I'm sure you've heard, as I have, people extolling the virtues of digital v. film. Many allege that film is dead. That digital is technically superior to film in every way. To them, I present this as evidence. Shot with a 20-year-old Pentax 67 that I picked up with a lens for under $400, on Ilford HP5 film, you simply could not ask for a better photo. It is as sharp a photo as you could hope for. The tonal gradations are smooooooooth and rich. I think I need a moment alone.
It's one of the sphinx women flanking the State Opera House in Budapest.
Many thanks to Panda Lab (www.pandalab.com), whom I used to use when I was just starting to shoot b&w in the mid 90's. They were the friendliest lab in Seattle, and they only did b&w. When I bought the 67 and needed to get the film developed, I looked them up, hardly daring to hope they'd weathered the storm that took down so many good labs. Not only had they weathered it, they appear to be prospering. They do everything, develop color as well as b&w, scan film, make contact sheets and work from digital files.
One of my favorite landscapes on the planet is the volcanic perlite that formed these cliffs about 90,000 years ago. This photo is from a sunrise shoot that I did with both my Hasselblad 501CM and my Nikon D200. It was pure joy to be out on the beach before anyone else and to be able to study the cliffs while I was shooting. This was one of the film shots, if it matters to you. It was Ilford PanF, developed in Microphen.
It was a chilly, misty April day in Prague. I was full of garlic soup and Pilsener Urquell (which is an outstanding meal for such a day). The repetition of imbricated tiles grabbed my attention. I shot several versions, and this is the one I like best. The rooftops all look like they're from the 18th C or so, making for an idyllic scene.
One variation I might try with it would be to crop out the rather flat sky, make it an 8x10 format with a greater amount of contrast between the white buildings and the dark hills.
On the visit to Son Kul Lake, I saw a demonstration of how traditional Kyrgyz felt products are made. The process is laid out in some detail at my Facebook page.
Currently, this particular alakiyiz is in a box in a shipping crate somewhere in Europe. We probably won't see it again for a year, maybe two.
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So after last night's post, I worked a bit on this shot, and decided that I like it better.
Today's story? When we were leaving the petroglyph site, a family was setting up a picnic at the edge of the bone-dry grass. They hadn't brought cooked food, because you cook your shashlik (kebabs) at the picnic. Pre-cooked shashlik are just wrong.
Now, when I said, "at the edge of the bone-dry grass," I meant with the 4-foot-tall grass waving over top of them as they set up the stones for their fire. And look at these thistles. Do they look like they've seen water recently? So the family takes up some of the dry grass they flattened out for their picnic area and uses it as tinder.
Dry grass, once it becomes embers, floats upward. Where it impacts other dry grass. Which ignites. Which drops embers to the base of the grass. Which ignites. The wind blows a bit. And you have a prairie fire before you can say, "Crap, get the fire extinguisher."
As the family beat at the trailing edges of a rapidly growing fire, we took self-preservation in hand, hopped into our truck and sped off.
At Tamgali, there are petroglyphs showing continuous human usage of the area for at least 3000 years. Many of the symbols are very similar to those found elsewhere in the world - sun gods, antelope, man, earth mothers and so on.
Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me take my camera onto the site. Not even with the offer of paying a little extra for my entrance fee (that shocked me). So I took pictures of the dry thistles along the road.
Right outside the War College in Almaty, Kazakhstan, you'll find Panfilov Park. It commemorates Kazakhstani dead in the great wars of the Soviet Union - the Revolution and the Great Patriotic War (WWII to the West). During the Great Patriotic War a rag-tag bunch of Kazakhstani shepherds defeated a German Panzer division in defense of Volgograd or Stalingrad. The tanks were melted down to make a set of sculptures that are some of the darkest, most frightening war memorials I've ever seen. Sergeant Hulka is one of them.
I don't know how much of the above story is true. I do know this, though, the first time I saw this statue, I immediately thought of Sgt. Hulka from Stripes, and that is how I will always remember this:
"When I tell you move, you'll move fast. When I tell you to jump, you're gonna say, "How high?" And make no mistake. I don't care where you come from, I don't care what color you are, I don't care how smart you are, I don't care how dumb you are, 'cause I'm gonna teach every last one of you how to eat, sleep, walk, talk, shoot, shit like a United States soldier. Understand?"
On the road between Taneytown, MD and Littlestown, PA, there's an abandoned house that nestles in a little forest next to a stream. I found it irresistible and stopped in for about an hour of shooting one morning. Unlike most abandoned houses, it didn't have any No Trespassing signs, so I didn't worry too much about frightening the former owners or the bank.
I ended up not liking too many of my frames from that shoot, but this is one that I've been wanting to work with for some time. I'll probably play with it a lot, experimenting with burning and dodging and masking layers and some duotone colors to get just the right feel.
The litter of dead leaves and the blur from branches waving in a long exposure give the feeling of a forest where all the nymphs and dryads have died. Maybe there's a gateway to a bizarre land just behind that dark bunch on the left. No, I don't believe in supernatural entities, but myths and legends grab us and hold on, because otherwise, this is just a copse waiting for spring, and dying spirits or paths to the land of Narnia are a lot more interesting sometimes.
There are so many things to say about this photo. There's a cow in the middle of the road. Or there's a road across the prairie. Or the prairie is at 10,000 ft, and that line of hills in the distance are 16-18,000 feet high. The mountain prairies (or jailoos) of central Kyrgyzstan are among my favorite places on the planet. Although I'd go out of my mind with boredom (or perhaps not) I would love to live with the shepherds for a year and see life from their perspective.
We were about 2 weeks early for the huge party that's about to descend on the jailoo. Every summer the shepherd clans gather here for festivals, marrying off their children, trading, seeing the children they've married off and games of buzkashi (goat polo - see pictures at siananjim's travel blog). I love the idea of something like a giant Boy Scout jamboree taking over this vast grassy plain.
I had a red 4x4 Nissan Patrol turbo diesel that I loved. I loved it so much I named it after Sammy Hagar, who in the 80's you'll recall was known as The Red Rocker, because he always wore red and even wrote a song as a paean to the color.
Sammy and I drove to the top of a 14,000-ft mountain right to the Kazakh side of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border. We drove across the open steppe, multiple times. We got stuck in a swamp (you read about that a couple posts ago). I learned about 4wd hi and low and how to drive on "roads" that make the forest service roads in the Cascade Range seem like highways. I drove on highways that make the forest service roads in the Cascade Range seem better than highways. In the city, I could drive as aggressively as I needed to, because he was bright red and had a no-bullshit look. I could say, "Yeah, I'll take out your Mercedes if you won't let me into the traffic stream."
Sammy was awesome. And I miss him.
When we lived in Almaty, I had a job that started at 7 am, so I'd walk through the parks of the city before anyone else was awake. And this being not Greece, most parties were finished and the people home by 5 or 6 am, so I had the place all to myself. It was beautiful and peaceful...
Until I started to realize that every morning Almaty looked abandoned. It was as though every resident of the city had been taken up and dropped whatever they were doing. So I set out to be the crying Indian, in the hopes that if people saw what they were doing, they'd stop.
I began work on an exhibition called Almaty: The Abandoned City. I went out every Saturday and Sunday for a month, shooting from about 5:30 until 7:30 am, taking pictures like this one. It got pretty depressing, because it was so easy to find junk and garbage, and I distinctly remember the moment when I had shot enough when I got excited over finding a huge pile of garbage.
Unfortunately, we were leaving in November, and I wanted to wait until I was sure I could put together an exhibit, so I didn't start looking for a venue until August. And I missed the fall exhibition season. So I may have been crying, but nobody knew about it.
Lest my Kazakhstani friends be offended, know that I remember American cities looking like this, and that what got us to start using garbage cans was a long series of advertising campaigns and exhibitions showing just how much garbage we were throwing out the windows of our cars and dropping in our parks.
On a trip through Italy, we spent a rainy, rainy day in Spoleto. From its belvedere you can see a chunk of the ancient aquaduct as it crosses a valley. But obviously, this post isn't about that.
As my family did whatever it is that they were doing, I wandered the streets looking for Photographs. Sometimes I just look for pictures to take, but on this day, I wanted to Make a Photograph. And I got madder than hell when Appropriate Scenes didn't present themselves. I even started to hate the rain...and I love rain usually, especially for photography. It makes everything soft and evenly lit. And it keeps all the other people away from my scene.
This was a basement workshop with a window that opened about knee level, and which I thought was a charming sight, but it wasn't the Appropriate Scene I wanted. I only took a couple shots and (obviously) didn't bother to position myself to keep the grating out of the scene. The angles are all kinda wonky and it was just a lucky thing that the crossbar blocked the bare light bulb. And it's my favorite photo from the day.
The day wasn't a complete wash out, because we found a trattoria that had a great bean soup, and the cafe made a very nice cappuccino.
It's 6:30 am, on July 4. At sunset the night before, a shepherd with a Kamaz truck pulled my beautiful 4x4 out of the swamp that I had driven it into. Along with a small army of shepherds I had spent the day trying to dig and coax it out of the greasy clay. We spent hours pulling with man power and with horse power to no avail. Now, though, in the peace of early morning, it's resting quietly next to the yurt we rented for the night. We slept in the milk-curing yurt owned by one of the shepherds who'd helped, so we had butter and sour cream and yogurt and kymiz (fermented horse milk) to inform our dreams. Cattle rubbed on the walls of the yurt and on the truck all night. I loved that truck. I miss that truck. I recently learned that it still lives in Kazakhstan, and that the gas cap I lost was finally replaced.
Shot with a Hasselblad 501CM on Bergger 200 film, probably developed in Agfa Rodinal.