Remembrance of Concrete Pasts

Proust had the madeleines.  I have concrete.  We’ll get back to it.  Promise.  But first, join me on a journey back in time.

I’ve spent the better part of the past two months going through all my old negatives.  I shot and shot and shot until I put the camera down for five years.  But before that I shot a lot of pictures.

As I have mentioned before, I got into the photography seriously in college.  I joined the school yearbook staff.  We’d have weekly assignments or we would just figure out what to photograph on our own.  I look at the college year books now and they have this hard 1990s edge to them.

I ended up at college at the University at Albany, where these pictures were taken almost by accident.  I had a hard time in high school with the people I went to school with.  Everything I said was wrong.  Everything I did was wrong.  When it came time to take the SATs, I didn’t do well on them at first.  A lot of people I went to school with would say things to me like “oh you didn’t get a perfect score.  I thought you were smart.”  I kind of started thinking I was stupid.  

My SAT score was high enough to get me into a lot of really good universities but not high enough for me to get any scholarships.  I still remember have to write these letters to all of these universities I had gotten into to say that I wouldn’t be able to attend.  I remember what a failure I felt like.  

I had gotten into the University at Albany early on in the process.  Truth be told I really did not want to go to that school for a myriad of reasons.  I wanted to be away from the type of people I went to high school with and that place was teeming with those kinds of people.  I wanted a fresh start.  

I remember thinking back then that college was like high school without parents, at least in the first few years.  When I was a freshman, nobody ever slept.  There was this lawless kind of environment everywhere.  Drugs and alcohol was everywhere.  To me even then it all seemed really overblown.  College would go by in a flash.  It would be over before you knew it and you had to start your life.  But everyone around me was just focused on the here and now.  I remember hearing a lot of stories about how drunk how one of them was last night or the night before and it was funny, I guess but I kept wondering — are you going to keep doing this once this whole thing was over?  College isn’t forever.  It’s really not that long of a period of time in your life, in fact. 

I really remember feeling like everyone around me had it all figured out and I didn’t have anything figured out.  So many people went around talking about how smart they were or how the people around them were so smart.  I remember one girl telling me that a guy in our dorm was so smart he knew he didn’t have to be in school.  Another guy told me that he knew he could do so much more not being in college.  I kind of felt like a chump for sticking it out in college.

Now it sounds like adolescent chatter.  I mean we weren’t that far removed from that part of our lives so it is to be expected.  Everything seemed so important at the time.

Now back to the yearbook thing.  I was on the staff and spent many an hour picking the brain of everyone on the staff on how to take good pictures.  The pictures they wanted was really focused on the social life in the school, something that I really did not feel like participating in and which made me just this side of uncomfortable.  

As is frequently the case when I tell these stories, I was off in another world.  I sat at my class in the Brookings Institute and all I did was try to figure out how the pictures hanging on the wall had been taken.  It was the same at college.  They wanted us to photograph drinking and drugging and I’m up there photographing the architecture of the college.  I photographed it constantly.  Now in hindsight, I wish I had photographed it even more.    

Albany had this really unique architecture.  It was another thing I hated about the school, I’ll just say right here.  All of these concrete and this weird looking 1960s space age fantasy.  It was all too much.  To me college was red brick buildings and ivy.  What was all of this?

But as with everything from that time in my life, somehow the passage of years has really given me a new appreciation for it.  The campus really had this futuristic kind of cool to it.  I really wish I had appreciated it at the time.   There was something about it that was out of date and yet modern at the same time.  Downtown Albany had that same feel to it too.  Futuristic and yet out of date at the same time.

What has really struck me over the past few years is that I’m now working as an instructor in the universities I couldn’t afford to attend as an undergraduate.  Now those places that I wouldn’t help me with tuition ask me if students should be admitted.  I’ve been working at Boston University for the past two years and it never ceased to amaze me that the school isn’t actually a leafy green campus.  It’s a city campus.  I always think college is what you make of it and it isn’t just one kind of campus or one kind of experience.  Pretty soon I will have spent as much time teaching the undergraduates as I actually was one.

The college experience gave me things I didn’t really except either.  My own was far from the stereotypical one from movies and television.  Now as an instructor, I try to guide the students and help them in ways I was never really helped when I was their age.  And for what it’s worth, I never really heard about the people who were much too smart for school or could achieve more without it.  Funny how that works.

Here’s to the modern out of date futurism of the University at Albany and Albany, New York.  One small corner of my heart is in fact made of concrete.

Pictures:

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It All Makes Sense Now

So my spelunking through my old negatives got me thinking about a lot of things. So here I’m going to tell an old story with a new image. If you don’t like stories, scroll down to the image.

So when I was 21, I moved to Washington DC to be an intern. It was my last semester of college and I was basically done and ready to start my life. We did our internships three days a week and went to class two days a week, at different locations. Often we had class in a place called the Brookings Institute, which is think tank in Washington, a pretty famous one.

The professor I had was an old Washington person and he knew a lot of people. He would invite people to come and speak to us on different topics. Now this was interesting of course. I’m not going to pretend that I was too cool to listen to those people. I’m not, but Brookings had one thing that got my attention more than anyone we ever heard speak. They had an amazing collection of photographs on their wall, in particular ones by a photographer I really like named Hiroshi Sugimoto.

I remember going to all of these different galleries and seeing these incredible seascapes. There was so much detail rendered in the water and on the beach. There was nothing going on, you weren’t looking at anything particularly beautiful but wow, you were transfixed by these pictures. Sugimoto also photographed different old style movie theaters and those pictures were amazing too. Emptied of people but with these amazing details rendered. It’s not an overstatement to say that I was obsessed with these photos.

One day I was sitting in class after, um, a particularly late evening. I was drinking coffee and listening to today’s expert, after I had gone by the Sugimotos on the way into the conference room and it just hit me — he used medium format film, probably medium format slides to shoot the picture I had seen on the wall. I spent the rest of the class thinking about medium format slide film and how detailed it was.

Anyway, pretty soon after that, I got my Lubitel and learned to take pictures with a twin lens reflex. I didn’t shoot any seascapes, but I did fall in love with the color and the detail rendering on your average medium format film. Now I have a Rolleicord and where did I take it the first chance I got? Yes. To photograph the ocean, of course.

So, here I am “reinterpreting” Sugimoto’s style. I love how the ocean water looks like glass in all of these. The things that happen when you let your mind wander, right?

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The Wilderness Years

Well, hello again.  No, I have not abandoned the blog but I had some business to attend to.  First, I decided to digitize all my old pre-digital stuff, after they’d been sitting in a couple of drawers at my parents house for over a decade.  This was quite the undertaking but TBH, I could have sat there and scanned those negatives for hours on end and really that’s what I did and it took about a month and a half to go through all of it.

Second, I got a new computer.  Not as big of a deal as other new computers but my old machine, much as I loved it, I had to close for now.  But I will never stop loving it.  I say this so the computer doesn’t suddenly decide to break down or something.  I love the old computer and the new one equally!!!!  

Anyway, while going through all the old stuff, I found a lot of pictures I took in Poland when I was studying there and it led me to the title of this blog entry — the Wilderness Years.

So what were the wilderness years and how is Poland connected to that?  Well, read on and you shall find out.

In 1997, I went to study in Denmark and I didn’t know it at the time, that began the Wilderness Years for me.  I went to Denmark and everything changed for me and I traveled quite a bit too during that time period.  I came back to the United States having visited four countries in a short period of time.  Here I was this person who had had all of these experiences back at a college I didn’t particularly like, among a group of people I really did not fit in with.  Nothing much really made that much sense.  I remember being in my dorm at college and wondering if anything would ever make sense again.  To make a long story short, it did but not in the way that I expected.

It was around this time that I really started to question where I lived and definitely who I was around.  It got really confusing for me about where I belonged, even life wise.  My parents lived in a place called Westchester that I utterly hated.  They had moved away from where I had lived when I was in high school to another part of Westchester so I didn’t even really know anyone from there anymore.  My parents had also turned my old room into a gym, which hey was totally their right so there wasn’t a real spot for my stuff.  I was off in the wilderness, in a way.  I knew where I didn’t want to be but I didn’t know where I was supposed to land yet.

The summer after I returned from Denmark, I decided to go to Poland for the summer.  At that time, I visited the country quite frequently.  I had always thought I would return to Poland at some point for school just to get in touch with the roots.  I also always thought it would be weird if I didn’t speak the same language as my grandparents and family.

My university had an exchange program with Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.  For a couple of weeks before the program began, I spent time with my family.  My cousin is the same age as me took me on these hiking trips with her friends that would last days on end.  Those trips were also some of the key features of the Wilderness years.

She had this very interesting group of friends to go with.  We’d carry these enormous backpacks and hike for hours and I’m not going to lie, get utterly and totally lost at times.  One time we stopped to rent a room from this woman who had this huge upstairs full of just beds.  All six of a us slept in there.  I wanted to take a shower because I was sweaty and hot and the woman told me she would turn the hot water on for me.  Turns out the hot water was only on for about 30 seconds.  Another time we stayed in a “hotel” from the communist era with the faucets reversed.  Again I was just trying to take a shower and fiddling with the knobs until I gave up.  Turned out the hotel had switched them to keep people from overusing the hot water.  In yet another hostel, there was an enormous, mismatched picture of a waterfall in this dining hall whose menu included items like “the taste of the Witch.” I’m not sure which part of the witch they had used in the dish.  I almost forgot to include the time we slept in a converted utility closet in a school.  Again, the wilderness years.

I guess I should say some words here about how this all shaped me but really it was seeing this country I was born in from this funny perspective and enjoying being hidden away from everyone and off doing my own thing.

Going to Krakow for school also turned out to be a key experience in the wilderness years.  The program was so bare bones and not flashy but really good at the same time.  We were in this dorm that chronically overfed all of us, so after classes and lunch, there was dorm nap time.  All of these grown people were napping at 2pm like children.  

Everything was so spartan.  There was nothing in the dorm rooms besides beds, a table and a chair.  No televisions.  One phone for four people.  But I don’t remember ever being bored or lacking anything to do.  I had a roommate whose family had moved to Germany from Poland in the 1970s who was one of the coolest people I have ever met.  We became best friends and she was someone I talked to for 15 years afterwards.  Every night people would be heading to the center of Krakow to go out or just watch some soccer in the main square.  Then on the weekends, they would put us onto a bus and drive us to some interesting place near Krakow.  Everything was so simple, but so nice.

My Polish class was taught by one of the best teachers I have ever had, Pani Dorotka.  Pani means “mrs” in Polish.  The classes were in a junior high near the dorms.  Every morning I would walk over with this coffee I would drink from a plastic cup.  I could speak Polish fine but I could barely read and I couldn’t write at all.  Pani Dorotka helped with all of that.

The school also had the program of my dreams — an art class taught with Krakow as the backdrop.  The teacher would talk about a certain period in art history and oh over here we have an example.  Outside, sweaty with a camera wandering around all day.  HEAVEN.

In total, I ended up in these study abroad programs for a year.  They shaped me as a person but it never, ever, ever, ever crossed my mind to work in the programs.  I had no idea what I would even do in them.  It seems crazy now when I say it, but you know, the wilderness years.  Time to figure out where it’s all going to go.

Going through my old photographs recently, I realized how grateful I was for the wilderness years and how much those years ended up meaning in the course of my life.  I felt lost as a student in the study abroad program and thought — I don’t want other people to feel lost in their lives.  It’s funny how these seemingly insignificant experiences can clue you into what you will do in the future.  

Here’s to what shapes us and how the wild, unstructured times in our lives help us become the best version of ourselves.  Here are pictures from the beautiful Krakow.  Hashtag Wanderlust!!!!!!!

I’m Really Not That Original

So, I studied photography.  Kind of.  Well I was on my college yearbook staff but I was just over there learning how to do everything.  I would just ask a lot of questions and figure out how to take better pictures.  Oh and I took a class called History of Photography, where we traced the evolution of photography, via images.  We looked at images by this photographer named Walker Evans, who loved straight lines and this unfussy approach to photography.

Now that I’m in stereotypical New England and there are a lot of just random car rides to places, we drive through these towns.  They have big squares, churches and town halls.  All I think is — that church is so Walker Evans.  Now I have the opportunity to live out my Walker Evans fantasy — photograph all of this.

Here’s New England, in all of it straightforward glory:

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Is Phaeton Misbehaving with his Persephone???

Quarantine, well, quarantine.  Well, what I can say right now is that my life has increasingly become very similar to the lives of the characters in a EM Forster book.  How so you ask?  Are we landed gentry that take little trips to Italy where our calm collected British natures are upended by the passionate Italians?  I’d love to say, yes, but alas the answer is no.

In my favorite book and movie, A Room With A View, Lucy Honeychurch goes on a drive to see the Italian countryside with Cousin Charlotte, both Mr Emersons, the English Vicar in Florence and Mr Beebe.  The carriage is driven by a dark haired Italian and his blond girlfriend.  They kiss periodically.  The English Vicar objects constantly, while Mr Beebe says — has Phaeton been misbehaving with his Persephone?  This goes on for a bit, until Persephone is asked to leave the carriage.  It is all really funny this subtle British way.  These stuffy English people, stuck indoors all the time and here they are with these passionate Italians.

Usually I side with Phaeton and Persephone but lately, lately, I feel like Lucy Honeychurch with Cousin Charlotte.  I’m with my family.  We stay indoors mostly but we do periodically promenade outside usually in a garden or a large outdoor space.  It’s all very controlled now, with the masks and the social distancing.  Usually I’m in Boston, having the sun beat down on me, sweating like mad, surrounded by one million of my closest friends in the summer.  Now, it’s with a very select group of people, outside for a bit, with strict precautions taken.  Sometimes I feel like those Italians in that carriage in the Italian countryside.

Where was Phaeton in these photos??  Is he off misbehaving with her Persephone again?

 

They Look Weird, But That’s OK

I don’t even know what month of quarantine it is anymore.  Just kidding.  I know, but it’s better that I really don’t know.  Anyway, I’m experimenting with film again and I have to say it’s been a lot of fun so far with the small amount of production I’ve already had.

I found a YouTube show with a guy who just talks about different film cameras.  Heaven.  Now with digital, you just set your camera to whatever ISO and go with the readings on the camera.  The pictures are always perfect.  Well, most of the time.  But a lot of the old manual things are taken care of by the little machine.

But sometimes in life, it’s fine not to be perfect.  Actually I think it’s kind of beautiful.  Perfect is kinda boring.  Film photos are human.  They aren’t always perfect.  And that’s fine.

The pictures in this blog entry are the first photos I’ve shot with a film camera for maybe 15 years.  I’m using a Lubitel 166, the little plastic box I mentioned in other entries.  I’m very embarrassed to say that, that I am relearning how to advance film because I double exposed a bunch of pictures on this premiere roll.  I kind of love the double exposures, but I guess I do have to relearn how to actually advance the film.  It’s been kind of trial and error right now, but I’m happy to go along with it.  I mean I’m not really doing anything else, right?

Anyway, I’m glad to be using that little machine again.  Kind of like discovering photography for the first time again.  But my whole thought process around photography has had to change.  I take the Lubitel on days when I know there will be bright sunlight and I can at least kind of guess what the speed and the aperture I will be using.  I mean I kind of know but the Lubitel has it’s limits.  The digital mega machine has a maximum speed in the 10,000s, has an ISO from 25 to 6400.  Sure I have a 50mm lens that can go down to 1.8 but who cares if you can have a 6400 ISO whenever you feel like it.

The Lubitel on the other hand is more modest by comparison.  It keeps it at a 125 speed and a maximum 22 of an aperture.  Cute.  So fun mathematics before I can take a picture.

So here’s the first production.  These first images are really interesting.  They are from when I was in graduate school one in Washington DC, living in Georgetown.  I remember I took this roll of film and I thought — I will not develop these pictures for a long time.  Who knew it wouldn’t be until I was living in another state, in another city, living a completely different life?  I guess that’s the charm of film photography.  LOL.

It was interesting for me to look at these images.  I really wanted to see them because I thought the emotions of that time would come flooding back to me and they kind of did but not to the degree I thought they would.  A snapshot of another time in my life.  The moment over before I had even realized.

OK enough prose.  I know, the borders of the pictures are green and rest assured, it is on purpose.  This is 16 year old slide film sitting in the Lubitel.  It was starting to degrade.  But I got some interesting images out of it anyway:

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Well, now that I have dealt with ancient times.  I shot two rolls with the Lubitel using film that expired in 2011.  Hilarious.  So, some of them are washed out.  We have the aforementioned film advancing trouble so there are some double exposures.  I know some of them look like David Lynch’s vacation pictures, but I don’t know.  I kind of love these.  See if you agree:

The Green Body

I’m a big reader and now with things really slowed down, I’ve been reading like crazy again.  Books are great.  You escape your current situation into the atmosphere of the book.

I started reading a great little book by an author I really like named Bill Bryson.  Bryson is this jovial looking American-British author of tomes on growing up in Iowa, living in England and how weird that can be and this delightful look book called A Walk in The Woods about trying to walk the Appalachian trail.  Recently, he came out with a book about the human body.  Now my parents have been in the biomedical sciences for a long time but I’ve never really been interested in human biology.  All those spleens and mile long intestines.  Um, yeah, no thanks.  But Bryson’s book is humorous and I’m learning a lot from it.  That’s what I always liked about his books.  He’s learning about it as he goes and he’s telling you about it in a humorous sort of a way.

What I’ve learned so far is how many filtering mechanisms they are in the body and how everything gets moved around.  Hormones regulate everything around the body.  Bones are stronger than reinforced concrete.  And your liver.  Yeah.  Best not to damage that.  If your liver goes, you’ve got about an hour left of your life.  The lungs bringing you oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from your blood.  Every chapter is kind of a revelation, like the body, this machine that keeps us going.

A couple of days ago, I went on a very pleasant walk around the Arnold Arboretum and I noticed something.  The trees, they kind of look like organs, like lungs almost, doing the breathing for the earth.  Every tree just looked like a lung cut in half.  Plants and trees are the organs of the earth.  When you think of it that way, it makes it yet more shameful how we treat our great planet.

Anyway, here are some pictures of some lung trees:

 

Slow Photography

A while back I read a story about slow food, the kind of food that people at those long tables in Tuscany. Meals that people talk about for the rest of their lives.

But we’re not really built for that anymore as a society. We’re in a big hurry. We need to do everything faster. Immediately.

That extends too to photography. Now you can pick up a camera, focus on what you want and get a perfect image in two seconds and move on. So today I decided to pick up my Lubitel, which I had totally forgotten how to use, but we’re in year three or month three of quarantine. I literally have no idea. But anyway, the camera came out of mothballs, I mean a drawer at my parents house and out it went.

Well, not so fast. First, there was still a roll of film in the camera from I’m going to say 2004 but I can’t exactly be sure. My dad had two rolls of 120 lurking around in some corner somewhere. We had to take the film out the camera, which I had pretty much forgotten how to do in the first place. We stood in a dimmed bathroom and relearned how to load film in a camera.

We went for a little walk around a rather pleasant botanical garden around here and I decided to take the Lubitel for a test drive. A review. I’ve put the idea in my head that I’m going to drag that camera up to the top of a mountain next winter. I will become the skier with the weird camera around my neck. But I kind of wanted to figure out how to use the controls before I’m trying to take a picture and avoid frostbite at the same time. Try it out in neutral circumstances, I guess.

Anyway, what fun the Lubitel and I had today. Now, the number of pictures you can take, well, how many times can your finger press that button???? Infinite??? Well, imagine you could only press that button 16 times, sometimes 12. LOL. Choose your shots wisely dear child.

So I got to the botanical garden and choose my first shot with the Lubitel. Oh wait, how to focus this thing again???? Is the image in focus???? Wait. I don’t want to take it this way. Why won’t this thing focus???? OK, I’m going to take this another way. No, I don’t like this. Don’t waste a shot on this. Wait for something better. After I got over the initial shock of this, it got fun. It was interesting looking through the little view finder and composing in there, just like the compose through the screen function is now on my DSLR. The camera has a kind of an odd appeal to it. And hey life is SLOW now, so there might be some more production from it.

Speaking of slow. So the photos for tonights fire side chatting are the definition of slow. I took these between 2001 and 2003, when I lived on Capitol Hill right after I graduated from college. I guess everyone looks back on different phases of their lives and thinks — what a strange time that was, but for me, it feels that way when I think about DC. Recently I was making a joke about a certain presidential daughter who was giving a commencement speech where was giving advice to a bunch of new graduates about like economic uncertainty or something she has never had to experience. SHE got offered a job at Vogue, even though she didn’t accept it, blah blah blah. She knew she wanted to do real estate development, blah blah blah. Girl, sit down. Anyway, I graduated from college with a truckload of academic honors and moved in a house with a hole in the ceiling of the living room. Not a small hole. I used to sit in the living room and think the toilet was going to fall through the floor into the living room.  I was a cub reporter back then.  No I did not write about baby bears but cub reporters are very young journalists just getting their start in the industry.  Cub reporters aren’t really know for being overpaid but for the money I was making, the place was just right.  And I was a cub and I was living in what was essentially a cave.  Perfect.

Capitol Hill was interesting back then. It was this area that you could feel was about to completely transform. The buildings were very nice but they were very run down. It felt like people had either lived there for their entire lives or were 22 year old recent college graduates who worked and socialized 24/7 and didn’t care if their shower actually worked. I was the later but the shower actually worked. Most of the time.

Capitol Hill was mysterious back then for lack of a better word. There were buildings that looked like they had been put up during the Civil War and hadn’t changed any since then. Around the corner from where I lived was a school that had been abandoned for a very long time. I would peek through the windows to see broken desks and dusty old books. There were different businesses that I would never really see open. Close to where I lived, there was a little shopping plaza where I went to the supermarket, the Safeway. One day a guy walked up to me and said — watch out for yourself. There was a dollar store in the same plaza that sold the oddest products, just the weirdest things. One day I saw a window display of Tide Laundry detergent and the labels were all in Russian. It was one of the few days I actually left my camera at home. What an crazy oversight on my part!!!!!!

I worked a lot during the week and I did my share of socializing but I’d also be there alone a lot. I’d make dinner and watch DVDs from Netflix. Yes, it was that long ago. I guess I was trying to figure out how to actually run a life. I kept feeling like I was really not good at that, whereas everyone had already figured out where they wanted to live, who they wanted to be with, where they wanted to work and me sort of adrift in all of this. I spent a lot of time thinking I had missed that day when everyone had just figured it all out.  I had also missed the lesson on how to do that.  I think back on that now and I can’t believe I actually thought that way.  But, nobody ever tells you how hard your 20s will be but that you will eventually figure it out.

One thing that I did all the time was take the Lubitel and photograph the neighborhood. This was the time when people were already using pretty good digital cameras and here I was using a box with a hole in it with a length of film inside. But it was great. Capitol Hill was full of all of these odd little details, stuff that it took you a long time to discover. You had to be there with your slow camera doing your slow photography to notice them. I think I also captured the area the way it was at the time. It’s much more gentrified than what I remember. I googled my old house address and the house I lived in after college just sold for just under a million dollars. Needless to say, they patched the hole in the ceiling. I’m kind of hoping when we can all do some significant moving around, I can go down to DC to look at some old corners.

So here we are today. I’m at my parents house and these negatives have been gathering dust for almost 20 years. I scanned them all in yesterday and I was really happy to see how well they all turned out. Little worlds onto themselves. A couple of them really brought back how I felt when I took them. One in particular took me right back to how hopeless I felt when when I took and how hopeful I feel now. Nothing lasts forever. Life adds on layers and nuances and that’s what makes us people. Eh, ok. Enough deep thoughts. The pictures!!!!!!!

Time to Celebrate a Bakelite Wonder from the USSR

Well, I guess quarantine has finally given me the opportunity to go through all the images I’ve managed to gather up over these twenty or so years of taking pictures.

I’ve gotten around to some of my old slides and to my old pictures pictures taken with a little machine called a Lubitel.  This is a Lubitel, in case you have never seen one:

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Let’s back the story up here a bit.  I got this camera in the year 2000.  I had at that point started to do photography more seriously and I had seen a lot of famous photographers using Rolliflexes and Hasselblads, which are medium format cameras.  Medium format cameras take 4 X 4 inch negatives or slides.  A huge surface area for making prints.  And these cameras have huge sensors on them, add to the sharpness of the images they produce.  Film negatives are 35mm, which does well with print making ability up until a certain point.  Now this is all past because phone cameras have ridiculously high pixelation and digital SLRs shoot images were every single corner of the image is completely razor sharp.  But this all used to matter.

Anyway, the Rolliflexes and the Hasselblads were a tad out of my price range.  The basic no lenses Hasselblad still costs about $1200.  With lenses and it’s about a $2,000 operation.  That was about $2,000 out of my price range anyway.  My dad had actually had a medium format camera when he was growing up.  It was the above mentioned bakelite wonder, the Lubitel that was mass produced by the Soviet Union.  I checked around and found out that the camera cost about $60, well within my price range.  Now the Hasselblads and Rolliflexes, they had fancy things in them like light meters and automatic film advancing but the Lubitel, it got you back to the basics.

So you know how a camera obscura was originally just a room where a painters painted an image projected on a wall from a hole made in a piece of paper?  Well, the little Lubitel was just a much smaller version of that.  The camera didn’t need any batteries because it had no actual electronic parts to it.  You loaded your film (more on that in a second) by hand.  You advanced it until it was securely in place.  You had to remember to advance the film because if you didn’t you got yourself a nice double exposure, which isn’t so bad sometimes.

Medium format film shoots a very large negative, so you don’t really get rolls of film that have 24 or 36 pictures per roll.  With the medium format film, it got you down to a tight 12.  Yes.  TWELVE.  I thought for the longest time in terms of film when I started taking pictures with a digital camera.  I’d think — wow, I went and shot six rolls of film today but really it was 120 digital pictures.  I’m back to shooting conservatively but when I started, OMG, I took 10,000 pictures every time I shot anything.  The Lubitel would have cured me of that immediately.

Oh and it didn’t come with a light meter.  It had two settings — sunny or cloudy.  You could adjust the aperture and the exposure time yourself but you had to provide your own light meter.  There was a hot shoe on the camera and I’m not exactly sure why it was there because there was no electronic signal that was to be sent by the camera to the flash anyway.  I’m surprised that the camera didn’t come with one of those curtains you could throw over your head or a magnesium flare to set off as a flash.

I do think about what a pain this all was, but it really wasn’t.  I was learning the technical craftsmanship of photography.  It was learning what makes great photographs.  I’m going to make a weird analogy so just stay with me.  If you want to skip down to the photography, go ahead.  I won’t be offended.

Ok, thanks for staying.  Back in the day, Olympic gymnastics had compulsories where the gymnasts all did the same routines and those routines were beautiful.  Some of them look like ballet with a couple of tumbling passes thrown in.  You had to have a great grounding in basics and technique to do those routines well.  I think of slides and the Lubitel as my compulsories.  Interesting as well, considering how good the Soviet gymnasts always were at compulsories.  I actually learned a lot from using the Lubitel about composition and light metering.  My photography basics also came from an uncompromising and strict coach from the USSR — the Lubitel.

Anyway, here are some pictures I took with the Lubitel in 2001, ancient times.  I was looking at them and I couldn’t believe how pin sharp they are.  They look like they were taken yesterday but alas, they were not.  I think I got my $60 worth with the Lubitel:

From the times when Photography was… WORK

I used to laugh when digital came along.  Oh these kids don’t know how good they have it.  No messing around with loading film and hoping it works, hoping the results are even marginally all right.  Now they just have their clear screens and they can see their image immediately and beam it out electronically to the entire world.  They don’t know what WE used to go through, how we SUFFERED.

But yeah.  I don’t want to sound like someone who yells — GET OFF MY LAWN.

Please young people come to my lawn and let me tell the story of how I got the images below.  Way back in 2001 (I can’t believe I just wrote that) if you wanted your images to look more interesting or remarkable, you had to put the work in pre photographing, not post like now.  I had seen color infrared images in a photography magazine and decided I wanted to do a project with them.  I was going to shoot the annual cherry blossoms in Washington DC with color infrared film.  Notice I said project.

Back then I was shooting with a beautiful machine called a Canon AE-1.  That camera was a marvel.  Very few moving parts.  Pure photography.  Did you have to know what you were doing with it??  Yes.  Did I make a lot of mistakes when I shot with it?  You bet.  So color infrared film only came in slides and cost $20 a roll, rather than the usual $6 regular slide film cost.  Oh and you got 36 exposures, so if you messed up, that was it.  And you had to load the infrared film in total darkness.  I bought a dark bag to load the film into the camera.

But wait, there’s more.  One you got the color infrared film, you had to take your pictures on a very bright, very sunny day.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t work.  And when you were taking the pictures, you had to take an outboard light meter with you because you had use a red filter on the camera lens to get the crazy effects in the pictures.  The light meter inside the camera wouldn’t work and give you the wrong readings and at $20 a roll, you couldn’t really afford to make mistakes.  Oh and the AE-1 was really the best camera to take the pictures with because it didn’t have a red sensor in it to automatically set your film speed.  You set your film speed yourself, so if you set it wrong, your pictures were off and if you know what you were doing you could push your 400 ISO to 800 to shoot after dark.  YES.  It was that complex.

But the results, well, the results are these crazy, surrealistic looking images that I doubt could be repeated now.  Photography is different now.  But I appreciate the education film gave me because I still take all of this stuff into consideration when I take pictures and it has served me well.  You have more chances to take a good picture with digital now but knowing the old stuff does serve me well.

Well, finally, here are the images:

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