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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In Praise of Doing Things Slowly

Well, here were are still in quarantine, in I’m going to say May but really I’m not sure.  I don’t know if I’m doing a project or the family chief, code name Neptune, just put me on this mission, but I’m digging through my photographs, old, new, whatever.

I realized that I have entire albums of slides.  Well, young readers (old readers skip ahead) let me take you back to 2001.  That’s almost 20 years ago now, which disturbs me beyond belief.  Anyway, I was but a young photographer obsessed with images.  The difference now is that I’m a bit older.  I’m still obsessed with images.  Anyway, I was obsessed with color images. Color film just didn’t give the types of color reproduction I wanted so I shot a lot of slides.  A LOT.  This was of course before the days of digital editing programs too.  Slide film made beautiful colors and gave the pictures a kind of luminescent quality to the images.  They are all Vermeers, I mean I guess I thought they were.

The thing though about slides was that printing them cost a mint.  A print from a slide cost like $2, so I really had to limit the number of them I got.  So, the slides from Paris sat in an album for low these past 20 years.  I knew, I always knew we would get hit by a global pandemic and before that, smartphones would be invented and I would be able to download a free app to scan all my slides.  I knew that.

OK we’re at the third paragraph and I haven’t made a point.  I appreciate your patience, I really do.  Anyway, so in 2001, I went on a trip to Paris and Poland in late summer.  I went to Europe a lot in those days.  Rediscovering the roots, I guess.  We went to Paris and look, Paris, is Paris.  People always say — that’s the Paris of wherever, but Paris is the Paris of Paris.  The city is like something built in a jewel box.  The food was magnificent and the whole atmosphere there is exactly like the movies.  I always imagined myself living in one of those tiny little corner apartments, staring down at the street, getting my bread from some hundred year old bakery on the way to wherever.  And of course all the pictures I took there were on slides.

Fast forward to 2020 and I suddenly get the urge to scan all of this.  I find this app that you can use to scan it all with but you need a backlight.  I had this tabletop projector I used to look at my slides in to magnify them.  This thing is still at my parents house, where I am for the duration of the pandemic.  I took out the slide projector, that I haven’t used in almost 20 years.  I had to open the albums, go through the pictures, choose the ones I wanted to view and load up the projector.  The projector only takes a certain amount of slides anyway.  This took time too.  I had to look closely at every slide and position the projector the right way to get the best view.  The colors on the slides are really beautiful and the pictures have a kind of slow quality to them.  I was using a Canon AE-1 all manual camera back then.  No autofocus for me yet.

I realized while I was doing this how this was all so slow and brought me back to the days when photography was craft and you were kind of an artisan doing it.  I mean I wasn’t a real artisan back then either.  I didn’t have my own dark room like some people had.  It’s kind of funny too that the pictures from Paris are the slide film artisan ones.  France is the country where they still have handmade butter that they stamp into all kind of interesting shapes.  Here butter is just in sticks that we buy in bulk at Costco.  Vive La France!!!!

Anyway, I pulled out some good ones from the slides.  I put two pictures from Poland in there too, because I’m Polish.  I guess.

The pictures from when pictures still kinda looked like paintings from the city that literally looks like a painting all the time:

 

Instagram, Before That Was Even A Thing

Hello from the 10,000 day of March 2020 from quarantine.  Since this is the first time in a decade where I don’t have to do anything or be anywhere, I’ve given myself a little project.  I am putting together a little thing about my decade of photography in New England and a bit beyond.

While I was looking for stuff for that, I came up these photos I took now almost 20 years ago.  It will never not be weird referring to 2002 as 20 years ago, but there you have it.

The photos from this entry were taken with a camera called a Lomo.  Here it is:

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This was a little Russian made wonder with a super wide angle lens and a very quiet shutter.  The shutter sound effect (why is that even there?) on the phone is louder.  Obviously, it was a film camera.  I took that thing EVERYWHERE.  EVERYWHERE.  I wasn’t loading it with $6 a roll Kodak film.  I used $1 a roll film from Costco.  Because it went EVERYWHERE with me.

And where was everywhere?  I was a journalist at the time, reporting on federal and international taxation.  I know, you fell asleep during that sentence.  I got to go to the Washington DC show, the politician show.  Being part of the show was interesting and fun and the politicians were…. interesting.  I put a couple of the “stars” at the time into this entry.  Dick Armey and Dennis Hastert show up here, as well as a fresh faced Jeff Flake.  I encountered A LOT of politicians in those days.  Dick Armey was HILARIOUS.  I took the picture I put up of him here because it was the day his material was premium.  Dennis or Denny as he was known around the show was a high school wrestling coach and he really didn’t change.  The show didn’t take the wrestling coach out of him.  I had a great encounter with Jerrold Nadler, where he pointed at me and said — no one from the press is even here.  What am I???  Chopped liver Jerry????  One time I was at an event and Kevin Hassett said — Paul Krugman always gets his tax wrong and you can quote me on that in Tax Notes.  I wanted to say — Hassett, I just want to get out of here alive with something to write about.  Could you not?  I went to the White House a couple of times.  George W. Bush was goofy AF and I kept thinking he was doing a good imitation of Will Ferrell playing him.  There’s a video of Will Ferrell reprising his role as George W. Bush and saying — it is I, George W. Bush and that is EXACTLY what Bush was like.  I remember standing in front of White House next to Trent Lott and thinking — that man’s hair does not move.

It was weird because you couldn’t say those politicians were modest but it was really funny watching those clashing egos.  There were eye rolls and semi temper tantrums.  I guess it was supposed to big time policy making but it really was funny a lot of time.  I had a reporter’s notebook with me and I would make notes like — throw a chair at him, throw a chair at him.  The disagreements were respectful.  There was always an interesting energy around.

That period in my life was really hard for me though.  Nobody tells you how difficult your 20s are going to be.  I liked the show but it was hard to find people to be around.  Everything was on this one topic and people never stopped talking about politics.  It was exhausting.  I felt weird and out of place and awkward outside of work.  I liked the people at work who were kind of normal but not the people I was around in my social life.  Now that I think about it too, I wanted a community, nature, activities and different conversations than the ones I had at work all day.  I don’t want to constantly talk shop.  But that’s what I got.  Unending shop talk.

I look at these pictures too that I couldn’t have known what was coming and the people I would meet.  It was just the beginning.  Another lie you are told in your 20s.  It all has to happen then.  I’m here to tell you, it does not.  It can happen in other decades and you aren’t too old and it isn’t too late.

I realized when I was looking through these pictures that it’s a little time capsule of my life, the things I thought would matter so much and all the stuff that didn’t end up mattering at all.  But I documented my life the way people did on Instagram before it got extra weird.  I still document my life up there that way.  I’m not up there pretending to eat “clean” cookie dough.  Someone said this coronavirus will might spell the end of those influencers and all I have to say about that is that while I’ve never wished anything dead, there have been obituaries I have read with great pleasure.

These photos have an unrefined quality to the pictures.  They aren’t typical DC pictures. Not the incredibly iconic Washington, just living Washington.  They are also film pictures taken with a rather not high quality camera with discount film, developed at Costco.  Now people call that “the Lomo filter.”  I took a pictures with a Lomo.  I am an OG old picture taker.  Instagram is just a poor imitation!!! JK.  So here are a selection of the photos from the Lomo.  They are mostly from DC but there are pictures from Paris and New York.

The time capsule of my 20s.

Life, On Pause

What if I told you a month ago that we’d all be sitting at home.  Not just the people who usually sit at home, or prefer to sit at home but we’d ALL be sitting at home.  Crazy huh?  Well, that’s where we are on March 29 2020, I don’t even know what day it is.  The phone calendar tells me it’s Sunday but that’s just a social construct at this point.

We’re all stuck inside because of something called coronavirus.  In January, there were some cases in China but no need to worry, we’ll be fine.  Now, now is a bit different.  A reality that at times is just too difficult to process.

There’s the surreal aspect to all of this.  The Boston Marathon is postponed, the Olympics, and many other things.  But then there’s the real aspect of this.  Every business is closed and whatever can happen online is happening online.

I’ve been thinking lately though, that life on pause might have an upside to it.  I work in an industry where people don’t get paid sick time so for the past ten years, I have almost constantly been sick.  A cold passing and one on its way.  Now I can finally breathe well after so many years.  I’ve reconnected with people that I haven’t spoken to in a decade.  We’re all praying for each other.  I’ve discovered the joys of video calling.  I had quite a hilarious conference call with some friends that live in another state.  And my best friend of a quarter century called me her hero for helping her son with his homework!!!!!  VICTORY.

Everyone is in the same boat so everyone is helping each other.  I’m not going to lie.  It is not going to be easy.  But we are actually in this together.

Here are some pictures from one of my few trips outside in the past 10 (???) days:

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

So we’re nearing the end of another magnificent ski season.  The last few have been particularly good, just because I know a lot better what to actually do, how to have consistently good days and how to enjoy myself on the mountain more.

I realized something early though when I started going skiing.  The amount of focus it involves is immense but in another way the sport helped me was to make me really focused.  When I first started going skiing, I would fall when I thought of something that upset me.  It taught me to focus more on the positive things or at least be able to push the negative thoughts away when I went skiing, in the hopes that this would have a reflection on my outside life.

Last weekend, I skied this slope at Killington called Panic Button.  It’s a black diamond but an groomed slope that has a bit of a feature at the beginning and then a normal ride down.  My favorite.  How I came to find this trail is a bit of an interesting story.  As I said in the last entry, my two earlier trips to Killington this season were, um, interesting.  One with 11 million of my closest friends and the other when the mountain was covered in insane, dense fog.  It was in this insane dense fog that I decided to first ski Panic Button.  Why I decided to do this still mystifies me.  Anyway, last weekend I decided to ski Panic Button again, but actually be able to see this time.  That’s where the focus came in.  I’d never been on this thing when I could actually see all of it so I was laser focused on every feature.    Small bump here, straight down there, make a turn there.  When I ski, I try to memorize as many of the features of the trails so I can ski it again, in good weather and bad weather or crazy overwhelming fog.  Anyway, it was very pleasant.  As long as you keep your eyes on the prize while skiing.

Oh and there are pictures.  OF COURSE:

The Slope Life

Well, ski season has started and as anyone who has even been on this blog once knows, that is my favorite time of the year.

Over the past few seasons, I have really changed how I ski.  First I was learning.  Then it was mastery of different levels of trail.  Now I set goals for myself at the beginning of each season.  How many runs, how many times and how well I hope to do all of this.  I tend to stick to one side of the resort, so there are fewer pictures taken, but by this point, I’ve been to all of these places a multitude of times.

This ski season has been really interesting.  Well, some new people have entered my life as a result.  I found myself a guy to drive me at 5am for my ski bus, this incredibly crusty guy from Bawstan, I mean Boston who has the thickest Boston accent I have ever heard.  But he’s good guy who is always early to get me and delivers me on time and with no drama.  I’ve also started to ask friends to drop me off at the place we take the bus from.  A new friend named Liz was tasked with this last weekend and it all worked out with the ride.  She came to get me, we chatted and off I went.  Last year I asked two friends to drop me off and it went off fine.  Did these people get to a new friendship level with me??  Possibly.  Nah, I love them.  Ten years in a place, right?

Well and then there’s the actual skiing.  My first big skiing trip this season was to Sunday River, which was a good day but really tiring.  But the best kind of tired is skiing tired.  Then two hilarious trips to Killington.  The first one was on the biggest ski day of the year with approximately and I can’t get too exact, 11 million of my closest friends.  I have never seen that many people on a mountain anywhere, ever.  The lift line at the bottom of the Killington base was super crowded and it took a half an hour to get anywhere.  The mountain was FULL of people.  I hate to sound like a snob but one day a year ski people, not us crazy people who sleep with our skis by our beds and joyously run outside at 4am to go skiing.  Just vacation skiers or as a local in Killington calls them — Jerrys.  A Jerry is ski parlance for an individual who cannot ski well.

But it was still a fun day.  Because any day on the mountain is a good day.  The conversations on the lifts are the absolute best, especially since this man appeared on my ski helmet:

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If you don’t know, this is Nick Offerman playing a wonderful character named Ron Swanson, on the exceptional Parks and Recreation.  Ron is a very conventional man who likes wood working, breakfast food and dark haired women.  This above though, is when Ron lost his mind and re-married his second ex-wife, Tammy 2.  Within 24 hours of remarrying, he’s got the corn rows and the kimono.  It is one of the funniest transformations ever to be put on screen.  At one point during the hours of crazy, Corn Rows Ron watches a videotape of regular Ron, where regular Ron warns him about the dangers of getting involved with Tammy 2.

I’m a member of multiple Parks and Recreation groups on Facebook and one day I saw that some website was selling stickers of him in this great moment.  I got three.  One for my fridge, one for my mirror and of course, one for the ski helmet.  Ron is there to remind me to be a little bit evil everyday.

So three young men on the lift were passing a flask of bourbon between them and joking about stuff.  At one point, they asked if I wanted a swig from their flask.  God, I love skiing!!!!!  Well, since the only was down was a black diamond with a rope over it that said — experts only, I didn’t partake.  But we did get into a conversation about the Ron sticker and by the time we were at the top, a lot of laughter had passed between us about Parks and Recreation and the sticker.  Give me all of your bacon and eggs!!!!!!

The next weekend I decided to return to Killington.  This time it was 11 million of my closest friends and fog.  A lot of fog.  A LOT OF FOG.  How much fog?  Well, at one point I took my goggles off and all I saw was white.  I could not see the horizon or the person in front of me.  It was as close as I ever come to actually being blind in my life.  So I decided that day to go down an icy trail called Panic Button.  It should be renamed “Get Your Head Examined.”  I got on it.  I can’t really see well.  All I thought was — let the people in front of you go and keep your eyes on the horizon.  And we were fine obviously, but when I starting going down, I thought — honey, you in danger now.  Skiing — you got yourself into this mess and you have to get yourself out of it now.

And of course there was fun lift conversation.  On the same ski lift where I encountered the boys with the flask of bourbon the week before, this time I was riding the lift up with a guy whose been skiing for farty years.  I don’t know how to write it but that’s what it sounds like to me.  Farty years this guy has been skiing.  Then another guy on the lift started talking about how Baywatch had been digitally remastered and it was hilarious to watch.  I said that they use phones that are the sizes of paperbacks and the TV screens are huge.  The Farty guy goes — I had a phone in my caaaaaah and a beepaaaaah.  And now his ex-wife has the numbaaaaaah from his caaaaaah phone.  I think I was laughing about this conversation for at least an hour afterwards.

The skiing was, um, interesting that day.  It was ice skiing and some moguls.  Moguls in fog.  None of this bodes particularly well, but it was all right.  Gotta be ready for everything.  Get the practice in with those turns for days like that.

Last Sunday’s ski trip was the calmest and most beautiful not just of this season, but of all my seasons chasing the dragon, I mean skiing.  Every year since I started going skiing, I sign up to go to Bretton Woods and every year the Patriots are in the Super Bowl, so the trip gets cancelled.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I love the team but you can go skiing and then watch the Super Bowl.  But the trip always got cancelled.  Well, this year this team didn’t make it.  Look, we have to give other people the chance to win.  BURN.  Nah, well, better luck next year.  Anyway, so the ski club finally did go to Bretton Woods and the views, were, kind of unbelievable.

Bretton Woods is the home of a very famous hotel were an agreement about the post war monetary system was signed and where two nights costs the same amount as my rent for my old apartment in Allston, Chez Kelton.  Next to the hotel is a ski area also called Bretton Woods.  As I always update Facebook to let my parents know that I have arrived at my ski destination, my aunt saw my post and wondered what I was doing wandering in some kind of a forrest.  I was wandering that forrest with my skis, thank you very much.

What a glorious day it was.  Weather was perfect.  The runs were magnificent and the views, well, those below.  Words just won’t do them justice.

Now to the photography.  You’ve been patient.  There will be photographs in a second:

These Streets

I always wondered what it would feel like to get older.  When I was 10 years old, I used to sit in bed and wonder — what will my life be like when I’m 30???  Or, gasp, 40????

Well, now I know and it’s nothing at all like I expected.  I always say the future is, um, weird.  No flying cars or talking refrigerators.  But there’s something deeper to it.

I’ve walked the streets of New York since I was a little kid.  My favorite building in New York is the Chrysler Building.  My one fantasy in life has been to go inside the spire of the building.  It is a structure that has long fascinated me.

In 2007, when I started this blog, I was working in the Graybar building, right next to the Chrysler Building.  One day, the air conditioning went out in the building and they opened all the windows.  I looked out of the windows at all the buildings and there was an incredible view of the Chrysler Building.  It was almost like I could reach out and touch it.

What happens when thirteen years go by after that???  You walk by that same building but now you are walking around with a student you taught when he was 16 and you are telling him about this, still walking these street.  And the Chrysler Building is still so beautiful:

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Color World

This is an exhibit at the Peabody Essex museum of the works of a painter named Hans Hoffman I went to over the holiday.  These pictures were taken with a little Olympus tough camera, not my big camera.

Yeah, it’s abstract art, and not everyone likes that, but those brush strokes though.  Those brush strokes: