With the apartment quiet, and deeply involved in whatever I was doing at the computer, there was a certain diligent peace to the morning. It really hadn’t been long after my wife and son had left for work and daycare respectively but I had moved into my frame of mind needed for the tasks I wanted to accomplish that morning. I was trying to make the most of my time between jobs, alternately completely relaxing and attempting to make headway in a few projects that had been on the backburner for far too long. But when I got up out of my chair and turned around to get something I was completely snapped out from where my head was at, I was thrust instantly into the singlar fact I had a son. A child. That I am a father. The visual of my son’s toy, sitting there on the rug in that shaft of light, went directly to my heart and the huge amount of love I have for him, my wife, and by extension my family. It’s a simple child’s toy, a wooden lion wearing a green helmet with wheels for feet and string to pull it (that of course he likes to chew on at the moment rather than use to drag it around), which harkens back to a different era a few generations ago maybe. Its presence there, alone in the room, hit home. Sometimes we need a reminder to stop and pause, to think, digest, and reflect on what we have. I spent a good while just sitting on the couch doing that.
I’m trying some new things these days; you’ll find that to be a theme over the coming weeks, since there are plenty of changes going on in my life. Photographically-speaking, I had a chance to try out some medium format film. I have been after one 6×6 camera for a while for a specific project I have in mind. I know I could use a camera I have, compose in 4×6 and then crop to 6×6, but if at all possible I prefer to work in a native format. It makes composition much more accurate, at least for me. Thanks to my friend Jill Harrison, she of the film- (and other things) obsessed For the Love of Brooklyn blog, I had the loan of a Yashica 635 TLR. Interestingly it can also take 35mm film, but that’s not why I wanted it. So what to do, what to do? I had to try it out immediately! I first went down to the Brooklyn Heights promenade with some Tri-X 400 loaded. There I met up with another friend, Barry Yanowitz, who talked me through handling a TLR a bit. I think I got some good stuff, but I definitely also made a few unintentional errors like double exposure, neglecting to focus, etc. I haven’t developed that roll yet though. My next opportunity to use the Yashica would be at the upcoming weekend.
I balked; we were going to a wedding. How would I be able to use a TLR in that environment with its slow process, the dim to non-existent light, and the fact I generally don’t bring a camera to a wedding? “Wait, what? You don’t bring a camera to a wedding?” No, normally I don’t because: 1) The couple have paid for a very good photographer so that they and their guests can get on with enjoying themselves, and I intend to do that! 2) I don’t want to get in the way of said photographer. 3) I don’t want to have to worry about my camera if I leave it at the table to go dancing, or when I’m a little…under-the-influence, shall we say. However, in this case there was an exception. Dave and Sara had originally asked me to bring my camera just to make sure someone photographed Dave’s reaction when he saw Sara for the first time coming down the aisle. That had me planning, gearing up, and thinking about angles, location, etc. When they decided they were going to do a formal “first-look moment” with their photographer, instead all my preparatory juices, the adrenalines, etc., had nowhere else to go. So, with the pressure off, I decided it would be a fantastic idea to take just the Yashica 635, for only my second time using it. Ha! I got my hands on a few rolls of 120 Kodak Tri-X 400 and Ilford Delta 3200 at Adorama, surmising I’d need film that can “see” in the dark–and off we went!
Man, was it a battle. The whole process of metering the light (using the pocket light meter app on my iPhone), finding the right aperture and shutter speed, cocking the shutter, then pressing the shutter button took longer than most of the moments I wanted to photograph. But the best way to learn is to set yourself a challenge, and I had certainly done so. I started to find a few quieter, slower moments to get myself into the swing of things, but sometimes I just had to go for it, like this one. As Dave and Sara ended their first dance I dashed back to my seat to grab the camera. I couldn’t easily find a way through the crowd, so I pulled a chair over and stood on it. I went through the whole process above as quickly as I could, trusting instinct more now than anything. I pressed the shutter. I couldn’t be sure I had anything, let alone the peak moment, so I carried on through the rest of the wedding, taking photos here and there. When I got the developed film back from LTI Lightside there were plenty of underexposed photographs that I could see, even before I scanned them, wouldn’t come out. But when I got to this one I sat back and sighed. Here it was, a perfect moment and a perfect reminder of the day. It was worth the battle to get this one photograph. It would still be worth it if all the rest of the photographs on the three rolls of Delta 3200 and two rolls of Tri-X 400 were crappy. Sometimes all you need is one moment in time to bring the memories flooding back. I can’t wait to wrestle with this camera some more.
I recently acquired the book Documenting Science, published by Steidl, which features the photography of Berenice Abbott. I knew that Berenice Abbott took to photographing science after her previous major body of work Changing New York but had missed that this book became available earlier this year. It really is a fantastic book for a scientist like me, one who has an eye on ways in which we can document and communicate science. I had fully intended to write all about this body of Berenice Abbott’s work, especially after covering her near contemporary Fritz Goro previously. However, Wayne Ford, a masterful writer on photography, beat me to it. His review of this book is along the same lines and sentiments as I would have written. So, to avoid repetition, I encourage you to visit his blog instead, and then to get the book. For as he says at the end of his post, it is “a fitting conclusion to a remarkable career of one of the 20th centuries most remarkable photographers.” I very much concur with that!
Berenice Abbott got her start as an apprentice to Man Ray and later in her life championed the work of Eugene Atget.
Her studio was previously at 50 Commerce Street, New York, NY, from which Commerce Graphics, who represent the archive of Berenice Abbott, takes their name.
Currently there is an exhibit on at the MIT museum featuring her photographs made while at MIT in the late 1950′s to contribute images that would advance the teaching of physics (MIT museum press release).