Portland, OR 2018

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One of my favorite scenes in Portland is of a food truck, adorned with manga characters, not far from where I buy groceries and drink hot chocolate. The characters may be generic, or they may be famous, I don’t know. Despite a brief flirtation with Japanese anime, my interest in manga has never strayed beyond reading Takehiko Inoue’s epic series on Miyamoto Musashi entitled Vagabond. So, if these characters on the food truck are famous, I’m oblivious.  Regardless, I find them fascinating.

Walking around with my new (to me) Mamiya RB67 and breaking it in, I glanced over my shoulder while jaunting down Burnside, at the food truck and was struck by the light. This light, gentle and even, emphasized the whole scene, not just the trailer. I’ve photographed this scene several times previously, and never successfully. Likely that's because my photos focused on the restaurant rather than the whole scene. This time, from my position the iPhone billboard hung menacingly above, impossibly large and filling much of the frame. A bystander stopped to ask if I was documenting Apple’s advertising campaign. No, I said shaking my head. Apple is one of the largest companies in the world. They don’t need me to document their advertising. In fact, I was feeling the opposite. This image was coming together to seem more like a tale of David v. Goliath, of the story of small America v. large, of the little food truck, hoping to survive, literally in the shadow of one of the world’s wealthiest companies, represented by this billboard. 

Up the street used to hang a smaller billboard of a nude Alicia Silverstone, declaring that she’d “rather go naked than wear wool.” 

I recomposed my camera, locked up the mirror, and waited for the traffic to clear. Across the intersection, a gentleman walked up and placed his hand on the light post. His profile mirrored those of the manga characters and the billboard, and I knew that I had my image.

My Thoughts on Bergger Pancro 400 (120) Film

 New York, New York

New York, New York

My first experience with Bergger Pancro 400 was a complete disaster. Several years ago I tried a box of 8x10 film, which I developed in BTZS tubes, and all the images were irreparably scratched.  That’s because Bergger has two emulsions, one silver-bromide, and the other silver-iodide, coated on each side of the film base. Those two emulsions are said to give Pancro 400 its creamy quality, but, because the emulsions were on different sides of the film base, one of the emulsions came into contact with the inside of the tube, shredding the images when I pulled them out. I swore I’d never use it again.

Never is a long time, and my memory is a bad one. Recently, while visiting the camera store, the salesperson recommended the Bergger Pancro 400 in the 120 size. Since I’m now developing in a Patterson tank on reels, I decided to give the film another try.

My first results, using Kodak’s HC-110 dilution B, were surprisingly grainy. After some research, I learned that a complaint about Pancro 400 is that the grain appears in the highlights, as evident in my high-key images. Bergger's website says that each of the two emulsions gives a different amount of grain, and it appears that the emulsion activated by the higher zones is more pronounced. But I loved the film’s tonality, so instead of giving up, I decided to experiment.

 The Very Moving 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Note the grain in the sky.

The Very Moving 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Note the grain in the sky.

With some adjustments in exposure and development, I no longer find the highlight grain objectionable. In fact, it's hardly noticeable. What I’ve learned is that Pancro 400 isn’t a film that likes to be over-exposed (unless you want a lot of grain), or over-developed, at least not in HC-110. Most other films don’t relish overexposure or overdevelopment either, but Pancro 400 seems particularly averse to either, with such pronounced grain that it looked like I’d photographed with a 35mm camera instead of medium format. Bergger recommends developing the film for 9 minutes at 68 degrees, and I’ve scaled my time back to 8.5 minutes to great benefit, and may pull back further to 8 minutes. While processing, I continuously and softly invert the tank for the first 30 seconds and then perform two gentle inversions every minute, which is less aggressive than my previous agitation. With this new approach, I’m happy with my negatives.

More importantly, I’ve realized that this is a film, again at least when paired with HC-110, that loves the low values. So there’s plenty of rich differentiation in the tones below zone 5. That’s a little different than I’m used to, but I’m coming to love it more and more. In my case, I meter at ISO 400 or even a third to two-thirds of a stop less, which brings the film alive. 

 New York, New York. Note the rich tonal range in the bricks.

New York, New York. Note the rich tonal range in the bricks.

Pancro 400’s rendering of those delicious darker zones is what has kept me returning to the film. 

I've also returned to this film because of the price. Bergger is more affordable than many other films, such as Rollei, at least in America. People were critical of the cost when Pancro was first released because it was so expensive. That's changed, and this lower price makes Bergger even more enticing to shoot. 

Next, I'm going to develop it in Ilford ID-11 to see what happens.

 New York, New York

New York, New York

 New York, New York

New York, New York

Sawyer’s News, Santa Rosa, CA 2018

 Sawyer’s News, Santa Rosa, CA 2018

Sawyer’s News, Santa Rosa, CA 2018

I began visiting Sawyer’s News in high school. My favorite bookstore, Merritt Book Center, which was located in downtown Sebastopol, closed down while I was a sophomore in high school. At Merritt, I bought photography magazines, as well as books. These weren’t just mainstream magazines like you’d find at Safeway such as Pop Photo, or Modern Photography, but more creative photo magazines.

Along with magazines Merritt had an extensive book selection. I spent hours there, browsing the fantasy and science fiction section, admiring the covers by Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta. A friend of mine’s mother worked there, which made my visit doubly fun.

With Merritt closed, my nearest deep shelf where I could buy magazines was Sawyer’s News in Santa Rosa. Sawyer’s offered an even broader selection of magazines than Merritt. Sawyer’s offered newspapers from other cities, such as Sacramento and New York. It was a block over from Unruh’s Photo, which was everyone’s favorite photography store in Sonoma County, so I often visited both on the same trip. At Sawyer’s, I could find photography magazines imported from Europe and other countries outside of the US. Zoom was one of my favorites, and one of the most expensive.

For decades I shopped there, even during a period when I’d moved away from Sonoma County. I've never found a store like Sawyer’s. Not Barnes and Noble, not Border’s, no place.

As time passed, Bill Unruh retired, and a new owner took over Unruh’s cameras, though it closed not long afterward under dark circumstances. And later, during an economic contraction, Sawyer’s also closed, in part I suspect, due to the competition of the Barnes and Noble down the street. 

I’d thought that all record of Sawyer’s News had disappeared, but on a recent visit to Santa Rosa, while wandering the streets, I came across this outline on the back of the former store. Ivy had covered the wall, and once it was removed fascinating patterns on the wall were exposed as well as the old “Sawyer’s News: Since 1936” sign painted near the top.  

Was the wall black and the ivy somehow created these white imprints? Perhaps, though I suspect that the wall was once light and years of dirt and soot accumulated, hidden by vine, to be exposed once the ivy was pulled down. This image captures my feelings about Sawyer’s perfectly.

Manhatten, New York

 Manhatten, New York, 2018

Manhatten, New York, 2018

My second visit to New York was far different than the first. There was no snow, no rain, no inclement weather at all. Rain threatened on my arrival, but it proved only to be a threat. During my first trip, I was nearly trapped in New York by a snowstorm.  On the day of my departure, my airline canceled my flight, and I was moved to an earlier one. I fell asleep almost immediately upon boarding the plane and awoke an hour later to find us still on the tarmac, waiting to take off, which we did after the plane's wings were de-iced. I believe that we were the last to leave JFK before the airport was shut down. 

As a traveler, I may not enjoy bad weather, but as a photographer, I love the moody lighting it creates and was dismayed by how clear the forecast mostly was this second trip. As before, I visited the museums with a friend, who did a fabulous job of showing me the city. One place we visited was the Whitney, where we saw the paintings of Jasper Johns, amongst others. As we moved from artwork to artwork some travelers asked me to photograph them standing next to a piece of art about women’s' empowerment, each of them standing on a different side; arms flexed above their shoulders as if they were Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was the perfect #metoo moment.

While at the museum we lunched in their cafe. Sitting by the windows, we looked out upon the terrace, watching the other museum-goers enjoying the sun. The hostess forbade us from eating outside, so we waited until after finishing before walking out onto the patio.

To say that the New York skyline is exhilarating is an obvious understatement. The buildings, some old, some contemporary, are things that I grew up seeing in photographs, and to see them in person was a delight. I spent a good deal of my visit looking upward, with an ant’s eye view, taking in the architecture of the city, and now I was able to look downward.  It is as if I were looking at a jigsaw puzzle, seeing the buildings thrown onto the ground like dice. These weren’t structures that were likely to make the travel logs, and I loved them. They had personality and history. The artist’s job is to piece together the puzzle in a way that inspires the eye.

On this trip, I was breaking in my Hasselblad. I walked from terrace to terrace taking photographs while my friend patiently waited. A few clouds were in the sky, but not many. Across the river, I could see Jersey. 

As I composed, a woman stepped out onto the floor below me. I included her in the composition, adding a human element to the abstract-expressionist feel of the scene. 

I photographed from all three terraces, exploring all the hidden corners for a better perspective. It was a great trip.

Peculiarium, Portland, OR, 2018

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Growing up in California’s Bay Area, I would spend Saturday nights watching the now famous Creature Features on television. Creature Features was a show hosted by Bob Wilkins (and later John Stanley) that showed some of the best, and worst, horror shows available. Wilkins, with his gigantic cigar in hand, is reputed to have quipped during the break of one, particularly lousy show that he was going to sell the film at a garage sale in Vallejo the next morning.

Although I remember being disappointed at times, it’s not the bad movies that I recall, but the good ones. Two, in particular, stand out. One was of a hobby horse that under the right circumstances would come to life and terrorize people. I can remember the whinnying of the horse, and shots of it taken from ground level as it reared up, hoofs at the ready, to attack. Another was of space aliens who crashed in a forest and made their homes in the trees. From there they let their tails hang down, electrocuting unsuspecting passers-by, and presumably feeding on them. The fog in the forest and the sound the aliens made are both sensations that stay with me. I don’t recall the names of the films, and I haven’t made an effort to locate them, mostly I suppose, out of fear that the adult eye will ruin the child’s experience of wonder. I want those aliens and that horse to remain safely in my mind, scaring me as they have most of my life.

Although it’s not scary, each time I pass by the Peculiarium in Portland, with its oddities and homages to the horror genre, I’m reminded of Creature Features. This image was taken during a cloudy day when the light wasn’t too harsh, which reduces shadows and reflections and allows you to view into the globe and onto the creature’s face. At the same time, I love how parts of the environment reflect in the top of the sphere. But mostly it’s the chills that get me, the creepiness of the statue, the same sensation I felt with Creature Features.

Ft. Bragg, CA, 2017

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The city of Ft. Bragg is my favorite layover as I enter California from Portland. Whereas Mendocino is too busy for my liking, Ft. Bragg, despite being a tourist destination, manages to emit a peaceful, small-town feel. Not too small-town, which is its charm.

 I arrived at Bragg mid-afternoon the day before making this image after traveling through the snowy remains along the hills of HWY 1 and descending into perfect coastal weather. I don’t like perfect coastal weather. All the pictures I take in that sort of weather look like postcards, and the photographs I took that day were all boring and predictable. It’s hard to photograph beauty and make it inspiring instead of trite.

The next morning, as I prepared to leave the town, I visited Glass Beach. There’s a rock at Glass Beach, a bowl really, that’s always filled with water that reflects the light in a remarkable way, reminding me of Alice Through the Looking Glass. It’s magic. I arrived early, and the beach was empty, though a man waited in the parking lot, sitting in his truck reading the newspaper. The sun had not yet risen. Clouds spread across the sky like saguaro arms, bringing life to what would have been a tedious, blank sky. I took several pictures of “The Bowl,” and stepped closer to the sea to photograph the rocks made visible by the low tide. Ft. Bragg, CA, 2017 is one of those photographs. Along the right, a small portion of “The Bowl” can be seen, which enlivens the photograph. 

Pebble Beach, CA, 2017

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There are, I’ve learned, more than one Pebble Beach on the California coastline, one accessible and one less so. Having seen photos from other photographers of Pebble Beach, I decided to visit and photograph it. Of course, I went to the wrong one. My maps app took me to the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course where my worn out Ford Focus, with its chipped paint and cracked windshield looked distinctly out of place in the parking lot of the country club. Fog hung over the area that the employees assured me had some photogenic rocks, where I could safely photograph. I’d found other rocks to photograph, but I risked being beaned by golf balls. While interesting, this wasn't the Pebble Beach I was looking for.

Several years later, on an early morning driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, enjoying the light from the rising sun as it changed from black to muted grays, to soft pastel colors. I stopped to photograph a beach I’d visited previously (though I couldn't, and can't, remember its name). This time, as the sun continued upward, I wandered a bit more north than usual, and viola!, the Pebble Beach I’d been searching for years before. The beach isn’t large, but the rocks were inspiring. The tide was beginning to return, and I found plenty to photograph. Because it was early morning, there weren’t many visitors in the cove, and I wandered in peace. Instead, they were walking along the bluff, where a path leads from beach to beach.

One rock, in particular, kept grabbing my attention, the one at the top left of this photograph. It reminded me of a duck’s bill, and I spent much of my time on the beach exploring different compositions which included this rock. Pebble Beach, CA, 2017 is a favorite of mine.

Portland, OR, 2018

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The rain tickled the window of my apartment as I peered outside, trying to decide whether or not to take my camera on a jaunt. Throughout Portland, trees were in bloom, and there was a particular group along the waterfront that I wanted to photograph. But the wind was heavy, and I couldn’t be sure that the blossoms hadn’t already been blown off. With more rain and wind forecasted, I decided that if the blossoms were still on the branches they wouldn’t be there for long, so I grabbed my camera and headed out.

The rain came intermittently as I walked for the waterfront, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, and as I stopped along the way to take other photographs they took on an eeery feeling. In one, a lone Canadian Goose stood upon a river piling meditating on the water around him. 

When I arrived at my destination I saw that all the blossoms had blown to the ground, perhaps ruining my chance to take those images until next year. I wasn’t the only one disappointed. A couple in tuxedo and wedding dress were having their photograph taken under the trees, right in the middle of where the blossoms would have been, the bride playfully holding a clear umbrella, one that wouldn’t block the light. Pedestrians clapped as they walked by.

I continued into China Town. Across the street was a bronze trailer with no windows. I’d never seen a bronze trailer before and it was striking, the way the soft light embraced it. Waiting for traffic to pass, I raised my camera and took Portland, OR, 2018.

Salt Point State Park, CA, 2017

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In October 2017 a firestorm struck Sonoma County, CA proving to be the most expensive disaster in California history. I happened to be briefly visiting Sonoma County at the time. On the morning of the fires, I left Ft. Bragg, having found ash spread upon my car which was in the motel parking lot. With photography on my mind, I hadn’t checked the news and didn’t know how significant the ash was. 

From Ft. Bragg I traveled to Salt Point. The light was an eerie red, which made the Point seem even more otherworldly than usual. Actually, in the nearly 20 years I’ve spent visiting Salt Point, this was the strangest day I’d ever seen there. As I walked along, the wind would seem normal one moment, and then I would suddenly be pounded by a hot torrent of air that felt as if it were coming from a generator’s exhaust.

I took advantage of the strange light, slipping in and out of coves, photographing my favorite spots, which now looked entirely foreign from I’d come to expect. While standing near "The Pedestal," I captured Salt Point State Park, CA, 2017.

The fires that started that day were so devastating that, more than six months later, Sonoma County hasn’t finished cleaning up, let alone significantly rebuilt. Officially, 40 people died, but there are more victims, those not counted, such as my friend Steve Jacobson. Steve was experiencing health issues when the fires struck, and his evacuation from his home at this delicate time sent him into a spiral from which he couldn’t recover. 

I first met Steve and Ellie, his wife, back in 2006, and they lived the greatest, most inspirational, love story I know. Having attended school together in New York, they went their respective ways after graduation, Ellie to teach and Steve to become a doctor in the Air Force, where he specialized in hematology and oncology. They met again at a high school reunion and soon were inseparable. Steve had married and divorced twice, while Ellie hadn’t settled in with anyone. After all that time they found each other and were indivisible while I knew them. Not only did I get to see pictures from their travels, but I also listened to stories of their families and of their friend, Babe, whom Steve had known since childhood. They would give me tours of their backyard garden, where Steve was always planning on adding a new fruit tree or flower plant. Ellie, a tremendous cook, would serve dinner, and introduced me to heirloom tomatoes. 

He was one of the gentlest people I’ve ever met.

Today, as I pen this, would have been Stevie’s 82 birthday, and it’s a damn shame that he’s not here to celebrate it.

Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, CA, 2018

 Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, 2018

Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, 2018

A man stands at a bus stop at the far end of the alley, watching me with a seemingly confused manner as I saunter along Veterans’ Alley, reading what must seem like graffiti to him. But the alley isn’t filled with graffiti. It serves as a canvas for well-considered paintings that directly reflect the experiences of veterans. 

It’s early morning, and the sun hasn’t risen yet, so I’m looking at these paintings under the artificial green glow of street lamps and tungsten apartment lighting. I arrived early at Veterans’ Alley to avoid the 101 traffic from Sonoma County to SF, which would add hours to my trip if I had departed even 30 minutes later. I’m seeing these images at pre-dawn.

Some paintings invite hope for the future, some raise awareness of current crises the world faces - genocide, famine, and the like -, and some are for friends lost in war. Some spots are empty waiting to be written when the time is right.

Once I finish taking photographs I walk to a restaurant up the way. It is pleasantly homey and doesn’t even take credit cards, something I thought was an impossibility in San Francisco. As I eat my omelet I ponder where I’ll go next.

The day after visiting Veterans’ Alley a combat veteran killed three workers at the Yountville Veterans’ Home. Because I’ve been to the veterans’ home to visit the Vietnam Memorial that sits outside of the campus chapel, this killing strikes more personal than others I’ve read of. I feel a connection of place. The veterans’ home is described as bucolic in some newspaper articles, and those articles describe the nearby golf course and museum as evidence of the peacefulness that inhabits the facility.

To me, a finer example of peacefulness is that Vietnam memorial, a bronze statue of two hands palms up, open in receptivity, asking to be touched. Are they the hands of a god, a soldier, or society welcoming the visitor back? I don’t know, and it’s up to each viewer to create her own interpretation. Grabbing the adult fingers of the statue are children’s hands, each delicately attached to the larger appendages in a sense of wonder. That wonder and receptivity (to borrow a phrase from Ed Mooney) is what I’ve always felt when visiting the memorial. On my next visit will my perceptions change after this violence? I don’t know.

Just as Yountville’s Vietnam Memorial invites interpretation, Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, CA, 2018, asks us to unpack its meaning. What does 6:33 signify? Why so many clock faces, and a lone peace symbol? Is the peace symbol the key to understanding the mural? Why white on black? I could email the founder of the project and learn the significance of 6:33 if I’d like, but that would defeat the purpose. It’s better I ponder, consider what the possibilities are, and allow the signifier to float over time.