Friday, December 11, 2009

Contemplating a Luddite Summer

Although essentially about how the 24-hour news cycle makes us crazy, New York Times blog post My Luddite Summer has been and continues to be a source of inspiration for me. So much so, in fact, that I'm contemplating doing it this summer. Chris gets 3 weeks off in July and just happens to have a friend he calls a "benevolent slumlord", so we may have a place in El Paso where we can stay. I do love Marfa with all my little heart, but I also enjoy a little urban life--I thrive on everything but suburbia. Plus, I can pretend I have a summer home. Woot.

Once we got the laptop with wireless, we used to take it around with us when we traveled. You know things are bad when you can't focus long enough to watch TV and need to get on Facebook and upload Bob Dylan Christmas songs. We forgot it one time and actually enjoyed ourselves. Oh, it sounds like such a joy to disconnect from the world for 3 weeks, get some serious reading done, and take photos with cameras that don't even need batteries! And to do this in the city with an international border on one side and a mountain range on the other? Lovely. All I need is a massive tome to undertake. Goodness knows what I'll do now that I've finished the Gandhi biography.

We'll spend tomorrow in El Paso because we're too lazy to switch banks. Why switch to a local bank when you can use it as an excuse to go to your new favorite city?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I learn more by the minute.

I know what you're thinking: "Oh please, not another post about the stupid cameras!" Tough luck--but we are going to El Paso on Saturday, so you should get something new to read about after the weekend. Turns out the other cameras do have rangefinders: the one on the Nazi camera is just so awful that I didn't realize what it was, and the one on the Seagull is in the middle of the viewfinder. This has launched the Seagull much, much higher in my esteem since it has a nice, big viewfinder and I only have to look through one window! Like I've previously mentioned, though, it's the easiest to open, so I've been having dreams that the back winds up open in the middle of a roll of film. My nightmares aren't always this lame, I swear.

I'm gearing up to dabble in the (film) SLR, so soon everyone will know more than they ever wanted to know about SLRs too. Excited? I thought not.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First full day with 3 rangefinders

I've been subjecting myself to a crash course in rangefinders since this lovely mail delivery. For the time being, the only camera I can use is the Bolsey B2, as I didn't realize that the other two didn't have built-in rangefinders. I'll need to purchase a separate rangefinder attachment for the Seagull, and I think the National Socialist/Socialist camera (har har har) will mostly be a conversation piece. What I've learned is that the rangefinder on the Bolsey is like a viewfinder, but it has a line in the center: You adjust the distance until the two images in the rangefinder line up--if the two don't line up, it'll come out blurry. There was another little dial that I didn't figure out until this morning: It controls the amount of light let in with each shot. And I've also learned what T and B shutter speeds are: B means "bulb", and it keeps the shutter open until you let go of the button; T means "time", and it keeps the shutter open until you hit the button again. Congratulations, you now know as much as I do about rangefinder cameras.

Since the Bolsey B2 arrived, I've been seeing them everywhere. Seems they were very popular cameras--my mother told me that her parents had one as well! I put the cheapest roll of film in it first, and since it had been so long since I'd had a 35mm camera, I loaded it wrong and the Bolsey tore it to shreds. I've sorted it out now, and the second-cheapest roll is in there. Slowly, Bolsey and I worked out how it functions. End result: The first couple of pictures might be terrifying, but the rest should be okay. It's kind of terrifying not having the instant gratification a digital camera provides, but I'm remembering how much I loved having a 35mm. It's a dramatically different experience, and I love my Bolsey.

We can now get the Seagull open. The place I bought it from also had another one, and as we were looking at its pictures a lightbulb went off over Chris's head--he got the camera and pulled the rewind knob up, and lo and behold the stupid camera popped right open. So after struggling so long to get it open, it turned out to be the easiest camera to get into. I just need to put a little money down on a pocket rangefinder, and I know it'll be bliss to use.

Up next, I need an SLR (gee whiz, should I get a digital one at a starting price of $650 or a 35mm film one for $150?) and a medium format camera. I hear medium formats take lovely pictures, and there are places in the world that develop 120 film! Darkroom not required. Life is definitely an adventure now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Brave New World: Presenting my new flock of vintage 35mm rangefinders

I've been like a kid at Christmas, staring at my little pile of black and white film and longing for the day when my rangefinder cameras would arrive from California (thank you, eBay). Today I turned into a parent at Christmas, staring at the kid-at-Christmas's new, state-of-the-art toy and thinking, "How the hell does this thing work?" Thanks to the fact that I'm not the only person interested in vintage 35mm rangefinders, the internet has schooled me in a few areas; and while I hate to waste anything, I'm sure these first few rolls of film will be of unimaginably bad quality while I sort out the mechanics. Have I really been using digital cameras so long that I've forgotten how 35mm's work?

Three arrived in the mail today, two from California and one from the Ukraine (I really wasn't expecting it so soon!). Of these three, I can open two, figure out how to load film into one, and stare in perplexity at the other. The one I can open but can't figure out how to get film into is a bottom-loader (as opposed to a back-loader). The one that confounds me is a back-loader, but being from the 60's it's more modern than the others and doesn't seem to want to work with me.

Anyway, to the important part. First up is the Bosley B2--the one that works with me the most.

Take note of the two windows: The one on the left is the viewfinder and the one on the right is the rangefinder.

Next is the Seagull, a Chinese camera that causes me no end of "Baroo?" face.

And then there's the Ukrainian camera, a Soviet-made Leica knock-off.
Hold on, let's zoom in on that.
Yep, it's a commemorative camera for the 1936 Olympics ... in Berlin ... hosted by one Adolf Hitler ... ironically made by Soviets.
It makes me smile to see it because I think of Jesse Owens. Take that, master race!
And because I speak German, the instructions for opening the bottom make me smile.

I do feel a little irony having taken these pictures with my digital camera, but how else am I supposed to show these babies off?

Let the fun begin!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dear former owners of Hamilton: I hate you.

People like you shouldn't be allowed to even think of having a dog. You had the sweetest, most loving, cuddliest dog on earth, and what did you do? You dumped him out in the middle of nowhere because you got tired of him. Where you tired of him marking everything? We had him neutered, which has remedied the problem. Where you tired of him barking? You could have tried crate training him. Had he lost your interest because he was no longer a puppy? Then you're all idiots--puppies grow up into dogs. If you've replaced him with a new puppy, I hope in a year's time you dump that dog in the same place so we can take him in and find him a new home with owners who care.

We know you dumped Hamilton miles from any civilization because Chris found him hanging out at the prison. Just because he's an animal doesn't mean he can survive on his own in the wild. The workers at the prison knew that--that's why they had plans to kill him. You really couldn't have put out the effort to find a new home for him? You couldn't have put him in a shelter? Even shelters that euthanize animals don't put them down by shooting them.

Last night, when Hamilton was being a toot, Chris lightly tapped him on the rear with a wooden spoon. This caused Hamilton to tuck his tail between his legs and sink to the floor. That was the first time we'd ever seen him shrink like that. So let's go down the list: You hit him with sticks violently enough to traumatize him, you dumped him at a prison, and he was almost killed inhumanely. Great job--CPS will be coming for you if you treat your kids that way.

I'm amazed that Hamilton is such a wonderful dog considering the hell you've put him through. He curls up in our laps an goes to sleep, he dances on his hind legs when he's waiting for dinner, he goes crazy with excitement when Chris comes home from work--he even frickin' smells good!! He's all love, and I don't know what more you could've wanted from a dog. You are bastards, and we hate your guts. Your loss (and stupidity) is our gain.

Good riddance,
Hammy's new parents

Monday, November 30, 2009

Art and Nature

Poor little Marfa was saved by the arrival of Minimalist artist Donald Judd in the 70s. I can understand the attraction--the desert is, by its nature, minimalist. Monet would've gone insane out here. But it wasn't until Chris and I went hiking at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute (near Fort Davis) that I realized that nature is better at postmodern art than most postmodern people. And I set out to prove it.

Take, for example, the desert's examples of Minimalism:

It's excellent at Deconstructivism:

It even dabbles in Abstract Expressionism:

More alarmingly, it takes some inspiration from Matthew Barney films and/or the creatures from Pan's Labyrinth:

Seriously, I was expecting this tree to turn into Pale Man. (This is one of the most terrifying scenes I've ever witnessed in a movie, so if you're easily creeped out I suggest skipping it. I couldn't even watch the whole thing again.)
Sorry about that turn for the freaky. Anyway, I have dogs to take out and a pumpkin to transform into something edible. Ta.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

An unexpectedly eventful Thanksgiving

I often lament that I do nothing special for others on Thanksgiving. I've threatened year after year to volunteer at a homeless shelter or something, but doing that's becoming more difficult: Everyone requires an application for volunteering, and it really creates the impression that it would just be easier if you were a regular volunteer anyway. Doing good is, frankly, a pain in the butt. That said, I think every Orthodox Christian has a "crush" (if you will) on a Catholic saint, and mine is on St. Vincent de Paul. St. Vincent was known for his charity (and for a personality that made him, like volunteering, a pain in the butt, but he said that if it wasn't for God's grace then he'd be utterly intolerable), and he espoused doing good as the need presented itself to you instead of relying heavily on charity (not that one shouldn't give, obviously). And thus, our story begins.

Our Thanksgiving reservations were for 2:00PM, so naturally we were ready to go by 1:00 (over-efficiency at its finest). Around 1:30, I'd run out of ideas to keep myself occupied and put in a request to drive around for a little while. Chris, apparently also bored out of his mind, agreed, so we took a very circuitous route to the Paisano ... and just happened to spy a little boy, maybe 2 or 3 years old, wandering the streets with no adult in sight. To sum it up as stupidly as possible, not good.

Chris turned the car around, and we found him in the front yard of a house for sale. Chris went to go talk to him because my track record with children is hit or miss (upon first sight I'm either greeted with intrigue or hardcore screaming, but every child thinks Chris is just a large baby). Poor little guy was too frightened to say anything, but he did nod when Chris asked him a yes or no question with an answer in the affirmative. Just as I was about to get ready to start knocking on doors and asking if anyone was missing a son, Chris called 911 (probably a more efficient solution). My major contribution to the proceedings lay in the fact that anything that fascinates me also fascinate small children, so I presented the little boy with a burr oak acorn. If you've never seen a burr oak acorn, then you must know that the things are massive--it filled his tiny hand. Eventually he popped the stem off and spent his time trying to put it back together while we waited for help.

If you want something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, be thankful for the law enforcement officials who are on call on holidays. A Texas Ranger (this kid has no idea how awesome that is) and his wife showed up in their own truck to take care of him. Last we saw of them, the three of them were off to drive around and look for his home. Chris plans to call the sheriff tomorrow to make sure everything turned out okay. We seem to have caught the kiddo at a critical moment: the thrill of escape was over, panic had set in, and the responsible adults hadn't noticed he was gone. Family occasions seem like a tremendously likely time to lose children: You get occupied with food and football, and while you're distracted el niƱo makes a break for the Davis Mountains. Actually, he was heading in the direction of Valentine, so I guess he wanted to see Prada Marfa.

So that's how I ended up having my Thanksgiving wish to help out fulfilled. I hope no one else's Thanksgiving involved 911 calls, Texas Rangers, or lost children.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Time for a format change

Don't get me wrong--I love my camera. I especially loved it yesterday when the birding/wildlife feature helped me zero in on my first javelina sighting:
Still, there's a high level of impermanence about the digital camera. One little click, and it's deleted from my computer forever; one little print, and two weeks later it looks like junk. What's a girl to do?

Obvious: Switch formats--or rather add formats to the arsenal. On the way to my house right now are two vintage 35mm rangefinders. They in turn will be paired up with black and white film and used for my nefarious purposes. One of the cameras will be here in short order, but the other is coming from Ukraine and will take at least 30 days plus whatever the Christmas rush does to the mail system. More on the Ukrainian camera after it arrives--it deserves a post all its own.

So why switch back to such a dated format? I owe that to the fantastic NPR blog The Picture Show. After they'd referenced "street photography" a few times, I realized that this was a type of photography all to itself and decided to do a little research. Street photography, as it turns out, is more philosophy than technique. They stress the importance of being at home in your surroundings, of being close to your subjects (the 26x zoom on my digital camera would ruin it), and of having love and sympathy for your subjects. Purists will tell you that the only way to do it is with a 35mm rangefinder--ultra-purists will tell you it can only be done with a Leica M. Don't get me wrong, I'm passionate about photography, but I'm at a point in my young life where I can think of several better ways to spend $7000 than on a camera. So to hell with the Leica, and bring me my 1950's Steinheil rangefinder!

I enjoy parameters. I like that my current camera is a point-and-shoot instead of an SLR (again, I can think of several better ways to spend $3000 than on a camera). I like just using iPhoto for my digital photos because I don't want photos that require much fussing. Technology is no substitute for talent. And until I can prove that I can take some decent pictures with ancient 35mm cameras, I don't deserve to even think about a Leica M. Anyway, using old cameras has a romance all its own, so screw the Leica!

I don't have a darkroom--I hope to someday. But the good news is that there are still places out there that develop 35mm film. There are also, believe it or not, places that develop 120 film, so if I want to move to the medium format camera I'm free to do so. The joy of film is not dead.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Even More Thoughts on Art: Art as Therapy

I don't think I've ever openly admitted to being mentally ill on the blog. Although the mental illness itself is nothing new, the awareness of its existence (a "moderate mood disorder" for the time being) is a recent development. The desire for "environmental psychotherapy" (aka "living somewhere that doesn't suck") landed us in Marfa, and one cannot move to Marfa without feeling at least a little artsy. That artsy feeling has done me good.

I've been doing a series of photos of myself, which has actually done wonders for my self-esteem. Here's me sporting my just-woke-up lips:
I call the series "I Thank Thee for I Am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" which is a title that can either be seen as ironic or hopeful: ironic because of my problems, hopeful because I'm willing to say that I'm still happy with myself in spite of my problems. My desire to document all my moods can result in photos of my depression:
When I swing back the other direction and go manic, all my pictures will be blurry. Anyway, those days after my camera died fell during a depressed episode, and I can't help but wonder if it was exacerbated by losing my creative outlet. Now that the new camera's here, life is dramatically improving--not that it wouldn't anyway (it was a depressed episode, after all), but I feel like I have something to look forward to.

I'm not the only one who sees art as therapy. About 150 years ago, the Bethlem Royal Hospital (you may know it as Bedlam) began collecting the art of patients with mental illnesses. Bethlem is, of course, no longer an insane asylum (the building now houses the fabulous Imperial War Museum), but a museum exists to continue to collect art and other artifacts with the mission of increasing understanding and decreasing stigmas of mental illness. Long before I knew anything was wrong with me, looking at the collection changed my views of mental illness--click here to see the collection for yourself.

More recently I've taken an interest in Her Power (the Facebook page is more developed), which is dedicated to how the creative process helps in the recovery of women who've dealt with eating disorders. Naturally, I wish it was expanded to all mental illnesses, but what can I do? Start a nonprofit myself? Don't be absurd!

I realize that essentially I'm contradicting the things I said earlier: People with overpriced cameras drive me crazy, but I also know the accessibility of photography as well as the ability of the visual arts to make things that much better (not that I'm going off my meds--talk about a disaster waiting to happen). No one needs to produce museum-quality art if just creating makes a difficult-to-control situation much more bearable. It's really amazing what helps.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Thoughts on Art: Photography

Photography has the potential to be the most lovely and most annoying of the visual arts: lovely because a well-done photo can be stunning and annoying because any schmuck is prone to thinking they can do it. I can recall going out to the Dallas Arboretum on a lovely spring day, and just about everyone was out with their overpriced cameras taking pictures. Listen, weirdos, anyone can take a picture of a professionally groomed botanical garden and have it come it looking good--it does not a good photographer make! It made me pleased to have a cheap and crappy camera which took quite admirable photos. I think you should have to turn in some quality photos before you can buy an SLR to prove that you deserve one, but then I might rule myself out one day. Anyway, to see some great photography, check out the website of local photographer James H. Evans (most especially the portraits, which you know I love).

The medium of photography intrigues me. I think it can appear to some to not be art in the way a painting is art. I see it as very accidental, but to say that implies that any other art medium always ends up exactly how the artist originally conceived it. Anyway, I can always set out with an intention (like a sculptor or painter) even if nothing ends up as I plan ... not that I should even dare to compare myself to an actual artist--I'm another one of those schmucks, but I didn't spend thousands on my camera. Nyah.

I feel like I still take generic nature photos out here, which makes me wonder if there will always be categories in my mind. Nature photos, artsy photos, family Christmas photos, etc. I hope that professional photographers get out cheap point-and-shoot cameras at holidays and take artless photos like the rest of us ... either that or they put away the camera and make someone else take the artless photos. I don't know which I hope for more. But I'm growing tired of taking pictures of mountains because it just feels too obvious, and it's much more fun to be out there staring at the mountains than looking at a picture of them. It's like what I said about landscapes: It needs to be style over substance.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New camera, I dub thee AWESOME!!!

I have only three gripes about my new camera: 1) for some reason, it doesn't pick up colors too brightly; 2) nighttime pictures come out with an unearthly greenish tone; and 3) it takes AA batteries instead of having its own unique rechargeable battery. There, my griping is now complete.

I love my new camera. It's a chunk, which I like; it has better stabilization than the last camera, which is good because my hands have become more shaky lately; and it's got really great features such as a 26x zoom ...
... variable shutter speed ...
... soft-focus background ...
... double exposure ...
... wonderfully clear night landscape ...
... and even a birding feature!
It's also really good at picking up action, which we have a lot of around the house lately:
The black dog is Hamilton. Chris found him at the prison on Friday and only yesterday found out that there were plans to kill him because "he wouldn't survive anyway." Their loss--he's an excellent dog except for the marking and occasional leg humping, both of which are about to be remedied as Chris just whisked him off to the vet for neutering. Busy times around here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts on art

I'm currently in the habit of pretending I'm an artist. Actually, I think Chris and I worked out the hierarchy: an "artist-like object" is someone who lives in Marfa and thinks that by virtue of living in Marfa that they themselves are artists (this is where I fall); a "burgeoning artist" is someone who may have legitimate claims to being an artist, whether it's an art degree or something like that; an "artist" is someone who either has their own gallery or has had a show in a gallery; and an "established artist" is someone who has had installations in a museum. With the help of my trusty camera and a panache for imitating pictographs, I'd like to think that I have artist-like symptoms.

This is the photo I submitted to a contest called MarFoto:
It wasn't a finalist--you should've seen some of the crap that was. I admit that it's a mite pixelated at full size, but is it really worse than pictures of the moon? I also gripe that many photos were not distinctly of Marfa, but it was all the judges' choice, not mine. Anyway, it got me to thinking about what I like in art, most especially photography.

1. I like it un-obvious. Any sucker can head out into the desert and take pictures of the mountains, but who's taking pictures of the knot hole in the tree someone used as a trash can? There seemed to be infinite pictures of the moon, of yuccas, of fields (guilty), but I've grown to like tiny details.

2. I'm tired of landscapes, especially oil paintings of landscapes. I mentioned this to someone at the farmers market in Las Cruces (a printmaker), and I now have a standing invitation to see her studio when I'm in town again. A painting has no hope of capturing the tremendous beauty of the landscape out here--a photo has barely any hope (a small improvement). I do make exceptions--I do have a few landscapes in my personal collection, but in their case it's style over substance:
That's "Knight's Pond #6" by Irma Cerese, which I acquired in Rockland, ME. It's my favorite landscape and one of my favorite pieces in our collection.

3. Why so serious? I learned a lot in a photography gallery in Bar Harbor, ME, where the photographer enjoyed playing with infrared, overexposure, things like that:
("Somes Pond Grass" by Stan Mason.) I'm looking forward to playing with all the options on my new camera. Before the last camera bought it, I was enjoying adjusting exposure and tint and levels, etc.

4. I like portraits. People are worth looking at, especially normal-looking people. Even unattractive people are worth looking at, which is why I've been taking so many self-portraits lately:
A lot of this may have to do with my dislike of landscapes, but I don't think that's all of it. I feel drawn to pictures of human beans.

5. Experiment, but don't screw it up. Too many MarFoto finalists had levels effed with to the point of insanity. Some would've been vastly improved by simply being left alone. Sometimes less-than-ideal situations are half the appeal--I like to actively seek it out now. Or, even more fun, I screw up royally and am pleasantly surprised by the result:
My camera can't get here fast enough, but in the meantime I ought to seek out some batteries for it. Ta for now.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sure, I'd love to blog.

Unfortunately, between taking the dog out, bringing the dog in, cleaning the house, spending time with Lemmy in her room ... it's hard to fit the Loquat in. The good news is that I have nothing to say, so you're being spared a lot of painful boredom. And now that the camera's died, I don't even have anything to show you either. Spectacular.

Mostly this is an acknowledgement that it hasn't snowed "yesterday" for the past week or so. It's just that that's been all the news fit to print lately.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Did I mention we got snow yesterday?

Yes! In Texas! In October! Or should I say, ROCKtober!

Imagine what winter will be like out here! I'll need little snow booties for Bors because he loves the snow!

Ah, the holidays

Halloween approacheth (quickly), which means the holiday season approacheth, which means my favorite holiday approacheth: Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day, the day after Thanksgiving (aka Black Friday), amuses me. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I'd rather run a marathon than go shopping on Black Friday (both seem like profoundly bad ideas in my physical shape--cardiac arrest, anyone?), but I do like that there's a day celebrating not shopping, especially when that day will likely turn up at least one story of someone getting murdered while trying to get the latest electronic doohickey. Can't imagine why I stay in.

However, if you've examined the Buy Nothing Day webpage by now, you'll note that AdBusters has chosen to throw in some civil disobedience bits. Remember, I've read a massive biography about Gandhi and have learned a bit about civil disobedience, and let me say that AdBuster's suggestions fall far short of Gandhi's standards (although I do think offering to cut up peoples' credit cards is kind of funny). Apparently it isn't enough to just not spend money--we have to make other people want to spend more money by annoying the bejeebers out of them and making them defiant. Good work, Walmart congo line.

Anyway, everyone else is welcome to brave the cold in zombie makeup while I sit by the warm glow of the heat pump and enjoy a little reading. Or perhaps I'll be at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute for their Thanksgiving open house. No doubt I'll be observing the habits of Marfans in the land where there are no shopping malls. Should be the sanest Buy Nothing Day I've ever lived through.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's National Feral Cat Day

Therefore, we must celebrate the wonder and the wonderfulness that is Estelle!

Oo. Maybe not. She's giving me the stink-eye.

Oh, to heck with her and her opinions! Estelle came to live with us January 2, 2003. She'd been coming around the house for months with a friend, a manx we called Bruno. Bruno was old, had cataracts, was the sweeter of the two of them, and possibly (judging by Estelle's distinct short backbone, which is a manx trait) Estelle's father. But one day, Bruno got in a fight with another cat and never showed up again. Estelle began to show up at my apartment earlier and earlier and seemed to need more attention. Poor little thing had lost her best friend.

When Chris and I got home from Christmas at my parents, we found Estelle waiting for us. Though we left plenty of food out for her while we were gone, she proceeded to down two whole cans of cat food. It was at this point that we decided that if she did indeed have an owner, then that owner was taking terrible care of her. That's when our favorite little stray kitty moved in.

Estelle still maintains the familiar feral trait of being untrusting of humans. If she gets hungry, though, she'll get a few feet away from us and meow (we call that cuddling), and if we're not looking she'll brush up against our legs. She enjoys nibbling on toes, which ought to be classified as a form of torture because it tickles so much.

Estelle's greatest trait is being a friend to cats. When Trent was dying, she got over her fear of humans enough to sit beside him (and Chris) to make sure he was okay. After Trent died, she sat with Owl to comfort him over the loss of his best friend. Now Owl and Estelle are back to their usual tricks of beating the tar out of each other--I think they're more like siblings than any other two unrelated cats on earth.

There's a sight I miss: the magnificent trio curled up together on a cold day. Trent really became a new Bruno for Estelle, but she's doing quite well without him, fortunately.

She may not like us too much, but she does make life more fun. I can stand her not being a lap kitty so long as she never loses her appetite for human toes.

That's my good Stellee!