Classical Photography

Don’t worry. I promise not to be boring. But this will be an entry about some deep photography musings, thoughts really.

I’ve spent the past 15 or so years going through a series of digital SLRs. At first, the digital SLR was a wonder. You could have an autofocus lens and set everything to automatic and just shoot away??? I mean that sounds like heaven, right? Coupled with the fact that I dragged my camera to the ends of the earth with me, I got really good at photography. I thought about it last year that I can now produce a perfect image with little trouble. I mean yeah, this took hundreds of thousands if not millions of bad images to happen but I was there.

Then covid hit. Suddenly, there was NOTHING to photograph. And for the first time in almost 20 years, I wasn’t out taking pictures constantly. Strange, I know. I still probably take more pictures than the average person but not as many as I used to. But this strange thing happened over covid. I picked up the film camera again. I don’t even know why this happened. Maybe it was because nothing was going on. Or maybe I kind of wanted to go back to my old way of doing things. Considering the pictures I was taking. Being careful about what I photographed.

Then I became the owner of an amazing little machine called a Rolleicord. I DREAMED of this camera since I started photography. Big sensor, beautiful rendering of details. A dream. It’s been fun lately taking this thing around with me. Recently, I thought I had actually lost a roll of film because I hadn’t seen the images yet. Then I remembered that the images were actually still in the camera because I only took two or three on average when I was out with the camera. What a difference from the usual digital shooting of a thousand images to find three good ones.

The verdict: I’m really in love with the little Rollei. That’s the great thing about hobbies. You get really good at it, plateau and then discover you have other things to do, look at, explore.

Here’s some recently production from the Rollei:

Journeys with Rollei

Well, here we go. Two entries in two days. But I got a lot of ground to cover. So let’s just dive in.

I’ve mentioned in previous entries that most of my photography is influenced by one thing — jealousy. No seriously. If I see someone take an insanely great photo, I want to go out and do it. That’s what keeps me motivated in terms of photography. I cannot stand the thought that someone took an amazing photo and I didn’t. I usually use that photo as a goal that I want to reach as well. It might take a long time and I might not exactly achieve what the other person has photographically but I keep trying until I do it.

This is the genesis of the pictures that will come with this entry. A long time ago, I saw an amazing set of photos taken during the Depression that were in color. They were taken with color film. I’m not exactly sure if it was color slide film or color roll film. Both were scarce and expensive back then, so I am sure this was not doled out haphazardly. The pictures are so interesting. The colors are sort of faded but it’s a look into another world, a world usually seen in black and white. People were just living their daily lives while the country went through what it went through. One day people will look back on covid times and feel the same way. I thought about putting one of the images in here but I think they’re copyright protected or something. I am not sure. But you can Google “great depression color photos” and it will come up.

When I took the road trip, I was trying to decide what cameras to take with me. Cameras. Plural. I fixed on the digital SLR, just to get immediate results and my Rolleicord, which I have fallen hopelessly in love with. It’s a true waist level TLR. The pictures are super sharp and when you use medium format slide film, the results are insane. So beautiful. This was my chance to at least try to reproduce the pictures I saw in the set of the Depression era ones. So I dragged the Rollei through five states, 1200 miles. I shot five rolls of film, a tightly edited 60 photos. I was really happy with what I got. The camera is tremendous fun and you see these insanely saturated colors. The iPhone camera can go jump in a lake compared to what comes out of the Rolleicord.

So here’s the stuff off the Rollei from South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Enjoy:

The Light

Hello my blog reading audience. Yes I have slacked off here a little bit. Nothing bad happening. Was just working and gathering up some material for a new entry. As luck would have it, I now have both images and inspiration. Buckle up. This is going to be a long one.

Sometimes I feel like Isak Dinesen writing these blog entries. I had a farm once in Africa…. Well, I had no such farm but I did sorta embark on a journey of self discovery recently. Ok maybe that’s a bit too high falutin. I went to the South. I ate some really fire food. I saw friends I haven’t seen in ages and well, I made sorta a few discoveries about myself.

My best friend and I did a road trip to Florida in 2008 and every summer, we’ve talked about doing it again. This summer, I finally got some time to do it, so off we went. My best friend lives in Falls Church, Virginia. I hadn’t been to Washington DC for many years. I kinda wanted to go up there after what happened at the Capitol building earlier this year, which at this point feels like it happened a thousand years ago. Eventually we travelled to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and finally Florida.

I went two days before the trip to kinda poke around DC for a couple of days, as I hadn’t been there for ages. DC loomed in my mind for many years as a hard, painful time in my life. But something happened when I went to DC. I kinda saw the light about that time in my life and realized it was actually quite a good time in my life. DC was so different than what I remembered, more vibrant, more new and just more beautiful than I had remembered. I was also seeing it through clearer eyes.

I bought a ticket to visit the Hillwood Estate because I saw that they had a great collection of Russia imperial artifacts and the place absolutely did not disappoint. It was funny too when I walked to the museum because I almost forgot I was in DC. There was a random sign for an embassy nearby. I’ve just gotten used to random signs pointing to universities and not embassies.

I did do one thing in DC that I had wanted to do for a long time. I went to see my old house on Capitol Hill. I lived in this legendary pit in DC after college that had bars on the windows and a sizable hole in the ceiling. On the first floor, as the place had two floors. It wasn’t a hole in the roof of the place. See that would have been insane. Anyway, that’s where I lived a few difficult years after college. I remember always sitting on the couch wondering when my life was actually going to start. I remember always thinking that people were off somewhere having the time of their lives and I was there, sulking. Much later I found out that a lot of people do that in their 20s.

There was always the feeling too that if you didn’t do everything by the time you were 25, you fell off a cliff or something and your life was over. Here I am, very far removed from 25, still learning, growing, meeting new people, having new experiences.

As I stood there though across from that house, kind of thinking about everything that had happened since I’d last been there, it struck me that I felt like I had never lived there. I took a quick picture for the ‘gram. It struck me that smartphones didn’t exist the last time I had been there and I didn’t know the vast majority of the people that liked the picture on social media when I posted it. Oh and FB was the twinkle in the eye of a computer nerd in a dorm on the Charles River. After I left though, I felt like I had really accomplished what I had wanted to. I guess it was a kind of closure I had to get.

From there, my best friend and I drove south. I charted this course by the amazing food we ate along the way. I’ll just say it. The North has plenty of wonderful things but OH MY GOD the food in the South was amazing. I had a seafood boil in South Carolina with some kind of magical sauce and garlic butter. Then I ate a magical pulled pork sandwich. Oh and the pulled pork sandwich, I ate in a place called Buccees, which is like a 7-11 on steroids but the food is INCREDIBLY good. Eventually we ended up hitting three big cities — Charleston, Atlanta and Orlando, with a myriad of stops along the way. We ended up at the Sugar Tit distillery in Reidville, South Carolina and the Peachoid in Gaffney, South Carolina. In Atlanta, I went to Coca Cola World and the Civil Rights center. Oh and I ate a mythical chili dog. Mythical. I dream of this chili dog I ate. I’m only half joking.

Along the way though I literally and figuratively saw the light. In the south, the light is somehow brighter, clearer, the colors more beautiful, everything shinier and clearer. I saw the light too about my past and came back invigorated and grateful. Grateful to have the amazing friends I have, grateful that I got to take a trip like that and kinda ready for the next bit here.

Well, you got this far. You deserve some photos and photos you shall have:

The Russia Obsession

Confession time. I am a history nerd. Ok I said it. History is kind of a hobby for me. One day I was talking to a dear friend about how I was watching a documentary about Russian history. She asked if I was preparing for class. I said — no. I was just watching them for me. I didn’t say that I was watching the documentary for the hundredth time because I wanted to memorize what was in it.

I don’t remember when the obsession with Russia quite started. It was probably when I was a kid. I’m a child of the Cold War, with my family directly affected by it. We live in the United States because of the Cold War. I grew up with the images of the military parades in Red Square. I am a huge gymnastics fan and for many years, the Soviet Union had the best gymnasts in the world, wearing these intimidating red leotards, with this Soviet crest on it performing so much better than anyone else, proof positive that socialism was the superior system.

It personal for me as well. My grandfather was born in Russia, in Pechora, a town near the Northern Urals. My grandfather had to leave Russia because of the revolution in 1917, when he was five. The family made their way to Poland. Then his daughter emigrated to America. People move around. Always have, always will.

One time I saw a picture of Czar Nicholas, Empress Alexandra and Queen Victoria. I thought about how these two people controlled almost the entirety of the Earth’s surface at the time and how each of them had affected the fate of my family. The Russian revolution and the Czar’s abdication would fundamentally alert the course of my grandfather’s life, while his granddaughter would come to live in the United States, in the city where another revolution would be sparked to break free of Queen Victoria’s ancestor, King George III.

Fast forward to 1989, when it all fell apart. In 1991, the Soviet Union became Russia and its republics. My obsession continued. In 1997, I got the opportunity to travel to Russia.

It was almost destiny that I would visit this place that was the site of such an obsession for me. I remember the first night I was there, when we had settled in our hotel when someone said we should walk to Red Square. I remember just spotting Red Square out of the corner of my eye and thinking — that cannot be real. I am not actually walking over there right now. That cannot be real. But it was. Just two and a half years earlier, I had been walking across a stage getting my high school diploma, ready to leave behind the podunk town I went to high school in and then there I was in Red Square. Russia remains without a doubt, the most amazing place I have ever visited.

Russia is also known for its icons. The icons play a huge role in the worship that takes place in the Russian Orthodox Church. They have a specific style to them. There’s also something very haunting about them. The figures also look very sorrowful and in pain.

There’s a museum of Russian icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. Kind of a little random corner to have a museum, but it is a lovely place. You can learn about the icons and how they are made and how they are part of the worship in the Russian Orthodox Church. I jumped at the chance to see them, what with my obsession with that corner of the planet.

Here are some icons from the museum, in all of their glory.


Story time.  If you aren’t interested, scroll down for the photography.

Oh hello.  Thanks for staying.  Well, music is in the title of the blog entry.  So ever since the Walkman came out, I have had a pair of headphones on my head.  I think I got my first Walkman when I was eight or nine.  I spent most of my childhood at the Tower Records near Lincoln Center or in Greenwich Village.  I got 50 cents a week for an allowance.  Records, yes they still had those, were $6.  Cassettes were $9 and CDs were the princely sum of $12.  So I would save my allowance for a record, a tape if I were particularly flush that month.  And I was a kid.  So my allowance was spent on things like candy bars.

I don’t know what it was about the Walkman but as soon as it came out, I wanted one.  And headphones, well, I don’t even know if I have the proper words to explain about how the world feels when you’re wearing headphones.  Everything you see just takes on the mood of whatever music you are listening to.  Everything sort of moves to the rhythm of the music you are listening to.  

I go through music moods and listen to different kinds of music at different times of day.  I’m also obsessed with music from movies. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Other Dream Team, about the Lithuanian men’s basketball team that won a bronze in the 1992 Olympics.  Lithuania had just gotten its independence a year earlier.  Suddenly the Lithuanian players weren’t on the Soviet team anymore, but independent.  They had no money and were sponsored by the Grateful Dead.  It’s kind of an amazing story but the thing I like the most about the movie is the music, especially this piano music by a guy named Dustin O’Halloran, who wrote this really haunting soundtrack for the movie, as well as a band called If Trees Could Talk.  Both pieces add so much mood to the movie.  I looked and looked for this music and finally found it.  I’ve been listening to it for years.

Lately though, all of my obsessions have united.  I’ve been listening to the soundtrack from the Crown and there’s this haunting harp music that they play in Season Four, when Diana appears.  The episodes of the show are particularly emotional this year and I guess we’re all emotional with the covid and all.  I just started a new job in a new location doing something slightly different than what I used to do and somehow the Crown soundtrack fits this. I might change the music in a few weeks but this is it for now.  Since it’s a new neighborhood, of course it has to be continually, obsessively photographed.  Of course.  And works starts hella early in the morning, so the light is also different.  All together it just creates this really unique atmosphere.  Me walking around taking my usual eight million photos (with my film camera now) with this music creating this mood.  

As a Friday treat for myself, I go to the photography shop that develops my pictures near South Station.  Since I use a film camera now, I have to finish the roll before I can leave it at the shop.  Lately I wander around Chinatown, photographing everything and anything around there and then I go to the shop to get it developed.  I wonder sometimes if the music I’m listening to influences my choices of subject or how I take the picture.  

Well, anyway, enough prose.  Ok well one more note.  These pictures are a lot “quieter” than the ones I used to take.  No big loud events.  Just little corners of things, observations, small scenes.  Little stories in each one.  

You Just Want to Create

Over the past year, I’ve taken this plunge back into film.  It’s still a strange experience for me because I could take out my phone and just snap the image no problem, or take out the magic digital box and snap things in one minute.  Instead I’m laboring to turn the film, taking a long time to pick my subjects, being really conservative with my film.  It took me three months to finish a roll of film recently and the thing is, that doesn’t even bother me.  Not even a little bit.  Odd in a way.

The film camera has a magic of its own.  The digital camera, you always have to be on alert that the thing at the moment you want to take the photo, just boom, will not focus.  It’s the worst feeling in the world when you compose the image and the sensor just goes off and won’t stop and the thing will not let you take the picture.  With the film camera, yeah, you are stuck to whatever roll of film you threw in there, but with the manual focus, you can shoot the image, no problem.  Trade offs, I guess.

Since I’m pretty much constrained to my own neighborhood, it’s funny for me sometimes, picking my film and my cameras so carefully for my daily walks to buy parmesan and ant traps.  Sometimes I carry two cameras with me, just because they have rolls in them that need to be finished.  Inevitably, I find something to take a picture of.  There is no shortage of things to photograph.  I’m not going out to photograph anything in particular and I never really think of it that way.  I just grab the camera when I leave the house.  I can’t help it.  I would feel strange without the camera on me.  There are moments when I don’t have the camera on me and I kind of feel around for it or it feels strange not having the thing around my neck at all times.

I think about it too when I go through the pictures.  Why am I doing this?  I take an astounding amount of pictures and I am always amazed by the results and want to take more constantly.  The worst is when I see someone else’s pictures and I get really jealous of them.  That drives me too.  But you just want to create.  You want to make something that provokes a reaction from you and the person viewing your pictures.

So here are some recent pictures from my $8 Minolta from the thrift store and my trusty 40 year old Canon AE-1.  Enjoy.

The Hardest Season

I guess this as good of a title as any for an entry about spending six months in winter in Sweden.  But here goes.

I was sitting at home yesterday, flipping though HBO and I found that they have a movie about the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.  I started to remember when I visited the Stockholm stadium in 2007.  Oh and the circumstances surrounding it.

In 2007, I got a phone call to come for a job interview to Sweden.  The phone call came like a bolt out of the blue.  I thought — well, this is worth a shot.  The place I worked sent me a plane ticket and off I went.  I wasn’t sure about the place or the job.

Looking back on it now, it was a time in my life when I was looking for something.  I was on this constant search for something but I wasn’t exactly sure what.  My life was missing something but I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly what that was.  Where did I belong???  What was I supposed to do???  Where was I supposed to live???  These were all questions in my mind that seemed to have no answer.

After two more trips to Sweden, I got hired and set off to live there.  One of the people who had interviewed me said that I was going to have a hard time there because I was all alone.  It was a weird thing to say to a person that you had just agreed to hire.

The whole situation wasn’t great from the beginning.  I had never met the person I was supposed to work for and when I did, we did not get along.  I was supposed to be editing documents there but there was no real schedule or system to keep track of the documents.  It was utter, utter chaos and nobody was willing to even entertain any ideas of organizing it.  The worst part was that it was winter and it was pitch dark outside by 3pm, sometimes 2:30.  It was like it was plunged into night all the time.  A lot of things happened over the few months I was there.  I could go into a litany of wrongs that were done to me in this place, but I don’t really want to do that.

It was a very difficult experience, mostly due to the fact that I was completely alone.  Completely.  I knew the people I worked with but I wasn’t friends with any of them.  I was so focused on figuring out how to do the job I had that I couldn’t concentrate on finding people to actually hang out with.  Two friends came to visit me when I was there but otherwise, I was completely alone.  Six months in a foreign country alone.  

The thing was too was that I had this attitude at the time that I didn’t need anyone.  People told me I was so brave going there alone and I thought — of course I’m alone.  I don’t need other people around.  Besides, people who needed other people were weak by my estimation and I wanted to be anything but weak.  I still had this pretty fatalistic outlook that we’re born alone and we die alone. In way, the experience in Sweden kinda showed me that needing people didn’t make me weak.

Now I talk to my friends every single day and we all still have a lot of contact with each other (over zoom and in other ways) despite the pandemic.  Not a day goes by when I don’t talk to one of my friends.  I can’t even think how I got through being alone there.  Now I wouldn’t be able to do that.  But then again, that experience helped me find what I was looking for.

I discovered I didn’t ever want to be alone.  I wanted to find a good, solid community.  I also discovered that I did not want to sit behind a computer all long, that I wanted to do something where I had contact with people.  I didn’t want to read about things that were far away from me.  I wanted to do an active job.  I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and just read all day long.  Most of all I wanted to have purpose in my life.  I didn’t just want to process other people’s information.  I wanted to create my own.  I wanted to influence people and have an impact on their lives.  All of this I learned during that cold, dark Scandinavian winter.  My most difficult season.

Last year before the Covid hit and everything went haywire, I went to see a friend’s band play in Cambridge.  I had some exceedingly happy times in Cambridge going to Honkfest, out for dinner with friends, listening to jazz, going kayaking, going to Head of the Charles and the list could keep going on.  That night too was very special.  I had never seen this friend perform with his band before and the music was catchy and charming and his stage presence mesmerizing.  We had all met when I was teaching at one of my university jobs.  There I was thinking — I’m here listening to this interesting music with my friends from my time teaching at the university.  There was something so remarkable about it.  

For some reason, my mind though suddenly went back to that job in Sweden, on what turned out to be my last day on the job.  I left the place and was walking across this bridge.  I was walking, to where I had no idea.  I lit a cigarette because I smoked back then, when I was in a very anxious state, which I was.  I was crying and smoking and had no clue where I was even walking to.  I was in a strange city where I knew no one.  There wasn’t even anyone around to tell what was had happened.  I remember getting home eventually and my dad sending me an email telling me that it was going to all be ok.  It was going to be ok?  I mean my life was over right then and there.

These memories came flooding back to me a year ago.  I was astounded that I thought my life was over at that point, when really it was just the beginning that led me to where I am now.  I’ve thought about it a lot how things we think are going to have this huge impact on our lives really don’t have that big of an impact.  I went to Sweden fourteen years ago for a few cold winter months.  Except for my two best friends and my parents, no one in my life now even knew me then.  I have some pictures and a few souvenirs from that place now.  I have cordial contact on Facebook with two people I knew then but that’s it.  Then on the other side of it, I took this part time job in this goofy, dysfunctional school in Downtown Crossing and was told I could maybe stay two weeks but not longer.  I stayed for almost seven years and this whole new life and career opened up to me.  It’s never really the end of the world, just a new beginning.  A difficult season can lead to better season.

Anyway, if you have persevered through the prose, you get a reward. Here are my recently rediscovered pictures from Stockholm. Sweden has that Scandinavian goofiness but they’re all a bit too serious. Give me their Gammeldansk drinking neighbors to the south any day of the week. Sorry Swedes!!!! But Stockholm is very beautiful, I will give you that.


I had a rather interesting first job when I graduated from college. I worked a 1pm to 9pm shift putting together a tax magazine. The job was unusual in so many respects. I was like a medical resident. When they needed me, I was there. One day I’d be out reporting all day long and returning to the office at 3pm to start work. Other days, I’d sit around and do nothing for hours. Well, not really nothing. But nothing work related.

This was my beginnings with photography, you know when things got really out of control.  LOL.  I would spend all day looking at different pictures, different images just to figure out what I liked and what my aesthetic was.  My style at that time was kind of “point camera, take picture.”  I looked at so many images all day.  I was constantly getting ideas too about photographs I wanted to take.

One day I saw these pictures taken during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration, the WPA.  This was a government agency created to get artists back to work and this entire WPA aesthetic was created.  The aesthetic was modern and straightforward, not too much ornamentation.  I really liked it from the first time I saw it.  I particularly liked the color photos I saw done by the WPA.  There’s a set taken by the Farm Security Administration that I particularly love.  It’s like an encyclopedia of America life during the Depression.  What is the most remarkable is that most of the pictures are in color.  Looking at color pictures of the past can feel kind of strange.  We’re used to past being portrayed in black and white and seeing it in color is kind of jarring because you forget it was in color back then.  It’s all been in color all along obviously but when you see it in color, you think — that looks like now but why are all cars so old and the clothes and hairstyles so old fashioned and out of date?  

The pictures from that era too are marvels of technique.  They look so true to life because the cameras they were taken with were had such good optics and tone reproduction.  Everything is beautifully rendered.  You feel like you are right there with them.

Recently, I took my trusty Lubitel out for a walk around the neighborhood and inadvertently took my own WPA style photos around my neighborhood.  I guess in a way I’m also documenting what my neighborhood looks like now.  It won’t look this way in ten or twenty years.  But photography captures that and that is the magic of the whole thing.  Here are some examples of that:

Hey Jealousy

I know the title is a 90s song lyric, which now is … 30 years ago.  I just had a heart attack writing that, but whatever.

So yeah, sorry for the big gaps between writing stuff.  The pandemic has limited me to a one hour on foot radius around my neighborhood but that doesn’t really bother me.  Oh and I’m shooting film again and yeah, that makes the times between taking the pictures and seeing the pictures a lot longer.  

I don’t know why the pandemic drove me back to shooting film, but I’m kind of glad it did.  Digital is great for getting your images quickly but film is so much more creative.  I never become a photoshop person and I don’t really retouch my photos.  That just always seemed like overkill to me.  But the film stuff, I always loved and it’s been great getting back into it.

When I started photography, I remember seeing these images that had the film holes on them.  With black and white, you can do those with a contact sheet but I also saw them in color.  And I never knew how people did them.  All I knew was that I wanted to do them and I had no idea how.  And I was jealous of the person who had done it initially.  Because that really drives you with photography.  Jealousy.

To get serious here for a second, as a photographer, I have ALWAYS looked at other people’s images and thought — how did they do that?????  How do I get to do that??????  It this continual search to figure out ways to do images.  And it’s a lot of fun.

So I figured out how to take the sprocket hole photos.  Sure my first roll of film had exactly one image on it and I had to tweak the process a few times but I think the results came out very well.  I call this experiment a success.  Here’s sprocket photography, sure to be the hot trend this pandemic season:

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Where’s the line between an accident and art

So it’s the March 927th or something.  I don’t know.  2020.  Ok whatever, enough complaining.

Quarantine has driven me back in time, back to my film roots.  I spent so many years shooting film and generally messing around with it for the sheer joy of it.  Happy accidents.  Weird things on the camera.  All in good fun.  Photography in the spirit of DIY and experimentation.

I have always wanted to do a double exposure series, just to see if I could even pull it off.  I don’t know why I did do this before when I was messing around with tungsten film, infrared, low speed film and various kinds of cameras.  Recently I thought — wouldn’t it be fun to put a roll of film in the camera, take 36 shots and then stick it back into the camera?  Let’s just see what happens.

First, before I actually did anything, I watched some YouTube videos.  I guess this is a kind of a university now.  For my camera, there’s a way to do it where you wind back the film and can gets a double exposure.  That sounded too complicated and I preferred my cowboy let’s see what happens kind of a way.

So I loaded up the film and set out on my daily constitutional around my neighborhood.  I did shoot the film at a very big aperture.  If the camera recommended 5.6, I opted for 4 just to make it nice and light and for the images to layer on well.  I thought — how am I going to shoot 36 exposures?  I hadn’t even reached the end of my walk and I had already done them.  Then I got home, broke out my dark bag and re-ran the film through.

The results were well, interesting but on the good side of interesting.  Not interesting like a bad haircut or a potato salad with raisins in it but actually interesting.  It was funny picking out which pictures to throw up on Flickr and social media.  Is this actually cool or just two pictures layered onto one?

Anyway, here are the results.  Luckily I live down the street from a religious supply store so those images got layered over the other stuff I shot nicely.  And my neighborhood is pretty nice too, so that was easy as well.

Double exposing in all of it’s experimental glory: