Dead on Arrival

Today I read that the Times-Picayune laid off half its staff. This news was greeted with the usual comments from my former colleagues:

Newspaper management are the dumbest fcks inthe history of American dumbfckery and they’re not getting any smarter. God, I hate these people.

Welcome to the mass of unemployed journalists, and good luck trying to find another job in this economy, especially at a newspaper, and if you’re over 40, forget about it

In a few months, we’ll be hearing from those laid-off Times-Picayune folks wondering why, with three decades of reporting and editing experience, they can’t even get a follow-up email in response to an application.

I can tell you why. Continue reading

Thumb drum

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I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember where I bought this little palm-sized drum. South Africa? Papua New Guinea?

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I have many of these crudely carved objects from my travels, because I was on a low budget, and I just wanted to take home something that would evoke the place.

In the end, the nationality of the maker does not matter. I can see his hand working the knife, and in the cut he sits beside me.

Hard hat

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China, 1991. Everyday objects were made by hand, from common materials.

The hard hats worn by construction workers were made from twigs or bamboo, bent while still pliable, and sewn together. When they harden, they are quite protective.

 

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They made all the scaffolding from bamboo, too.

[Shot with the “new” macro.]

The adaxial basil

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In learning to garden, I have tried to be more observant of my plants – to notice their wounds, their color, the way the leaves emerge.

This new sprig of basil is only a few mm across. I’m glad that I can see its surface – the adaxial – better with my camera than my eyes.

Here, you notice the pore-like structures. As I recall, this is why you water plants the way rain does, rather than only at the soil level – to keep those pores clean.

[Shot with the “new” macro lens]

In a glass eye: Herat

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I regret that I wasn’t a better photographer when I traveled through so many countries, in my 30s and 40s.

For years I have been thinking about creative ways that I could interpret those journeys through the perspective of time.

All my film negatives are scanned, and some shots were salvageable with careful editing. I tried to use digital manipulation to bring out the sense of those places, but often the results seem contrived. My painting skills are not up to the task of memoirs, yet.

While experimenting yesterday with my “new” macro lens, I saw the blue glass I bought in Herat in 2004, and other objects I have collected in my travels, sitting all around my house and in storage …

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and I thought, what if the art is to see those places again, through the minute inspection of the objects I still have?

So I photographed the air bubbles of Herat, the exhale of its maker rising into a vast blue sea of glass.

A macro lens – from spare parts

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The surface of the nut shown here is about 3/4″ – that crack is less than a millimeter.

While reading about macro lenses and trying to decide what to buy, I saw a forum comment that you could put two 50mm lenses together (one of them reversed, attached front to front, by gluing old filters together) and get “amazing” resolution.

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It happens that I have two old 50mm’s (one f2, the other f1.7) and I scrounged up two old UV filters that fit them. Then I taped the filters together just to see how this contraption would work.

The results were astonishing.

I do love that old Pentax glass. My favorite lenses are 25+ years old.

To focus, I put the lens just an inch or so from the subject. I don’t use a macro rail or tripod – those are far too klunky, when working with such a tiny focal area. I have learned to hold my breath while shooting a series, moving a hair’s distance back for each shot. This means I delete 3/4 of the shots on the first edit, because the hair’s breadth I want is out of focus.

I’ve developed my technique from using a single 50mm lens with a reversing ring for the past several years (a number of examples are on this site, such as this one of a beech tree bud tip). The clarity of the shots with the “new” macro, though, is significantly better.

The depth of field constraint means most photographers wouldn’t give this macro combo a second look. Who wants to work with an area the width of a few hairs? But, to me, that is an ideal format for what I am trying to express – the finest point of attention, the smallest detail, the place where your heart breaks.

So I like that constraint, the way you appreciate the size of the canvas as a limit that releases your creativity.

More posts forthcoming to show the results of this lens.