The Situation (Hold Please)

I’m sitting in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales after taking the first half of the day to get here. A walk, taxi, train, car and short walk. In tow were my three Tenba bags including my roller bag, large backpack and small backpack. I’m not trying to sell you a Tenba bag, but as you can see, I use them. . But why do I have them, and why would I want to navigate the world with so much stuff?
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Great question, and one that I ask myself on a daily basis.

How much easier would it have been to get up this morning with a Fuji XT-1, one lens, or even two, my laptop and drive and make the same journey? As many of you know, I contracted Lyme Disease a little over a year ago, and all I can tell you is that everyday is a challenge. Still, all these days later. I simply don’t have the energy I used to have, and when I hit the wall I hit it for real.

So fifty yards from where I sit writing this, in my room, is my Hasselblad with two lenses, Leica with two lenses, Polaroid and Canon 5D-III with three lenses. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it all fits in my roller bag, including all the film required, model releases, cables, bellows, card reader, extra batteries, medicine (a lot), light meter, hoods, pens, plastic bags, etc., etc. This is my standard rig. Inside my large backpack is a Zoom H6 audio recorder, two mini tripods, two microphones, XLR cables, etc., etc. And yes, people think I’m crazy. Perhaps I am.

But if any of you have seen my new site Shifter you will know that I use all of these things on a regular basis. In fact I have entire campaigns based on these materials.

So today my feeble mind wanders and wonders. I know there is no way around having all this stuff. I could swap the Canon for the Fuji, which would save a fair amount of weight, and I’m seriously considering doing this. I rarely use the digital but when I need it, like last night at TEDx Sydney, I need it.

It’s funny. I’ve had these conversations with myself many, many times. Games I play. Remember a few things. Working with a film camera verses working with a digital camera are as different an experience as you can have. I don’t believe someone swaps and then makes the same work. That just doesn’t happen, and I’ve got fifteen years of examples of photographers I know who USED to be great but suddenly became very average when they picked up a digital camera. This is another conversation I’ve had countless times over the past decade, always in private because photographers are fearful the “public” will hear them bashing well known photographers who haven’t made a decent image since picking up a digital camera.

I actually don’t think this has to be the reality. I think we have to learn how to use each camera for what it is, and be vigilant in our attention to detail. A Fuji with Nik filters don’t make TRI-X no matter how bad you want it. But maybe you don’t need TRI-X? Why try to make it something it really isn’t? Digital is immediate, endless and flexible far beyond anything in analog history. I think a lot of photographer who declined with digital did so because they were ready to taper off anyway. It’s about laziness, years of busting ass, and also we all love new shit. That’s a fact. Compound this with the reality that many well known folks are surrounded by people who are telling them they are great, so when they show subpar work they are still getting “Oh man, you are AWESOME,” and most of the time they think “Wow, I must be awesome.”

I just put down this laptop and shot four frames with the M6 and 50mm. f/2 at 1/8th. I KNOW this image will be fantastic. I had a foreground, midground and then the subject with window light coming from the left. A classroom of people. Very quiet. This is Leica territory.

And then there is the lifestyle of digital. Computer, computer and more computer. I think maybe this is the part that really has me cringing. Now if I was GOOD on the computer perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way, but I’m not so I do. I will shoot at least ten times over the next days days, here in Australia, and don’t need to edit any of it. No computer required. I will ship the film the day I return and then board another flight to another location.

Not sure why I wrote this, but this scenario has been on my mind today. Two hours in a train to think and wonder. I want the digital to work. At least a part of me. But I have a sinking suspicion I’ll be humping this kit until I pass out or get robbed. I have a sinking suspicion I’ll be adding a Fuji to my lineup once again, probably replacing the Canon, but I don’t see anything replacing the Blad, Leica and Polaroid anytime soon.

Nanuk of the South

A few weeks ago I ran into a photographer I know, an Englishman, who travels as much as anyone I’ve ever seen. Technically, he lives in London, but I think there were horse and carriage in the streets the last time he was home. I mean it. You ask him where he’s going and it normally goes like this, “France, then NY then Toronto, then back to NYC, then LA for a day, China for two days, then home for eighteen minutes and back to NYC.” These people intrigue me because I know a little about travel. Not a lot, just a little. I’m always interested in ergonomics and realities of traveling as a photographer, especially when a DSLR and two zooms are not enough to keep your mind happy. So, I studied my friend. What clothes does he wear? Why does he wear them? What camera does he use and how does he travel with it? What bags does he use? Why does he use them? With a guy like this there is no fat, not just on him but in his method of operation. He doesn’t wear lace up boots through airport security…know what I mean.

So I saw him making the transition from his rental car to his hotel room and he had exactly two bags, one shoulder bag, backpack of unknown make, and a case much like the one in these photographs. His had wheels on one side, but otherwise it looked just like the case shown here. This case was loaned to me by a friend, and after I saw my traveler friend with his case it got me thinking. Maybe I should use a case like this? Nanuk is the provider of this particular case.

So, I dug out this case and began to fondle it, dreaming up how I could use it. Now as you can see, this is a small version, not good for taking my entire rig, but I used this more as a study of what this case can do. After about five minutes with this I realized, just about anything. It’s built like a tank. It locks. It’s waterproof. That in itself if enough. Right there. Done.

A month ago I sent an M6 to Leica for repair because one of mine got mangled…somehow…in transition. I have ZERO bags that protect like a case like this. Everything in my life is about small and easy. I’m a Tenba guy for my bags, and I’ve had the conversation with Peter, many times, and can remember myself saying to him, “Make the bags thinner and lighter, who cares about protection.” Thin and light is great, but it surely won’t keep your M6 rewind crank from protruding out at an angle it was never intended to see. Peter would just look at me and smile that smile that internally meant, “You’ll learn one day.”

Considering the travel I have coming up, a case like this is beginning to creep into my mind. The ONLY drawback I see is that it looks like a camera case, which means the hawks will be searching for it. But, if I sticker it up, scrape it up, etc, it should be somewhat camo. And, I would keep this case with me, as a carry on, just as my friend does. I would keep my backpack with me, and this case, and then check my clothes. Or something like that. The logistics, as you can see, I’ve yet to solve. Over the past few months I’ve seen several bags take four to five foot dives to the airplane floor as irate fliers shoved other peoples bags out to try and get theirs in. With a case like this I can just watch as I’m eating warm nuts. Like all photographers, I have a total bag fetish, so this Nanuk case will be added into the mix. I’ve yet to determine what will end up living in this little beauty, but something surely will.