before the dark takes over and the landscape turns muddled grays and browns. Accordingly, I shot a lot of color film this month and managed to knock off four rolls while hosting Thanksgiving. We converged in waves at the cottage beginning early in the week–kids, friends, my dad–and we all ate and drank and laughed and got outdoors as much as the wild wind would allow until we all left.

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Little Sable Point beach, Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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Little Sable Point Light, Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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neighbor’s boats, , Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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reaching, , Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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blue sky and crusty vehicle, , Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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long shadows, , Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100

It wasn’t sunny and colorful the whole time we were there, though. There were gray days, too. At first I thought these two pictures with the snow were from when I first arrived on Tuesday, but now I can’t remember… they might have been a few weeks ago when there was a light dusting.

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post, Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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fall meets winter, Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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dead tree and field, Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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beach fence, Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100
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farmhouse, Bronica SQ-A, Kodak Ektar 100

And I had some film in my Minolta SRT-102 needing to be used up, too.

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dune, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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tree and roots on dune, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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inland lake, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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milkweed pods and seeds, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200

I should have some black and white film from earlier in the month done soon. I’m feeling a black and white mood coming on, and some experimentation with expired slide film. Not sure where that’ll take me, but hopefully it’ll provide some winter entertainment.

September on film

This week has been chaos. A drive back to the city, major work project and deadlines, trying to think about what I need to pack for California this coming week, and planning around this weekend, which is jam-packed.

Both kids were under our roof last night–a rare treat–and now everyone is off to their events for the day and I can sit and breathe for just a moment and look at the photos that I had processed this week.

When we were in Pittsburgh for my cousin’s wedding at the start of this month I found out there was a small waterfall less than a mile from the hotel where we stayed. This is Buttermilk Falls, also known as Homewood Falls. It’s a very short hike through a quarry where there are some rocky cliffs that maybe one shouldn’t traverse after overindulging at a wedding the night before, but the light was lovely here and worth a few unsteady moments.

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Jenny’s puppies, Kodak ColorPlus 200, Minolta SRT 102
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my (not) puppy, Kodak ColorPlus 200, Minolta SRT 102

That Bronica SQ-A I’m testing produced one beautiful roll and one awful roll this month, after a first disappointing roll. I still don’t quite know what to make of it… is the awful roll a product of a processing mistake or a camera error? Maybe I need to stick to standard films for testing–the first bad roll was an expired film, and this recent bad one was a redscale film. One roll I didn’t even send for processing because it only advanced sporadically, and I didn’t notice it wasn’t advancing while I was shooting. I need more time with the camera to make sure. I don’t want to keep comparing it to my son’s Mamiya because it has both its own quirks and its own charm. But so far I’ve had three bad rolls to one good… is it me, or is it the camera? I guess I’d like more consistent results before I purchase it. I can’t afford to waste so much film.

Aren’t these gorgeous, though? They look lush and velvety. They make me love 120 film.

And more gorgeousness.

And then the not so gorgeous:

Seriously, I’d love some clues as to what happened here. Can the paper backing stick to 120 film? Is this what might have happened? And redscale shouldn’t come out purple, right? The whole roll looks like this. Purple and muddled. I’m at a loss.

But back to the Minolta and that Kodak ColorPlus. It’s a 200 speed film, it can be found very cheap (last bunch I got ended up being $2.60/roll), and I really quite like it for an everyday 35mm film. So there you go.

Maybe I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, but I’ve been picking blueberries at this particular farm my entire life. My kids have been picking blueberries here their entire lives. The family that owns this farm has put it up for sale and I tell you, if I could manage to buy and run a blueberry farm, I’d do it in a heartbeat because I think I’m going to be around for a while, and my kids are going to be around longer, and I’d love for us all to continue blueberry picking at this very farm. But since it’s probably not a good idea for me to add blueberry farm owner to my plate, someone else is going to have to do it. Anyone interested? I’ll be your best customer.

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dill flower and sky at Cherry Point Market, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus
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color and shadow at Fox Barn, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus
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sign at Fox Barn, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus

So, summer is over. October begins tomorrow, and I’ll be back in the city more now. And that’s okay. My house is a disorganized disaster and I’ve got lots to do to sort it out. And I missed Detroit this summer; like any city recognizing a resurgence, it’s changing rapidly. A new stadium, new businesses. A drive west on Woodward last night made me feel like I’ve been away longer than I have. Slow down a little, Detroit. Let me catch up.