Friday, July 19, 2019

Give a girl a know the rest

I remember fishing as a kid from this very spot.  The end of the pier and many other "honey holes" in beautiful Rock Cut State Park located in Winnebago County, IL.  I spent much of my childhood in this park fishing, camping, canoeing,  swimming across the many great memories.  Today, as an adult of near 50 years old, I use the park to mountain bike mainly on the several miles of well maintained MTB trails.  

Back to fishing...
I fished quite a bit as a kid.  I caught, cleaned, and ate.  My mom was sure she taught me how to do this.  She was a Girl Scout leader, after all, and no son of hers was going to be raised and not learn this life skill.  I remember fishing many times and catching nothing, but I always went back.  The thrill for a boy waiting for that bobber to dunk, feeling the fish take the line, and reeling it in, never quite knowing what was going to be on the other end.  The chance of catching a fish was all it took to get back out there.  Even if I didn't catch anything.  Just sitting there, casting, waiting, becoming lost in my head for a few hours, it was therapeutic, even if I didn't quite understand it at the time. 

As I grew older, I fished on occasion, but never kept them any longer.  I would just catch and release...for sport.  This sport came to bother me after a while. Reeling in a catch, ripping the hook out of its mouth, throat, gills etc. and watching it die as I put it back in the water.  Now, I know fish have small brains and likely have no feelings as to what is happening to them, but it just bothered me.  I wouldn't kill any other animal for sport, so why fish?  Although I stopped fishing, I never forgot the childhood memories it gave me that I so coveted.

Fast forward another fish-less 15 years and I have a daughter.  A bright, energetic, fearless daughter.  A child that will take on anything I challenge her with.  I always knew that I would want my children to learn to fish. It's a great lesson in patience, survival, and self confidence.  

I took my 6 year old daughter fishing for the first time yesterday.  The same place I fished for almost a decade as a child. She learned to bait a hook and cast and reel an open reel (we are still working on setting up the line and rig, but that will come next).  She got to experience the thrill of the bobber dunking.  Her high pitched screams "daddy, I've got a fish, daddy!" brought excitement to me.  Although we only had some bites and never hooked anything, it was enough to make her want to fish another day.  She experienced the same excitement as I did as a child.  I know we will return soon and I can't wait for her to bring in our first catch together. 
First Daddy/Daughter fishing trip. 07/18/19
Rock Cut State Park
Polaroid 330 Land Camera on Fuji pf100 instant film

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Polaroid 330 Land Camera Flash Sync Goodness

As if the Polaroid 330 Land camera wasn't cool enough.  It's compact, built solid, 60's as hell, and oh yeah, it produces incredible images on the discontinued Fuji FP100C peel film.  The images are sharp, colorful, and nostalgic (by the way, don't lose all hope on this film.  The former brains over at Impossible Project are redeveloping it and is supposed to be shipping in the summer of 2019).

1966 Polaroid 330 Land Camera

I purchased this camera on eBay a while back and some time after experimenting with it, I discovered it had a PC sync socket on the left side of the lens.  For those who don't know what this is, it is a small electronic socket that you connect your camera to a flash and fire a flash "in sync" when the shutter is released to expose your image with flash.  This is awesome because now I can use this camera anywhere, day or night.  No need for long exposure or blurry images because your subject cant hold still for 2 seconds or more...if it works.

PC sync socket - left side of lens assembly

I hooked up a generic flash to the camera and tried it with no film.  It fired flawlessly as I had hoped. This was encouraging.  I tried a few test shots with film and I was pretty stoked.  Now, this is a fixed aperture lens (f8.8), and the film is ISO100, so I had to use a flash meter to calculate manual flash output based on the aperture, ISO, and subject to flash distance.  This is 1966 after all and TTL was unheard of at this point.

So, if I can fire a manual flash using the sync socket, why not fire it wirelessly using a generic trigger system?  It makes perfect sense, right? Yes, it does, and it works...well!
Any flash and trigger system should be able to be used for this as long as it has the ability to be operated manually and not TTL dedicated only.

Here is my set up:
Polaroid 330 Land camera w/sync cable
Fuji manual flash (I've since used it with my Flashpoint studio strobes)
Phottix Strato trigger system (dedicated for Canon, but works manually with any flash)
Flash stand to place your flash as desired (shelf, ground, on stand, wherever)

flash, stand, and trigger set (transmitter and receiver)

And here is the system all hooked up...
Camera with transmitter attached via sync cable

Flash mounted on receiver hot shoe and stand

And this is how it works:

I recently saw a post floating around on social media which depicted women of the 50's and 60's taking impromtu portraits by their Christmas trees.  They displayed a class and style of the era which we don't see anymore and of course, all shot on film...many of it instant film.  My wife saw the same post and casually suggested we try to do a photo like that this year.  I enthusiastically agreed...and I knew just how I was going to do it.

I give you...

My gorgeous wife doing her best high ball holiday pose

I experimented with direct flash (above) and bounced flash (both ceiling and wall to left of camera) and I think the direct flash looked best and most accurate to the era.  The hot spot in the middle with natural a vignette and hard shadows are classic.  We tried a few different poses and burned through a pack of film, but had a lot of fun and I learned a lot.  It is satisfying to have an idea, put it together, experiment, fail, try again, fail, try again using what I learned, and then have a print that exceeds expectations.

 Here are a few others we did.

These obviously are not new ideas.  Nothing ground breaking, nothing that has not been done before. I guess the purpose of this is to never stop learning, never stop trying new things (or new to you), and always work to better yourself in whatever you do.  If you have passion for something, let it consume you sometimes. Live it and own it. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Serial Number B0062

My love of the Gibson Les Paul began when my sister turned me onto Ace Frehley and Kiss in 1978 when she gave me Rock and Roll Over.  I swear I air jammed to that record with my moms tennis racquet until the vinyl grooves wore smooth.  As a kid, I always wanted a real Les Paul like Ace, but I really wouldn't pick up playing for another 8 years...and I certainly couldn't afford it.

Fast forward 13 years.  I was 21 at the time...1991.  I was out of high school and working at a local music store selling guitars.  I had spent the last 5 years teaching myself guitar by listening to greats of the time and jamming to records.  Trying to learn my favorites licks and creating something unique inside of me through music.

I had the privilege of being able to acquire a few guitars since employees had endless store credit...and I bought quite a few (only to sell them off later because I was so far in to debt to the music store when I left).  But one guitar stayed with me, and is still with me today.  I knew it was special from the moment I saw it, and this is its story...

I was working the sales floor one day in '91 and a guy came in wanting to trade a guitar in on something else.  I knew it was a Les Paul looking at the case, but I had seen and played dozens by this time, and even owned a few, so I really wasn't expecting much.  He opened the case and inside was one of the coolest Gold Top Les Pauls I had ever seen.  I'm not sure why I was so instantly in love with this guitar and had absolutely no idea what year it was, but I thought it was definitely worth trying to trade in and then maybe, selfishly, I would be able to buy it through the store.  I had no intentions for this guitar to ever make it to the showroom floor if I could help it.

So, we work out a trade in deal and he's happy.  I take the deal to the floor manager and he rejects the deal.  He wants to low ball the guy and give him hardly anything for the guitar on trade.  This could be great for me because the smaller the investment the store has, the smaller my investment will be, but inside, I know this guy is going to walk.

I present him the counter offer, and as predicted, he closes the case and walks out with the guitar of my dreams.  Panic sets in and I quickly run out to the parking lot to catch him.  I tell him I'm willing to buy the guitar off him and offer him a little more than he was going to get on trade to hopefully entice him to sell it.  He agrees.  I am over joyed.  It's going to be mine...only, I have no money...You know, because I'm a 21 year old musician and they are always broke.  Longer story short, I end up borrowing the cash and paying a little interest back to my dad (THANKS DAD!), but I get the guitar.

The guitar is still with me today.  It is the only guitar I have kept since I began buying back in 1986. Never say never, but I intend on playing it until I die. It has been with me for numerous live shows, recorded in Nashville (The Gents As-Is), and has been so special to me for the past 27 years.
1982 Les Paul #B0062
1966 Polaroid 330 on Fuji pf100 film

Through a ton of research, I was able to identify it some years later after I bought it from that guy in the parking lot.  It is a 1982 30th Anniversary Les Paul Gold Top, serial # B 0062.  It lacks the 19th fret commemorative inlay so it was probably a "b" model, but there is no doubt as to what it is.

It is a "rare" guitar.  It's not a '59 by any means, but it's definitely special.  I have seen a few here and there on the internet for sale and they are getting about 10 times what I paid for it, but I have zero interest in selling it, it's just that cool and means so much to me.

I was talking to a friend of mine a few years back who I worked at the music store with who still works there. He told me that the guy has been in on more than one occasion to try and find me to buy his guitar back.  The music business can be cruel, but that's business, and this guitar is staying with me forever.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Random Acts of Purpose...and Belgian Ale - Sawyer, MI

It's interesting how a 52 year old piece of molded plastic, paper, and a brilliant concept way ahead of its time brings complete strangers together. And how it helped me find purpose.

My wife and I recently vacationed in Michigan and I had taken my 1966 Polaroid 330 Land Camera along with the intent of bringing home a photo album of nostalgic images. Things we saw and places we visited. It was going to be a milestone anthology of natural vignette's, odd color casts, and lack of dynamic range that even the most discreet Instagram filter abuser would admire. Although I carried it faithfully in my backpack every single day, it never saw light (pun intended).  I didn't take it out once. I'm not sure why.  I had the best intentions.  There it sat, quietly, buried in my backpack, while my digital mirrorless played favorite.
1966 Polaroid 330 Land Camera

It had been extremely hot and humid during our stay, and a cold craft beer on the patio of the Greenbush Annex was irresistibly enticing on our last night. My Belgian Ale was cold and refreshing and probably a little too easy.  After some great conversation with her and enjoying some time together where nobody knew us, we decided to cut out and call it a night.  I picked up my pack and the added weight of the Polaroid camera reminded me I needed to take at least one shot before we left.  After all, it was our last night and I had neglected the little bundle of instant film joy that I had carried every day.  My wife graciously agreed, as she often does, to pose quickly for a street shot with the brewery in the background.  A single, nostalgic image to remind us of the memory, and more so to help me feel like lugging it around all week was worth the effort.

We had just finished taking the shot when a man and woman exited the patio area and struck up conversation about the camera.  They were interested in what it was and how it worked.  I was excited to talk about it and likely gave them more information than they had bargained for.  During our conversation I learned the man was the woman's father and they were enjoying some quality time together.  Our conversation didn't last long, but I was spontaneously inspired to give them something special that no one in this moment could.  Nothing they could get anywhere else on this planet other than right here, right now.  I offered to take their photo with the camera they were so interested in and they enthusiastically accepted.

The Wifey
I instantly felt like carrying the camera all week now had purpose.  The right moment just needed to present itself which made it all worth it.  We framed up the shot and it was done.  We waited the two minute development time and huddled together as I slowly pulled the print away from the negative.  They were elated.  I handed off the print with pride and a big smile.  It made my day and I think theirs as well.  I told them I wanted to share the encounter in this blog and asked to take a cell pic of them holding the print. To give them this gift gave me purpose and made carrying the camera all week well worth the effort.  No regrets.
Happy father and daughter with tangible memory

I know they told me their names, but I'm terrible with names and I think the experience and excitement caused me to let it all pass through my ears.  Maybe it was just the Belgian Ale.  ;-)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Wanted: Drummer. PA and unintentional friendship a plus. Influences include...

Sometimes, we gravitate toward someone, taking notice of things we have in common, and work to establish a bond.  Other times, it's our differences that bring us together when we least expect it.  This was one of those times. 

In 2010, a good friend of mine invited me to St. Pete Beach, FL to play guitar and sing in a one time weekend band.  I knew the other guitar player and bass player as we had all grown up in the late 80's music scene and was told they had a drummer to play kit for the shows.

We put a song list together of our favorites and I spent the next couple months learning them at home and couldn't wait to get to Florida.  I had never been.  We would be playing on the Gulf of Mexico, so needless to say, I was stoked. Being a guitar player and forming certain relationships has afforded me some opportunities that I will forever be grateful. 

After arriving in Florida, we all meet at the rehearsal space which was a storage shed in St. Petersburg. With PA gear, amps, drums, and five bodies, there was barely enough room to breathe.  I'm introduced to the drummer, Scott, whom I've never met or jammed with, but I just want to play. 

Now, being brought up in the late 80's and early 90's rock guitar world, I require a hard hitter.  I love playing with a solid, driving drummer.  It's probably made me a less versatile musician to a fault. A few songs into rehearsal, it is clear to me that Scott is not from the same school. His playing was laid back and soft. Not that this was a bad thing, it was just not what I was used to and I found it difficult to get a vibe going.  

Over the next week of daily rehearsals, I'm pretty sure I got under Scott's skin more than once asking him to hit harder and play louder, wanting more energy brought to the songs. There may have even been times when we absolutely didn't want to be in the same room with each other.  Either way, we made it through rehearsals and it was show time. 

I wasn't as excited to play as I was when I first arrived.  I didn't think the energy was going to be there, and for me, it's hard to bring the song when it's lacking.  We start the set and the songs go pretty well. The crowd is good and there is a vibe happening. I'm not sure when it happened, but I look back at Scott mid song and he is completely killing it.  Playing hard, pulling off drum fills that he never brought out in rehearsal, and releasing so much energy.  The show goes great. 

After the shows and during off time, Scott and I actually get to talk a little and find out that we have a lot more in common than I ever knew.  I think at some point I apologized for being a demanding prick and tell him how surprised and pleased I was with his playing and the show.  He's as cool as ever and smoking an American Spirit simply replies "Yeah, man. For sure."  

Over the next few years, Scott and I kept in touch on social media and actually got to play together again in Florida.  Every time I return, I'm stoked about hanging with him.  Appreciating our differences is as important as recognizing the similarities.

In May, 2017, I returned to Florida to play a gig in Tampa. Scott wasn't drumming, but seeing him was at the top of my list while I was there.  It was a great night to see great friends. 

Me, My Girl, Scott, Scott's Girl
St. Petersburg, FL.  05/28/17
1980's Polaroid Impulse AF with
Impossible 600 Film

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dremel Tool meets Square Shooter meets Fuji Pf100 Instant Film

1970's Polaroid Square Shooter

A year or so ago, my wife came home with a Polaroid Square Shooter that she found at thrift store.  She bought it for around four or five bucks with the intent of giving it to me because she knew I enjoyed the instant cameras and it was just kind of cool to have.  I received it with joy and after a few weeks, put it in a box with a bunch of other photography gear and kind of forgot about it as there was no chance of finding film for this little charm. 

The camera is pretty a much a one step, point and shoot which used the old and much discontinued Polaroid 85 films.  It has a shutter release, 4' to infinity focus, a flash bulb socket, and a wind up timer on the side that is used for print development times.  Unlike the Polaroid instant film that much of us are familiar with (see image above), this one used film which was pulled from the camera after the exposure and then the positive print was pulled apart from the negative.  It's kind of cool because you actually have a salvageable negative to keep and reprint if you want. In addition, the print format was square opposed to the common Polaroid print we were used to (see above).

Fast forward a year and I stumble onto an article in which people have been modifying the film storage bay to receive and actually use the Fuji Pf100 film in this camera.  Now, Fuji stopped making this film in 2016, but there is still a ton out there and can be purchased on many internet photo sites.  

After watching a brief tutorial, I fire up my old Dremel tool and begin the surgical process of carefully grinding away portions of the film bay.  The smell of hot plastic is not pleasing and it makes a complete mess, but I believe the procedure is a success. 

I order up several packs of the Fuji film and watch a few videos on how it works.  Sure enough, the film fits.  Its a tight fit, but its in there and everything seems to be working.  The first test shot is of a parking lot at work.  I can't think about composition, lighting, anything photography related other than "is there going to be a picture when I peel the film."  I wait the suggested 90 seconds to develop and slowly pull the positive up.  I feel like Charley Bucket opening a candy bar and waiting to see the corner of a Golden Ticket. Much to my excitement and pleasure, there is a print.  A really good print. Well exposed, great color, and its stable. 

Of course I'm ecstatic and overjoyed.  I snap a cell phone pic of the print and immediately send it to my wife.  She seems pretty excited, but probably not as much as I. 

Many prints followed and many more to come.

State Capitol Building, Madison, WI
April, 2017
Polaroid Square Shooter w/ Fuji Pf100 film

Friday, May 12, 2017

Catching the instant bug...again.

When I was seven or eight, I obtained my first camera. It was a Kodak Handle instant. It was much like the Polaroids of the day. I remember being fascinated by making an exposure and watching the print develop in front of me. It kindled my interest in photography which would continue and develop my entire life. I'm still learning. Instant photography became 35mm film, which then became digital and here we are.
A while back, I saw a documentary about the demise of Polaroid film and its resurrection by a group of instant geeks who call them selves "The Impossible Project."  This group has begun refurbishing old cameras, manufacturing new instant film and allowing us to relive the instant photography thrill again.
After watching and doing some research, I had the bug again. The desire to make instant photographs with temperamental film on original machines that reminded me of what sparked my interest in photography as a boy. I recently received my 40 year old, rebuilt Polaroid SX-70 camera and several packs of film to begin this venture again. To relive the excitement of instant photography and introduce it to my kids so they can hopefully be amazed and intrigued the way I was at their age. One image, no computer, no editing, all camera, and maybe a small gift to send with a friend to hang on their fridge that nobody else has or gets to see.
Instant film and the antique cameras are tricky, frustrating, and a test of patience, but completely satisfying when the image finally appears. This is my first test shot. Her name is Molly.