Near and Fargo(ing)


There is still a small amount of dirt here in Newport. Not much, but there if you look hard enough. Nature is being voted out here in favor of more concrete, wood, fake grass and stucco, so I’m not long for these parts, but until that day I will continue to dig. This little ride went from pavement to single track, to dirt bike path to pavement and back again. Thirty miles of feeding the monkey. A burned and barren landscape reeking of a campfire gone wrong. Punching out the miles, mind drifting, enjoying what life on two wheels is all about. You also have to understand, after six months off the bike due to Lyme, ANY riding is like climbing your local 20,000 footer. This bike garners attention. People riding by with their mouth open, staring at “what IS that?” The frame bag gets a lot of questions. Is that a motor? Yes. Is that a sail(my personal favorite.) Yes, yes it is. I tell people I have a baby in there.

First Roll: Leica M4


Okay, I lied. I actually shot 1.5 rolls with the “new” Leica M4. I had to do it. You can’t get a “new” camera, not test it, and then head into the unknown thinking you are gonna set the world on fire. I have utmost faith in Leica technicians, but THEY would want me to test it, so I did. I happened to be in Newport Beach, so I started walking and searching. I put myself in Newport at days end, hoping for some decent light, at least some decent direction. The first thing I noticed is that the M4 has some heft to it. It’s not heavy it’s solid. It feels great. The second thing I noticed is the camera is smooth, REALLY smooth. When you crank the wind lever it is like eating a stick of butter.

I knew within about ten frames that this is the best film camera I’ve ever had. It’s not even close. The M4 is all brass and all mechanical. There is no meter. Another photographer said to me, “Oh that sucks, no meter, what a pain in the ass.” For a split second I was kinda thinking the same thing, then I quit huffing paint for two minutes and realized my Hasselblad has no meter and I love that thing. So when I did this M4 test I put my trusty light meter in my back pocket, but instead of pulling it out and metering the scene I just viewed the scene, analyzed it, and then set my exposure. Then I pulled out the meter and tested to see how close I was. The vast, vast majority of the time I was right on the money. So, in short, I don’t need a meter.

The crazy thing about NOT having the meter is what it does to you, or doesn’t do to you, when you look through the viewfinder. There is NOTHING there except for the framelines. That’s it. There is ZERO distraction. Now it’s not like the M6 with the small red circle and arrow is greatly distracting, not at all, but this M4 is so damn basic it is impossible not to pay full attention to what lies within those faint white lines.

This is now my everyday camera, my number one, my big cheese, my big Kahuna. I’ve been carrying it now for about a week, and I have to say, everywhere I take it people flock to it like bees to honey. I’m not sure why this other than the fact that old cameras are cool, but there really seems to be something more to it. The only thing I can come up with is that in an age of something new every six months, people have a great appreciation for things that last. This M4 is over forty years old and it is just as good today as it was when it was first released. How can you not appreciate that?

Last night I was at a retirement party for a local college photography professor, someone I’m going to write about in the coming days, and I found myself at table with four young photography students. I put the M4 on the table and grabbed a menu. I felt four sets of eyes on the camera. “Wow, what is that?” one of the students asked. What followed was a conversation about learning the basics, about editing, about finding a style and about the latest greatest isn’t always the best. Is this the only camera I’m going to use? No, not by a long shot. Over the last week I did two shoots with the M9, then turned those shoots around minutes after the shoot was over. I see a future of continuing to do the same. Using what I want to use, when I want to use it. After all, I’m the photographer. I make the decisions.

These pictures are not world beaters, but the test was successful. And if you want to know more about the M4…click here.

The Trappings of Technique: 1:1

These images took less than an hour to make. Just me, walking around, nothing particular on my plate, other than to get out of the house. Make something. I used to think images like this were going to be part of my future. After all, I had a digital camera, a good one, and I had the lenses I need. My thought was I would take a setup with me wherever I went, shooting a continual stream of “stuff.” Not my stuff, mind you, but stuff that I thought someone else might like. So I did. For a while.
I’ve always said you can shoot ANYTHING with a tilt-shift and it looks pretty much okay. Kinda interesting, but maybe you can’t put your finger on why. For me, these images sum that up, unfortunately, all too well. These images are based, almost entirely on technique.


Are these great images? No. Not by a long shot. Are they unique? Different? Can you tell I made them? No. ANYONE could have made these. Now I’m not saying there isn’t a market for this stuff, there is actually, but I realized that I can’t be the one to supply them. There could potentially be hundreds of thousands of people shooting this kind of work around this wonderful rock we live on. Stock, or basic stock. Again, look at image sales, there is a massive vortex of this stuff changing hands each and every day.

But for me I realized that with a specialized technique comes the trappings of that technique. In many situations, like this for example, the technique overwhelms the idea of the photograph, and sometimes, just sometimes we begin to think things are a little better than they actually are. Like shooting everything at 1.4 while doing portraits. Is it a great image or is the background out of focus? There is a difference I think. I thing great images are a combination of many, many things. LIght, timing, composition, simplicity, luck, etc, and yes, technique plays a part but in my mind it shouldn’t be at the top of the list.

I’ve done it. I’m showing you these flimsy pictures as evidence of my falling to the trappings of technique. And I’ll let you in on another little secret….this wasn’t the only time. Not by a long shot. I wish it was, but as you all know by now I”m not that together. And my failings with technique have run a far gamut of violation. Actions sets, filters, tilt-shift, super-telephoto, etc, I’ve mangled them all.

Much of the photography I see today is loaded up with technique. Far too much technique. When I see images with vignettes and actions sets applied like ketchup at a baseball game, I always try to see under those trappings and see what content the original image contained. In MOST cases, not much, hence the filters. But people, this is life. Great imagery doesn’t happen very often, but in a world of instant gratification we have fooled ourselves into thinking it does, fooled ourselves into thinking that every time out we are going to come home with the goods.

Photography doesn’t work that way. Technique doesn’t make an image. And let’s go extreme with that. I have a friend who is a tintype photographer, a very, very good one. He has several books to his name, magazine credits, many exhibitions and numerous prints sales I’m sure. An image of his hangs in my house as we speak. Two now that I come to think of it. But guess what? Not everything he shoots is good, and if you ask him I’m sure he will tell you the same. He was to WORK at it. Or perhaps more appropriately, he has to work WITH it. WITH the technique, but not reliant upon it.
I’ve realized, for me anyway, the most difficult thing to do is make a straight, 35mm image look incredible. And when I say straight I mean minimum dodge and burn, aka darkroom, not computer, where we can fine tune things beyond reality(Yes, you can go beyond reality in the darkroom, I can’t because I suck in the darkroom.) This is why my current project is with this technique, or lack there of. And I tell you, it ain’t easy. I have to be in the right place, at the right time, and have the right light and have something happen and I have to realize it is happening, BEFORE it happens and then be in position, with the right exposure and focus and nail it. CRAP. It ain’t easy.
But. But. But. WHEN it happens, you can literally FEEL it happening. And MOST of the time, when it does happen, and all the stuff I just listed happens, you KNOW it happened. And THAT is what photography is about to me.
So when I look at this tilt-shift fluff I have no relationship to it. None. I took these, but they are not mine. They belong to the photo-industry, or a part of it, a part I no longer walk. But that’s okay. I was out of the house. I was walking and looking, so there were things to learn and see, but when it comes down to it, that isn’t enough.
The tilt-shift is no longer in my bag. I no longer shoot portraits wide open for no particular reason and I find myself realizing how little I know about the basics of photography. It might sound weird but it’s true. Maybe one day soon you’ll see me in the library with the yellowed pages of some 1950’s photo-textbook, taking notes and wondering how I missed all those things……

Testing One Two Three

The official results are in.

First, I’m REALLY fast on my bicycle, as you can see be this visual evidence. Most people wouldn’t consider a 25-pound steel touring bike to be such a rocket, but as you can see….

So if you have been with me for a few weeks now you will remember a post I did about being handed two Voigtlander rangefinder cameras with ultra-wide lenses and finders. Well, I finally got a chance to test one of them. As many of you know, I love the bicycle. Frankly, I think the bike is one of the best inventions of all time, and is a perfect example of clean efficiency. I know a FEW people who don’t like riding bikes, but the vast, vast, vast majority of people I know love it. The bike is typically one of the first glimpses of autonomy we get as young people. Those training wheels come off, we heal from our road rash wounds, and before long, we are exploring the far reaches of our civilized boundaries.

This new site, Smogranch, will in coming weeks, hopefully have a bike blog built in. I’m not sure this will happen, or when, but that is my goal. If you thought photographers were obsessed with equipment, wait till you meet a few bikers. Crazy obsessed. But, I think the bike has only begun to crack the American lifestyle, and what I’m hoping for is to simply raise awareness of what is possible. Bikes aren’t for everyone. Bikes won’t solve our problems. But maybe, just maybe, they can help us rethink some of our current lifestyle choices. And let me be straight here in case you think you think I’m an anti-car, tree hugging dude who is naked at the mall on the weekends burning fur items. I’m not. I love cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc, and I know they are not going away. I drive thousands of miles a year, and am part of the fossil fuel masses. But, when I look around, I see a need for drastic change.

So gearheads, in case you are wondering, these images were done with the 12mm, handheld, as I tried not to crash or get my strap caught in the spokes. The bike is a Trek 520, built for the tour, with Tubus racks front and back. Tires are Continental Gator Skins, 25mm, and the saddle is a Brooks B-17. Other than lights, a computer, it’s stock. I love this bike. Heavy but steady is how I would describe it. I’ve had it LOADED and it still handles well. Trek has a lifetime warranty on frame and fork and this bike carries the touring legend for the Trek brand. There are things I would improve, for sure, but overall, a great bike. And in case your wondering, I use this bike for everything. Training, tour, commute, errands, shopping, etc. The only thing I don’t do on it is off-road. I have another bike for that.

The Wedge: Newport Beach July 2009

There was much chatter about The Wedge over the past few days. A slugging southern swell pounded this unique little place, drawing thousands of watchers, and taking the life of one participant.

If you have never seen this place go off, you should. It’s unique is all I can say. I’ve seen big waves in other parts of the world, but I’ve never seen a wave quite like this.