16 November 2010

Cameras for Peru

COLUMBUS--I wonder when the sad day will be when I decide not to take a film camera. Happily, that day has not yet come.

While trying to decide what equipment to take I was deeply conflicted. My primary camera is the outstanding Nikon D3 but the D3 has some serious drawbacks for traveling. First and foremost it is large, obtrusive, heavy and expensive. And owning only one it is my primary workhorse for all those portrait and wedding and Stateside news and documentary jobs that pay a lot more of the bills than travel and humanitarian documentary work. I didn't want to carry the big Nikon because if anything happened to it I would be in trouble for upcoming jobs and, well, I didn't want to literally carry it.

I decided initially to make do with my Leica M6ttl and the Canon G9 but it also seemed irresponsible in this day and age to go on a trip almost certain to produce sellable images with no digital camera but a point and shoot (albeit a very good point and shoot). The obvious solution was a new camera! I considered a number of options and those came down to a smaller, less-expensive Nikon D-5000 or one of the new Micro 4/3 systems from Panasonic or Olympus. All the research and my own personal preference led me to believe of those two it would be the Panasonic but I was unable to find one anywhere in Columbus. Finally, I was able to handle one at Dodd Camera in Cleveland and, well, it was pretty amazing to fall deeply in love twice in one year!

The Micro 4/3 system places a sensor about half the size of a 35mm sensor but around nine times the size of a point and shoot sensor, large enough for good detail and to achieve a shallow depth-of-field. The camera has interchangeable lenses and almost no shutter lag, all in a package the size of the G9, a large point and shoot. There are also adaptors enabling one to use nearly any other camera system's lenses.

I bought the Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm f1.7, which on a Micro 4/3 camera is a normal lens. I also got a Leica M mount adaptor and the optional Electronic Viewfinder. I replaced the labeled strap with a black canvas Domke strap. The GF1 and the Leica M6ttl go in a black Domke F3X shoulder bag along with 35mm and 50mm Leica lenses and a 15mm Voigtlander. These all, via the adaptor, can be mounted on the GF1 with an approximately 2x magnification factor. For the GF1 I have four 8GB and four 4GB SDHC cards and for the Leica six rolls of Fuji Neopan 400 ASA, six rolls of Ilford HP5 and two rolls of 400 ASA Fujichrome slide film. I also have an 4GB Flip HD Video Camera and Kristina will carry my Canon G9.

Now all I need is a llama posing in front of some Inca ruins with a cloud-wreathed Andean peak in the background!

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Points South, Far South

COLUMBUS--I think we decided that Peru was our first destination as a couple (other than Chanute, Kansas to visit the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum) even before we got engaged. Kristina had been saving frequent flyer miles since she was in college and figured we had almost enough for South America. We had talked, of course, about Guatemala and Honduras but decided we might as well travel somewhere neither of us had been before. I suggested Ecuador, the South American country I had been longest fascinated by and she tossed back Peru.

We began buying Peru books and I realized I had read more about the country than I had thought. Besides holding the heartland of the Inca empire, Peru contains the remains of other, far more ancient civilizations. The country is twice the size of Texas and contains some of the highest mountains, driest desert and deepest jungle in the world.

The main attractions for tourists are in the southern part of the huge country and nearly everyone asks, when they hear where we are going, "So, off to Machu Picchu? Cuzco is a great city." And one of the places I have wanted to see ever since I was a map-obsessed kid is Lake Titicaca, the largest high-altitude lake in the world. And then, along the southern coast are the Nazca lines, enormous monkeys and jaguars and straight paths, miles long, etched in the desert in a land that receives almost no rainfall, ever.

However, perhaps perversely, we decided to go north, off the main gringo trail, to a series of locations that will include jungle and mountains, Inca and pre-Inca ruins and the northern coastal Sechura desert. I think the main reason we decided to go north is to stay in the city of Paita. Why Paita? Because that, dear reader, is where Bogart and Bacall end up at the end of the rather bizarre classic film, "Dark Passage." Yes, that's why. Of course it is the oldest Spanish port on the Pacific and a few other things but there is no other real reason. It's barely in the movie and I am sure what is shown as Paita at the end of "Dark Passage" is really California. But I suppose it the idea of Paita as a place at the end of the world that is the attraction, the idea of going somewhere simply because it is there, because there is nothing grand there.

Neither of us really know what to expect. We'll have to go to these places--Lima, Terapoto, Chachapoyas, Keulap, Paita and the rest to find out. We finished packing our bags last night, two black packs and two Domke bags now lie in the living room waiting to be picked up. We have new shots and vaccinations and the Larium (Mefloquone) is coursing through our veins to ward off the malaria. I've taken the milder Chloroquine many times before but the strains in Peru are Chloroquine resistant. I have heard many stories about Larium nightmares before. Multiple people told me about them and that they usually involve snakes and fire. Last night, after my third Monday Larium I had a nightmare. Mine involved an enraged moose chasing me through a cabin. Moose. Why'd it have to be moose...? At least it wasn't a fire-breathing moose.

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04 October 2010

Fall Comes to Ohio

WOOSTER--The summer seemed to go on and on in a mirror of the seemingly never-to-end winter. The sun beat down day after day, scorching the plants and drying the earth and making any outdoor task harder by each degree of mercury. But just as the freezing days of winter suddenly passed into Spring and sun and heat so one day I woke up to find a chill in the morning air and a peculiar melancholy scent in the air that signified that another year was coming to an end.

Ohio, in certain prime weeks of its seasons, has lovely light and both late summer and early Autumn produce glorious light in their mornings and evenings. Every day I have been carrying at least a Canon G9 and here are a few pictures from Wayne and Holmes Counties. If Ohio is, as the State motto reads, "The Heart of it All," then I believe these two counties are the beating, rural heart in the center of that. They are places where the American dream of the family farm still exists, practically in its Platonic ideal. Now, in Fall, at harvest time, the fruits of all those hard hours can be seen: being harvested from the fields, pulled behind tractors, for sale in roadside farmers markets and on display at the annual Wayne County Fair.

I am not a native of Wayne County, having grown up in the entirely different Southwest and, to be honest, Arizona is still a spiritual home to me. Long ago I resented being uprooted and moved to Ohio. Then I worked at the local newspaper and while driving to Orrville one early Fall morning I came over a rise and a field of drying corn and a red barn rose from a ground mist into bright clean, morning air. I was taken aback and suddenly realized how lovely and special a landscape this is.

29 June 2010

Mike DeWine Ice Cream Social

COLUMBUS--Every year, for over 30 years, former US Senator Mike De Wine (R-OH) has held an ice cream social on his property in Western Ohio. My girlfriend Kristina has been before and had invitations to this year's event.

It was a beautiful day as we set out driving West. Of course, with the weather as it has been this year, there was no guarantee it would stay that way. She was beautiful in a summer dress, blue straw hat and heart-shaped American flag pin. The event gave me an occasion to wear my new Brooks Brother's tie festooned with little elephants and the Pentagon-shaped American flag pin my friend got me, well, at the Pentagon.

We must have exuded more importance than we actually posses since, beginning with the guy at the gate, continuing through the event and ending with one of the candidates, people said things like, "Oh, I know who you are," "I know we've met before but tell me your name again," and "Just tell them who you are and they'll put you up front."

It must have been the tie and being with the prettiest girl there (whose dress was nearly identical to the stylish Mrs. DeWine)!

Bad weather began to form and come our way and we moved, along with much of the crowd, inside the DeWine's well-appointed family room (a building they call "the barn"). Mr. DeWine came in and, as his right as man-of-the-house, took up his remote to find the local weather channel. And then the weather passed without a drop of rain falling. The band (the talented and hilarious Crazy Joe and the Mad River Outlaws, the Kings of Nerd-a-Billy) began playing again, the speakers spoke, CHANGE (which brought some laughs and a lot of applause) in the upcoming elections was promised and the festivities continued.

After mingling some more we left after being photographed with Mr. DeWine, and for the rest of the day no one asked if I was somebody important. I was still with the prettiest girl around, however, so I didn't mind very much at all...

28 May 2010

Portfolio: Eight Photo Essays in Six Countries

29 April 2010

Photos from ScanFest

COLUMBUS--I have set up a quiet office down here in the great Buckeye State's capitol city, far away from the dust and noise of the construction zone atop which I have been living in Wooster. I have been traveling to an working in Central America, doing documentary and media work for several humanitarian relief organizations for nearly a decade. This decade has seen an amazing shift in photographic technology, moving with almost mind-numbing speed from film-based to digital equipment. When I first went to Honduras in 2001 digital cameras, of course, existed, but there was no comparison in their image quality, responsiveness and general abilities to good film cameras. On my first trips almost no one had digital cameras (and more or less the only available professional digital cameras were the Nikon D1 series (1, 1x and 1h) which priced in at about $5,000). Only a couple years later all the travelers were toting decent little digital point and shoots and using them as portable mini-slide shows to augment the, "So, where are you from, where have you been, where are you going, how long are you traveling for?" standard conversation. The con and pro-sumer SLR was still a few years off but no doubt a large number of those travelers are now toting those as well.

Over the years I have toted a wide variety of cameras and have never traveled without some film bodies, even as recently as a couple years ago. I have, pulling quickly from memory, used a Nikon FM, a Nikkormat (briefly as the light meter went bad), a Nikon F3, a Leica M6ttl, a Leica Mda, a Leica Mini and a Leica Digilux 1. I have used an Olympus Stylus Epic, a Nikon D1x, a Canon digital Elph, a Leica C-Lux, a Nikonos V and, oh yeah, a Sony Mavica and probably a few others not to mention a Panasonic VHS Reporter video camera and a Panasonic DVC 60 video camera.

I love film and will continue to use it, at least a little, because I am stubborn and have spent a lot of money on those Leicas (but don't have enough for an M9 right now) and I like the way it looks and I like the idea that every time I expose a frame it is changing just a little part of the universe forever. But I don't love all these hours I am spending at the desk scanning all those negatives to make digital files of them so they can be used in a practical way. Over those trips I shot hundreds of rolls of film and for a variety of reasons many of them have never adequately been used. I would get back and get on with the next assignment or the next assignment would involve heavy usage of a small portion of those negatives or, well, who knows. Suffice it to say that I took a lot of pictures I have never dealt with.

I am dealing with them now, however! And here are a few of them:

05 April 2010

Photo of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

I was recently in Washington D.C. covering the Women Airforce Service Pilot (W.A.S.P.) event where female aviators from WWII were finally honored for their service with the Congressional Gold Medal. Senator Hutchison (R) Texas was instrumental in getting the legislation passed in order to honor the women. This photo was published on her website: http://andrewtonnphoto.com/hutchison.htm