Saturday, November 20, 2010
The Grim Reaper came to Madison and was gracious enough to share some ideas this afternoon with the Sierra Club of Wisconsin's Save the Train Action, one of many around the state. The guy's an expert; he knows how to kill. The way he figures it, why should Scott Walker stop with the train? Kill jobs! Kill healthcare! With just a little effort, a little economy of scale, we can kill them all!
Several hundred people who thought trying to save the train was more important than staying home and watching the Badgers roll over the Wolverines gathered at the foot of South Hancock Street in the little plaza overlooking the railroad tracks to cheer on speakers, hold up signs and listen to the Raging Grannies sing. I especially liked the sign that read, "Scott, honey, take the train money!" If you agree it's only sane to build the train, call Governor-Elect Scott Walker's office at 608-261-9200 and let him know.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Both have tiny viewfinders. I'm starting to think that's part of their appeal, both in the remembered past and in the present as well -- and that the finder that you have to squint to use is less of a bug than a feature.
I loved that simple old Ansco Shur Shot with the black stripes and the two "eyes" on the front, one for each finder -- one for taking vertical pictures, the default option, and the other for taking horizontal ones. And the only spot of color on the whole camera, the bright red shutter button, which triggered the camera's magic with a satisfying "clack." Oddly enough, the lens was behind the shutter, basically a spring-loaded metal disk with an aperture that was pulled in front of the lens to give a 1/60-sec exposure.
If you took the back off and held the camera up to the light without film and tripped the shutter, you could see the dark mysteries of photography briefly illuminated by that quick flash of light. The viewfinders, while small, were the most magical of all. Partly it was the magic of the internal mirrors reflecting the image from the "eyes" in front, which allowed you to look down to see straight ahead. But there was also the magic of the tiny, crystalline image itself, the reverse magnifying glass effect that recreated the world in miniature. An optical version of the kick we get out of looking at individual frames of movie film.
As a kid, I took my first picture with the Shur Shot. I pushed it right in the face of a goat standing at a fence waiting to be fed. I got a completely blurry image as a result, memorably teaching me that my fixed-focus lens wasn't very sharp at less than six feet. The second photo I remember was of an ice boat regatta on Lake Monona, thrilling to watch in person, reduced to a series of nearly invisible specks on the print. From that I learned about photographic scale, about how the camera sees differently from the human eye, and how it takes a telephoto lens to photograph action at a distance the way we can clearly see it with our eyes. Step by step, my trusty box camera and I taught ourselves about photography.
Paradoxically, the tiny size of the finder windows had a lot to do with how I learned photography. With modern cameras, we tend to compose our pictures in the finder -- whether in the brightline viewfinder of a rangefinder film camera, the through-the-lens image of a single lens reflex, film or digital, or more often, the LCD screen of a digital-point-and-shoot. The camera does a lot of the work, and what we see is (usually) what we get.
It was different with the Ansco. You couldn't compose the image in the viewfinder; it was too small. It was merely an approximate pointing device. You had to imagine the picture. You had to see it in your mind's eye. And that's an intensive process that creates fun and emotionally involving.
I've had more sheer fun with the Hipstamatic app than with any camera in years, which is strange, when you think about it. After all, the "Hipsta" is just a series of filters -- cutely named different "lenses" and "films" -- overlaid on the IPhone's camera system. And it takes away the iPhone's excellent full-screen finder and replaces it with a little window that's only slightly bigger than those tiny finders on the Ansco. Matter of fact it's about the size of the finder on the Brownie Hawkeye, that Populuxe design classic of the Fifties that was probably the single best selling model of the box camera era.
The Hipstamatic's filters create a variety of effects that can add graphic oomph to almost any photo. But that speaks to the results. What makes it so fun and almost addictive to actually use? I think it has a lot to do with what it shares with my old Ansco. The limitations of the finder mean you have to previsualize your image, or at least have a rough idea in your mind's eye of what you're going for. You're sure not going to find it staring back at you from the finder.
The lack of a zoom forces you to move around and approach your subject physically in a way that's started to disappear from modern photography (DSLR shooters get a similar pleasure from shooting with a prime lens).
Finally, learning to work within the limits of your equipment boosts creativity, as I found with the Ansco and the ice boats. If you want to shoot ice boats with a Hipstamatic, you'll have to get close. And if you do get close, you just might decide to shoot a detail of sunlight flashing on a boat's blade instead, or perhaps just the texture of the ice in the winter sun, and forget all about the race, and that's OK too.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The kid in me who never grew up is fascinated by everything having to do with fire. I'd really like to be a fireman when I grow up, but since, with the passage of time, that seems increasingly unlikely, I have to content myself with being a gawker instead -- or, as I prefer to put it, a photographer.
A whole mechanized division of fire trucks and emergency vehicles converged on these apartment building at Wingra Park and Arbor Drive last night and then just sat, lights flashing. engines running, but not much happening. I was drawn like a moth to a flame, even though there were no flames to be seen.
While the firefighters were inside, I took of and around the fire engines. I loved the way this Honda bike glowed in the firelight. Eventually the firefighters exited the building, pulling an exhaust fan. I don't know, but I imagine there was a kitchen fire or something like that, quickly put out, and then they spent the rest of their time their double and triple-checking that the fire had not spread to the walls. They may have been remembering that these apartments replaced an earlier building that was gutted by fire about 30 years ago.
Monday, November 15, 2010
This is amazing on so many levels. First, it describes in hilarious detail the travails of any photographer who has ever taken photos of a group of people (though with more arcane equipment). It's a wonderful parody of "Hiawatha." And it's by a great English writer who was also an accomplished photographer, though one with a fondness for young girls has subjects that has raised many a modern eyebrow.
And it's part of a great poetry channel on YouTube. The reader has posted nearly a 1,000 readings of many of the great poems in the language. Sometimes you want to be read to, rather than reading, and this is perfect.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
I took this photo of a white chapel isolated against a hillside of autumn color on a drive last month, but I was mostly interested in the fall colors and didn't take notes. All I remembered was that it was west of Madison. So when a viewer of the picture on Flickr asked where it was exactly, I was stumped. But I went back to the photos I took that day and enlarged another image of the chapel shot at closer range. I was able to make out the name: Hyde Chapel. It's in Ridgeway, 1 mile south of County Highway H on County Highway T (not far from Hyde's Mill). Turns out, it has a pretty interesting history.
Nestled against a backdrop of glorious Wisconsin countryside Hyde Chapel is deeply rooted in the history of Iowa County. Originally known as the Mill Creek Church, the Chapel was built in 1861, instituted on January 14, 1862 and proudly inducted into the National Registry of Historic Places on October 13, 1988.There's more information at the Hyde Chapel website.
Situated on 40 acres in an area originally called the Mill Creek Valley, Hyde Chapel stands adjacent to a small cemetery that precedes it. While covenants from the Congregational Churches of Wisconsin were originally adopted, the church was always open to people of various faiths. The cemetery bears testimony as Congregationalists, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and Catholics who worshipped here together lay buried.
Saw this in the windows of JTaylor's Galleries on the Capitol Square. I was curious about the book. Turns out Eleanor Roosevelt wrote it in 1938. You can sample This Troubled World on the internet. Some excerpts:
The newspapers these days are becoming more and more painful. I was reading my morning papers on the train not so long ago, and looked up with a feeling of desperation. Up and down the car people were reading, yet no one seemed excited.72 years later, the world seems more troubled than ever. The problems are bigger. And our leaders seem smaller.
To me the whole situation seems intolerable. We face today a world filled with suspicion and hatred.
[. . .]
The people who settled in New England came here for religious freedom, but religious freedom to them meant freedom only for their kind of religion. They were not going to be any more liberal to others who differed with them in this new country, than others had been with them in the countries from which they came. This attitude seems to be our attitude in many situations today.