“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.

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.

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.

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

DANGER, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
the farmhouse, Bronica SQ-A, Lomo 100 ISO
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.

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

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.

Dreaming in purple

abandoned farmhouse in Lomography Lomochrome Purple film

A few weeks ago I spent a small fortune on a few rolls of Lomography Lomochrome Purple film on a whim. Because, well, I’m in an experimental phase here and I’m rolling with that. But really, it’s like magic, this film–it turns greens purple (but only sometimes) and mucks about with other colors in weird and wonderful ways and yes, I do know that I can do that in Photoshop but I want to create magic right in my camera with no other faffing around. And I want to be surprised by what I get when my film is developed. And I don’t want to control everything. (I take that back. I kind of like control, but not where film photography is concerned. I am still in love with the surprises there.)

So I put one roll in my Minolta SRT 102 and after that I ran another through my Olympus Pen EE3. Was I surprised? Yes. Delighted? Totally.

Will I use this film again? Yes, oh yes. And I can’t wait.

In the meantime, here are some favorites from those two rolls.

Minolta SRT 102

sumac in foreground, abandoned barn
diamond window shed, sumac
pine needles suspended in web, abandoned car in forest
pine forest
forest floor, dried pine needles, mushroom and green (purple) moss
forest and light
pumpkins get a deeper orange in lomo purple
small lake, lily pads and reflections
lake and reflection through trees

Olympus Pen EE3

train tracks and vines
shadows and alleyway
lines, shadows, and time transport box (okay, probably not)
foggy woods, road after the fog cleared
country roads
orchard and plowed field
multicolored trees and old shed
fields, trees
grassy road, more sumac
sumac and milkweed, roadside

September on film

I’m burning through 35mm film like it’s my job lately (a job for which I pay, rather than get paid, apparently). Maybe it’s the lure of all the beautiful colors and the changing season? I’m not sure, but I’m fairly obsessed. I’m not picky, though–I’ll put anything in my camera(s). I’m learning the particularities of a few different cameras, which film the cameras like, the results I like. For instance, I learned in August that I like Agfa 200 in the Olympus Pens–a lot. It’s cheap and the colors come out a little gawdy, which I like for the half frame format.

It’s also a nice film (because of its price) to test new cameras with. In August, I picked up a Minolta SRT-102. It’s so clean I’m not sure it was ever even used, maybe just bought and used once or twice and then tucked into a box for 40 years? I’ll never know its story.

Last week I sent three rolls of film from mid-late September to early October to The Darkroom for processing. I’ve used them for a few years and have recently tried some others, but think I need to stick with The Darkroom–they do a bang-up job, have great customer service, and get my stuff back to me pretty quick considering they are in California and I’m across the country in Michigan. These images aren’t edited at all–just processed and scanned by The Darkroom (I only added my watermark in Lightroom).

Minolta SRT-102

Small pond in a marshy area at a local high school, SRT-102, Agfa 200
yellow wildflower (I’m kind of in love with the color)
goldenrod in sun

The SRT-102 is an interesting camera, though, with a bit of a learning curve–in the viewfinder, you match one needle to another needle with a circle on the end to get the right exposure. It’s a little awkward for me and will take some getting used to and I wasn’t convinced the meter was working accurately, but the test roll seems to show otherwise, which makes me happy because it’s a really beautiful camera, heavy and solid in hand. In fact, I was so hopeful that the camera would work that I ran a second roll of film through it before I got this test roll back. I shot most of the rest of the first SRT-102 roll in October, so I’ll get back to September’s film…

Pentax K1000

I popped a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 into my trusty Pentax K1000 in mid-September. That Ektar might just be my favorite film right now–I mean, look at that red! And even though I’m really digging the SRT-102, I’m not giving up the Pentax. It’s a joy to use, fun and easy and not the least bit finicky. Again I’ve not made a single edit to these, which may be more a credit to the processing than my ability to pick the correct exposure.

I just love a blue sun spot
the Brookwood again, this time on 35mm film
because there just are never enough goat pictures
Lake Michigan, dunegrass and clouds

Olympus Pen

I also ran a roll of Ilford HP5 through my Olympus Pen. 400 speed film may simply have been the wrong choice, or I need more work on my settings with this all-manual camera, or probably a little of both, but the results were mostly too blown out. I’m still getting the hang of both black and white film and the Pen. I don’t care–I love it all–even the complete failures.

barefoot in Lake Michigan in late September
pine forest

Right now the colors are really getting intense across Michigan. The next few weeks are going to be busy for me, but I’m hoping to capture as much color as I can on both film and digital before it’s gone, and learn more about working with the cameras I have now in my arsenal.

August on film

I know it’s September, but one of the many things about film photography that interests me is that I don’t generally get my film developed immediately. Since I like to save money by getting several rolls developed at once, I have to wait until I have several rolls to develop. Which, depending on several factors, could take a month or so. So by the time I get film developed, seasons can change, new things are blooming (or drying up), etc. etc.

I tried a new lab for four rolls, one of which was shot on a Minolta X700 I recently acquired. The price and timing was right, but the color saturation seemed off, and everything appeared over-exposed and washed out. I may still use this lab as I can muck about with some of that stuff with the digitized image. But one of the other things I really like about film is the fact that you get what you get, and even that depends on who’s processing your stuff–and even the same lab can process each roll different than the next, at least in my experience.

So, I got what I got on these four rolls and I don’t mind that one bit.

These first four shots are from the newly acquired Minolta X700, which after shooting one roll I decided a) to keep, and b) to take in to repair, as it has a “sticky gasket” (that’s what the shop said–I just know the aperture ring sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t). Anyway, this was a cheapo drug store roll of Fuji 800 speed film, which I intended to use in New Orleans at night when I was there last May but didn’t.

And the Pentax K100, with Kodak Ultramax 400 speed film, produced these:

These next images were shot with Agfa Vista 200–a cheap film that I love for the half frame. I am crazy about the half frame format. Have I already mentioned that? I used my Olympus Pen EE3, which I’m so excited about because I got it for only $10.50. I don’t know why that makes me so happy, but it does. This is a fun point and shoot, just easier to use than the all-manual original Olympus Pen that I have (but I love that one, too).

A local farm stand, shop in barn
The farmers here have a small shop in their barn, antiques and such
Headless chicken (front, right)! Not really. No chickens were harmed in the making of this photograph.
Peach orchard
The EE3 has a fixed focus (obviously farther out than my wine glass and hand)

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…

my daughter as model


…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.

Detroit, Fisher Building in distance


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.