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

Happy new year

It’s the final hours of 2017 and I’m listening to the soft breathing of my husband and (not-so-soft breathing) dog as they snooze, competing for space on the couch.

We are all worn out. The dog got multiple walks in snow that balled up in between the pads of her feet. My husband rode his bike on snow-covered backroads and shoveled the long driveway at the cottage multiple times, ensuring we don’t get stuck here tomorrow when we go to leave. I got to use the snowshoes that replaced an old, broken pair last winter (but never got used because the snow stayed away), snow-shoeing for nearly three hours on a deserted lunar-landscape of a beach. I shot my last two rolls of film for the year–one 120mm slide film, something I’ve never shot before and an expired Ilford SFX 35mm, opting for a red filter and again, a risk as I haven’t explored that kind of film before.

It’s New Year’s Eve and we sure know how to party.

There’s a fire in the fireplace, my feet just inches away. I’ve binge-watched three episodes of Black Mirror, which is dark and fitting (I think, anyway) for a place like this, a stretch of beach that few inhabit in the winter. I can hear the wind and the waves, and the nearly-full moon made a short appearance before the clouds swallowed it up a few hours ago.

It is desolate here. When Lake Michigan tells you you’re not wanted, you best believe her. Tomorrow we’ll leave and the house will be winterized and I won’t see the ice buildup, the drifts that cover the doorways, the unpassable driveway. By spring it’ll be chillingly cold but the snow will have left no trace, other than a re-carved and freshly scrubbed beach. It’s how it works here, the seasons cycle and refresh. I hate to be away.

I am cherishing the quiet of these last few hours of 2017.

Ice pack on Lake Michigan shoreline

things I’m holding on to

I feel doubly responsible to consider each new year as a fresh start. For one, the calendar tells me there is a new year and for two, my birthday is just a week later. Two chances for a fresh start; two opportunities to consider what I’m holding on to that no longer serves me or makes me a better human, or that is impeding my relationships, my peace, my life.

Oh, am I holding on to some crap. Papers and books from college. Trinkets that won’t be used or displayed. Pots, pans, mugs and glassware that I don’t love and don’t use.

The catch-all places in my house are stuffed, and it is this I have to face in 2018. My office closet (disaster). The furnace room. Kitchen drawers. The pantry and spice cabinet. The storage space under the stairs. Bedrooms that hold the remnants of my children’s youth.

I know I’m not alone, and I know that what might feel insurmountable to me (like my office closet) might be nothing compared to someone else’s closet, garage, or studio that they are facing clearing out. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel much better when I open that closet door, reach in to begin, and then shut the door again in panic.

But I don’t know what to do with the stuff I don’t know what to do with. You know? Papers from my kid’s elementary schools. Old bits of mail. Boxes or receipts from electronics. Typewritten papers from college with notes I might want to read again (like the note from my poetry professor, who wrote encouragements like “Now you’re cooking!” and “yes! you got it!” in the margins of my poem analysis papers). What do people do with the stuff they might want to revisit but don’t need to use every day? Pack it away and deal with it later? Toss it and never look back?

I’m going to make a start, at least. Donate or sell the two cameras I have that aren’t working. Get into that closet. One kitchen drawer/cupboard, one basement shelf, at a time. Designate a space for the important papers from my children’s school years and toss the non-important ones, like those old field trip permission slips still jammed into kitchen drawers. I’d like to end 2018 feeling at least a little bit more organized than I’m beginning it.

square love

So, the Yashica Electro 35 GSN I for some reason felt absolutely compelled to buy… doesn’t work. Well, it does. I mean, all the bits work. But when I put a battery in it, the things that the battery is supposed to make work don’t work. So technically I could run a roll of film through it because it defaults to a shutter speed of 1/500; so I could use it, but with limitations. That’s the chance you take on eBay, and I’m only out the price of a couple of fussy pour-over coffees or a pour of very nice bourbon, so not a big deal. I might run it over to the camera repair anyway and get a quote. In any case it’s shelved for now and I’ll mess around with it in January because I have a gazillion things to do because, you know, holidays.

I still haven’t bought chemicals and equipment to develop my own black and white film (I have tanks and reels, but not the other stuff) and I didn’t shoot any black and white over the summer anyway, but I have lately and I’ve sent it off to The Darkroom because they do a terrific job. I am in limbo right now because I hoped to sign up for another film class at a local community college and I just assumed they’d have a winter night class available like they did last winter, but alas, all the film classes are during the day and I am beholden to my employer during the daylight hours. There is a new community darkroom that I contributed to that will hopefully open in January, but I’m not seeing any updated news on their website so I don’t know. In any case, I’m itching to have a darkroom available to me so I can do this myself. I miss the magic. I miss printing and reprinting until an image is just right (er… is it ever just right?). So for now The Darkroom will develop my black and white film until I can do it myself again, and I’ll have to live with digital scans instead of prints.

I’m itching, I tell you.

I shot two rolls of black and white film, Ilford FP4+ and an expired roll of Kodak Tri-X Thanksgiving weekend. 2018 should be the year I start to take notes… I’m awful at that, and didn’t write down the year the Tri-X expired. I metered at box speed (400) and that seemed fine. It was my first time with FP4+ (I think, anyway. See, that’s where notes would come in) and I might be in love.

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Brookwood in a dusting of snow, Bronica SQ-A, Ilford FP4+

I’m feeling a little googly-eyed and swoony over the Bronica SQ-A right now. I am dreaming in square format. I want to use it all the time. For everything. I want to lay it on the pillow next to my head when I sleep so I can gaze at it lovingly when I wake up, although I think it would hurt a lot if it bonked me in the middle of the night because it’s really quite heavy. If it were one of my children, I’d without shame tell it that it’s my favorite. I wouldn’t even whisper so the other kid wouldn’t overhear.

Everyone does this, right? Gets all swoony and wants to write poems about things like cameras and films.

No?

Ah, well. I shot two more rolls through the Bronica after a snowfall this past weekend. I’ve a bit to learn about proper metering in snow, so who knows what I’ll get. And one roll was a 2003-expired Kodak Verichrome Pan (I took note! there is hope!), a film I know nothing about. You can’t say I’m afraid to experiment.

“What kind of photographer are you?”

I had a dream last night. I had wild dreams the night before–of loss and flood and wildfire and being out of control. These are the kinds of dreams I have when I’m worried about someone I love, and I suspect these are the kinds of dreams others have in that situation, too. But the snippet of the dream I remember from last night was somewhat less perilous.

I dreamed someone asked me the question, “What kind of photographer are you?” And I answered, “I’m a documentarian. I document what’s around me, what will be gone, what is fleeting.” (I said it with conviction, and I was proud of myself for that answer because I don’t think it’s come to me quite so succinctly in my waking world. Then again, every photograph is a capture of something that won’t be there in exactly the next moment, so now in hindsight I’m not so proud…) “But… where is your voice?” asked the interviewer next, and I fell silent. Is my voice in my photographs? Without a caption or an explanation or a hashtag, is my voice apparent? I’m not sure, sometimes. It’s worth exploring.

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Lake Michigan, Kodak ColorPlus 200

Yesterday I gave my digital camera to my daughter. Not gave as in I won’t have it back, but gave to her to use for a time. I’ll never speak on which is better–film or digital–because it’s a silly discussion. I know right now that artistically film is the medium I’m interested in and that’s where my focus is. I want to learn and explore in that world. So maybe that’s what prompted the question in my dream.

Oh, and… I lied. It didn’t take me long to break the promise I made to myself of no new cameras. I picked up a rangefinder because I started looking on eBay and then I just couldn’t stop, and my plan was to buy it for the person I am matched up with in a film photography secret Santa thingy because, well, who wouldn’t want a fun little camera for that? And then in the time it took to ship to me (which admittedly was only a few days) I went to the local used camera shop and, damn it, there sat a lovely Olympus Pen and it just came home with me. It just did, okay??? And on the drive home I decided that rather than waiting for the Yashica range finder to arrive, test it with a roll of film to make sure it worked, and test this new Pen to make sure that worked, that I would just send my secret Santa my own Pen because I already know it works. And I think he’ll love it. So technically I only got one camera because it replaces the Pen I’m gifting, and the Yashica… well, it was so cheap it was practically not a purchase at all.

So I revise. No new cameras starting in 2018. Eh. I hope.

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.

I know myself

 

I had a minor epiphany last evening. It happened during pigeon pose in a hot yoga class that up until that moment I was feeling pretty fantastic about. Pigeon always throws me–I get panicky and want to run–but I’ve been practicing yoga long enough (on and off for more of my life than not) that I know not to run. Still, I have to breathe through this pose and remember that it’s just a passing moment. Like an unpleasant interaction, or ice cream brain freeze.

It was this: I know myself.

I actually heard that. My voice, but from somewhere else in the room, saying it.

I get flaky and wishy-washy and indecisive. But, in reality, I know what I like and don’t like. I know what’s good for me and what I need to move on from. I know more than I am letting on that I know about my own self-worth. I know my own mind. I know myself.

It felt pretty freeing to have this thought come to me as I became still and patient during pigeon pose, allowing its lessons to wash over me, with sweat dripping down my nose and a seriously clenching gluteus maximus.

Of course, I’ll probably need reminders. But there it was, plain as day. Or, plain as the voices in my head.

I know myself.

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my dad, laughing

I know where I came from, too. The guy in this picture, my dad. He was with me for a few days several weeks ago and agreed to let me photograph him, and I was eager to try the Bronica SQ-A for portraits. I only took 12 images. This one, to me, is him. His laugh takes over his face.

new old things and it’s getting dark

I’ve been driving my new (but not new new) car for about a week and a half and it’s just so great. I’m attached. We’ve bonded. We’re pals. I haven’t come up with a suitable name yet, though.

The car was a necessity. But I also bought the Bronica SQ-A I’ve been testing, which was definitely not a necessity.

So, I am committing to no more cameras for the rest of this year and for all of 2018. I pledge this. I mean it. I really mean it. To clarify, I mean I won’t buy any cameras for this period of time. Well, unless something happens, like if a critical camera breaks. Then I’d replace it. But that would be the only reason.

I really hope I stick to this. Maybe I will need reminders.

It’s also getting dark. And cold. Last weekend was supposed to be another collaboration with my friend Margi, who was going to meet me at the cottage and we were going to take more photos exploring movement in nature, but the weather didn’t cooperate and I had a shortage of ideas for indoor locations, so I cancelled. I went to the cottage on my own but Saturday was a bust, weather-wise. I wanted to give the Bronica a fair chance and I finally sorted out an issue with one of the film backs, so I ran a roll of film through on Saturday in a bit of rain.

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cornfield, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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cornfield, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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cornfield, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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corn and dried stalk, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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Little Sable Point, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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Little Sable Point, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO

Sunday started gray and cold but the sky was dramatic and it wasn’t too windy and the blue even poked through the clouds every now and then, so I ran a second roll through the Bronica and finished up the roll I started in California on the Minolta.

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DANGER, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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the farmhouse, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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a little fall color, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO

I’m forever inspired and amazed by these ghosts of old trees. The wind and sand buries and unburies them, topples and rights them, year after year. The landscape changes so dramatically. I love documenting this.

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driftwood on dune, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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driftwood on dune, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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growth, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ISO
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driftwood, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ISO
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toppled, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ISO
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trunk, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ISO
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relics, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ISO

Anyway. I’m excited to explore more with this camera and happy to be driving my new car, and not so happy about the impending shorter days and cold. But that’s life.

farewell, silver cannonball

I spent the week getting distracted from work by the process of finding myself a new car. Decision-making is a stress-inducing thing for me. Me in a toothpaste or detergent aisle? Panic. I do better with fewer choices, mainly. Fewer colors. Fewer models. Fewer formulas. When I do decide on something, I second guess until the cows come home. And then I ask their opinion (the cows’ opinions, figuratively) and second guess some more. And change my mind. And change it back again.

I think I drive everyone around me nuts with this. Which one is best? Am I going to regret my decision? What if something better comes along? Seriously, it’s never-ending.

The van, aptly named the silver cannonball, came to me as a hand-me-down from my brother who bought it in 2005 because he had to drive around with pounds and pounds of fabric samples, and for salespeople and families you kinda can’t beat a van. She was in great shape, four years old and well cared for when I drove her halfway across the country to bring her home. She carted me and the kids and bikes and extra people all over town and all over the state; made trips to Myrtle Beach and to Chicago and, when my son graduated from high school I let him and his friends drive her to Yellowstone. She was reliable and roomy and didn’t need much. Until she sort of hit her twilight years.

Maybe I could have taken better care of her, kept her a little cleaner, been better about the routine maintenance. She wasn’t neglected, but, you know, there was life and all that. She moved kids out. And then it was pretty much just me, alone, in this big old van. Electrical failures, broken locks, a broken mirror, little things going, big things starting to slip, nearly 200,000 miles. She’s done, tired. I’m done with her. Ready to move on.

I decided that a few months ago. I was clear about it. But then, the panic. What to choose in her stead. And, oh god, a car payment?!? Car payments are commitment. And, money. The panic froze me and I decided I’d wait for a while. And then I drove across the state and something went wrong; she had trouble accelerating and there was a shimmy that went on for miles. It might have been the roadway that caused the shimmy, but it was definitely happening. And I realized I didn’t want to be stranded on the side of the road, in the freezing cold, with no snow boots or gloves because I never listen to Jim when he tells me to keep those things in my car, and no cell service because I’m on a backroad in the wilderness looking for something interesting to photograph.

I didn’t want to freeze to death on a remote backroad in the silver cannonball.

(Okay, that’s unlikely and I’m exaggerating. I digress.)

But last week all the little broken things just really got to me, so I started looking and working on the process of deciding. I drove three cars this week and picked one, but went back and forth (in my head, with the dealer, it’s too much, am I getting ripped off, would they offer me a better price if I was a guy, etc. etc. ad nauseam) and talked the whole situation to death with anyone around me who would listen. All the moving parts, all the balls in the air, all the distractions, came to a halt today and tomorrow I’ll hand over the silver cannonball and drive my new wheels home. A young(ish) 2013, low(ish) miles, a stick shift, compact SUV. Just what I want. A new driving chapter.

So it’s my last night with the silver cannonball. I took her to the grocery store, an average evening thing to do, and in walking around making choices about bread and veggie burgers and yogurt I suddenly got a little sniffly over her. More than a little sniffly. Not sobbing in the frozen food aisle but inexplicably and surprisingly moody, sad, and for real a little wet in the eyes and snotty in the nose.

Hell. I can’t explain myself. My brother and I sobbed over cars when we were little: a turquoise Corvair, the brown Pontiac station wagon. Maybe some others, but those two particularly. Maybe I’m more sentimental about cars than I want to admit.

I loved the silver cannonball, I hated her, I respected her, I tolerated her, and now I’m replacing her. I’ll miss her a little bit. She took good care of me of me and mine.

more Mendocino, this time on film

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somewhere in the sky
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surfers and fog

I imagine we’re not meant to live as if on vacation every day. But, what if we were? Could we stand that much sunshine? Could we stand the gorgeousness? So much of it? Would it hurt too much to live like that, or make us too soft, or too happy?

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my friend Kelly, contemplating the view

I don’t know. I tell people that here in Michigan the winters make our summers so much sweeter. Not that I mind the winters. Because maybe we have to do penance with the dark days, or the miserably cold days, to really appreciate the warm and sunny days. But I wonder if maybe we’ve got to see and taste and touch beauty every single day. Maybe it makes us better. I’m willing to bet it does.

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our cabin in the woods
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prayer flags and path
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garden

In any case, I took film to the lab today and they had it developed and uploaded before I even got home. Just when I’ve become more patient with the whole process, they go and make it instant! I shot one and a half rolls of Kodak ColorPlus film on my trusty Minolta SRT 102 in California two weeks ago, and this is the one. The half roll isn’t finished yet and that is what is making me feel so unsettled and thinking about just how much beauty we are entitled to in our everyday life. Perhaps it’s all in the way we frame things. Beauty is everywhere, after all.

I think some days we just don’t feel like looking at it. But it kind of smacks you across the face in California.

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Mendocino

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And here’s another thing. The fires are still burning. We left Sunday morning, and the fires broke out in wine country that night and they are continuing today. It sounds trite to say my heart breaks for California. But oh how it does. Such beauty, such loss.

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