29 April 2009

Leica Photo Contest

FILM: Carpathian Home For Disabled Children

21 April 2009

S.A.R.A. 's Ukrainian Dental Program

You can also watch this video at YouTube

Once Upon A Time in El Salvador

EL ESPINO--(L-R) Betty Ann Larson, Joyce Gilberg, Dr. Ephrain Alvarenga, John Gilberg, Sharon Fiely, Kim Hemelgarn

Roma and Horse Carts and the Leica Digilux 1

LUND--Last summer when I traveled to Transcarpathia, Ukraine to shoot footage for the films I am currently editing and posting I had a bit of a camera dilemma. I was shooting the movie with a shoulder-mount Panasonic DVC60, a terrific camera but a fairly large one. Someday I hope to have the ultimate photographic accessory, an assistant, but as it was I am one guy filming, taking stills and recording the sound and taking notes--which is a lot to manage and perhaps even more to carry.

I decided to compromise on my still cameras (and this was before I got the Nikon D3 and the Canon G9) and to take only my Leica M6 loaded with black and white film and the odd, clunky beast that is the Leica Digilux 1, my very-first-ever digital camera. I had the option of taking, then, my Nikon D1X but both because of its weight and a number of issues with it I decided on the aforementioned rig.

The Digilux 1 is a strange machine that has recently achieved a sort of second life as a cult camera. It is a large point and shoot with retro styling, shaped rather like the classic American rangefinder of yore the Argus C3, or, as it was known, "The Brick". The Digilux 1 is a scant 4 mega pixels--a little anemic even for its time--and certainly for its original price tag of about $800. Still, it often proves the mega-pixel myth and the primacy of a good lens as, in good light, it turns in photos that can send even current point and shoot cameras slinking to the dog house. But good light it must have. In poor light and even at moderate ASAs of 400 its images become almost uselessly noisy. It has a slight shutter lag though it was incredibly fast for its time and still beats all but the better P&S models. The shutter itself is almost completely silent.

In good light it delivers some of the loveliest color I have seen on any digital camera and it has a fairly easily accesed set of manual controls. Oddly, being a Leica (even if it is really a repackaged Panasonic) it lacks a black and white mode. I could go on about it and though I wish I could return to Transcarpathia with my D3 and other new equipment I am glad I dusted the Digilux off and used it seriously, even if for the last time. I still plan to take it out on sunny, summer days when I feel like making pretty pictures. I wish Leica would re-invent it, same weird, cool, retro body, same lens, same lovely color rendition, but with better low light performance, a little higher resolution and perhaps a larger sensor. The body is certainly large enough to contain all that!

Among the Digilux 1's features is a 3-shot burst mode (rather like the M-16 A2!). The horse cart is a common mode of transportation in Transcarpathia, most commonly (though not limited to) utilized by the Roma (Gypsy) people. I had the idea to use the 3 shot burst mode to take sequences like those above as we passed the horse carts on the road. It took me a while to get them done but here are two that came out.

20 April 2009

To Take A Photograph

LUND--I was in the Honduran village of Sensenti. The town lay on the scorching plain of Ocotapeque province in the west of that Central American republic, in sight of the mountains that rose up to the border with El Salvador. It lay near a small, fetid lake and a wide, shallow river spanned by a suspension bridge.

Dentists from Central American Medical Outreach were set up in the new health clinic by the 17th century church treating people from Sensenti and the surrounding areas. After a while I became tired of the sound of drills on teeth and the smell of burning enamel mixed with dust and sweat. I became tired of the pictures I was taking, one open mouthed scared kid began looking no different than the next and, even though this was in the years just prior to mass rise of the digital camera I knew I had enough good shots. As I walked outside one of the dentists handed me a Polaroid camera and several packs of film for it.

"This is the last we brought," he said, "Take pictures of the kids outside and give them their photos. Have fun."

The kids saw me with the camera and charged and I managed to get them a bit separated and began taking their portraits one by one and handing them the magic square that soon materialized an image of themselves upon its blank face. I finished the Polaroid film and the kids began to point at the two Nikons around my neck. It was my first trip to Central America and I spoke next to no Spanish. I tried with gestures and the few words I had to explain that my cameras wouldn't provide any instant gratification. I don't know how successful I was but soon the children stopped waiting for the photos to appear and began insisting I take their photos anyway.

It was about then that I began to think about what it meant to take a picture. There was apart of me that felt selfishly possessive over the Polaroids I had given away. They were, after all, my pictures. It was I that had composed them and picked the moment at which to expose the film and arrest a fraction of a second of light and time. But of course I didn't take them, I left them and took with me my negatives, those latent images that wouldn't be seen yet for several weeks, that, I realized, the children in Sensenti would normally never see.

Later we had lunch at the mayor's house. In the big, airy, green painted living room was a bookshelf filled with various ornaments and oddments: a stuffed bear in Valentines Day garb that had seen better days, one of those gilded Chinese cats with the perpetually knocking arm, a clock in the form of a glowing waterfall and one, small, family photo in a frame. On the wall was a second family photo, taken with a cheap, fixed focus camera but blown up to about 16 x 20. And that was it as far as I could see. One of the wealthiest families in town had two photos on display. I thought of the hundreds, thousands no doubt, of photos of myself. Of me as a newborn, taking my first steps, going to school, prom and so on and so on. I thought about the kids I had given the Polaroids to and realized that perhaps some of their families had no photographs at all and I thought that that was a very strange thing. And I thought it even stranger that large blonde people sometimes arrived in a cloud of dust and pulled their teeth out and handed them images of themselves from strange whirring boxes and then departed in a cloud of dust from whence they had came.

And so, when I came back to the US, I took those photos I had shot with my Nikons and I printed up 40 or 50 of them in my darkroom. And when the doctors went to Sensenti again I gave them those photos to take with them. I thought that they were, then, a strange sort of Polaroid, a smaller, quieter, box that, took a year or so but delivered much better and larger pictures via a dusty truckload of tooth-pulling gringos.

The photos above were taken only a couple years ago in El Salvador. Sharing America's Resources Abroad's John Gilberg brought a mini-printer with him. He took the photos and docked his digital camera and within a half-hour had printed out these kid's photos. Not as much fun as the Polaroid but a technological evolution of the same idea.

14 April 2009

S.A.R.A. 's Ukrainian Orthopedic Surgery Program

LUND--This is the first of a series of short films documenting SARA's (Sharing America's Resources Abroad) projects and programs in Transcarpathia, a region of western Ukraine.

SARA Film on YouTube

13 April 2009

An Article

LUND--A few weeks ago I wrote an article on this blog about Sharon Fiely, one of the SARA team members I met in 2007 while filming "The Children of the Mangroves". It has been recently published again on the "Your Cause" website. Check it out there.

11 April 2009

My Friend, the Artist Currently Known as Tim Braucher

05 April 2009

This Explains, Well, Something.

LUND--Shortly after arriving in Cleveland my friend Jake met me at baggage claim. My one bag didn't make it that evening from Dulles. This was the scene at the lost luggage office. Someone seems to have misplaced something important. And perhaps it has affected this kid...

03 April 2009

S.A.R.A. (Sharing America's Resources Abroad)

This is a short film, a visual introduction or advertisement for S.A.R.A., the organization that commissioned my last two films, "News from El Salvador: The Children of the Mangroves", and "Faces of Transcarpathia" which is currently being edited.

01 April 2009

New Gallery

Fredrik Larson, reporter

LUND--There is a new gallery of portraits, "Portraits and People II" up on my website. Most, though not all, are from Sweden with a heavy emphasis on people in the Swedish media/film community.