Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bored of Adjustment and how to photograph a victim

Okay. Here they are. Photos from last Saturday's brawl. (refer to my post, Saturday, January 28, 2006
Saturday Night Live in North Miami)
The three B&W photos show the cops on the scene, me being checked out by the paramedics, and the house next door with the drill truck in front just before I got rushed and beat up. The three color views of my face were shot the next day by my son Jonathan using a Leica M2 with an 85/2 Nikkor on Fuji 200. A small Vivitar 2500 flash on the camera gave an auto exposure at f/5.6. The B&W photos were shot with my trusty Bessa L and the 15mm Heliar.

Back in the 1960's when I was a young photographer I hung out with a bunch of young attornys. They were looking for the fast big buck and one way to try for it was a good personal injury case with a big payout. I regularly got called to go to this hospital or that, and sometimes go to an accident scene itself. I saw some pretty gory stuff. It was an era that started with Kodacolor and process C-22 and morphed into newer, faster improved films using process C-41. These were the "amateur" films that gave bright contrasty colors. Pros prided themselves in using only "pro" films like C-22 Ektacolor CPS or C-41 Vericolor VPS. Today we refer to them as "wedding and portrait" films. They have low contrast, smooth gradation, and give skin a peaches & cream complexion while minimizing imperfections. Ideal for a nice portrait. Umbrellas or bounce flash further softened things. The average pro was delivering "pretty" accident pictures from using that pro film.

I already knew that the harsh light of direct on-camera flash did little to make skin look pretty and using the amateur film, with its harsh contrast and brighter colors made everything from fresh wounds to old bruises look as ugly as possible. I got a lot of business from that technique. Also, some lenses tend to be arsher than others. Even such seemingly insignificant things as what we now call "bad bokeh" in the background create a jarring effect, influencing the way we perceieve the in-focus areas.

Monday, January 30, 2006

my own "grassy knoll" mystery

I've had this Pepsi can since the early 1970's. I was out on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation when my friend Spencer Tiger bought himself a new 30-30 rifle, a Winchster 94. We went out on his back porch with nothing but miles of empty everglades in front of us. Spencer propped the can on a twig about 30 yards away, chambered a round and shot at the can. You could see the can dance and there was a bullet hole in plain sight. He handed the rifle to me saying "You try a shot". I lined the can up in the rifles open sights and squeezed the trigger. I was sure that I saw the can dance but Spencer said "You missed!" Sure enough only one bullet hole was visible.

I insisted on taking a closer look. Sure enough, the near side of the can had a single entrance hole. The far side had two seperate exit holes. Well, I'm a bit taller than Spencer and was standing next to him. The angle wasn't the same. I've kept the can for over thirty years knowing that I'd never duplicate that shot in a million years.

I took the can to the park on one of Monkey's recent outings there, along with a mirror so we could get both front and back of the can in the shot. It shows both the single entrance hole and the two exit holes. The photo was made with the 15mm Heliar on my Bessa L. You can see me holding the Bessa in the mirror.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sunday in the Park/ a day with Monkey

When I moved to North Miami in October 1956 I was a few days shy of turning 14 and Monkey came with me. It was a much more small town type place back then. Every day they'd walk the ponies from the stables near 135th St. and N.E. 16th Ave. to the pony ring on West Dixie Highway and 139th Street. Ten cents a ride, three for a quarter. Housewives along the route came out with spades and buckets in hopes of collecting some fertilizer for their rose bushes or vegetable gardens. Other horses grazed in pastures just a few blocks away along U.S. 1.

By the late 1960's pressure to build multi-story apartments displaced the pony ring with West Dixie Towers. The land where the stables were, along with the adjacent properties including a private school, were under contract for sale pending a zoning change to allow hi-rise apartments. This was the site of the 19th century village of Arch Creek, one of the earliest settlements in South Florida. It included Natural Bridge, an oolitic limestone bridge over the creek that was the path of Old Federal Highway. The community was outraged that this historic oak hammock was about to be leveled. A group of activists decided to save it. Ultimately the eastern part became a small state park while the western section became The Enchanted Forest, a city park. The city passed a bond issue and got some state and federal grant money. The school, stables and pony ring were allowed to stay as long as they were operated by the original owners.

Today the park is a popular place to take kids to watch the ducks or to ride the ponies, and a nice quiet pace to park in the shade and eat lunch. Over the years there have been several "digs" for artifacts from the early European settlements as well as the Native Americans that lived along the banks of Arch Creek for thousands of years before that. I often go the few blocks from my house just to enjoy the quiet and the fresh air, and Monkey still really loves the place.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Saturday Night Live in North Miami

The Walgreens about a mile away is open 24 hours a day, and it's a convenient place to pick up milk, bread, and such. Next door is a package store that carries the cigarette tobacco I use. That's probably what brought me out for this shot. There's also a Burger King across the parking lot and a Wendy's across the street. There used to be a Dunkin' Donuts just down the street, and I spent many an evening there drinking coffee and pigging out on donuts. Then one day the medical establishment announced that donuts had too much sugar and were dripping with fat. People stopped eating them. The 24 hour donut shops first cut back their hours and soon closed completely. I lost more weight!

Most Saturday nights in North Miami are really pretty boring. Last weekend the Greek Orthodox Church held a Greek Festival for the first time in many years, and I got to see people I hadn't seen in about forever! The City of North Miami holds evening concerts in the plaza next to city hall in front of the Museum Of Contemporary Art. I enjoy going to events like that because it brings people together from all ethnic groups and walks of life.

And here it is Saturday night again. In an hour or so I'll drive up to Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale International Airport and pick up my son Jonathan. He's taking a break from his doctoral studies at Harvard University to come visit for a few days and hopefully get my taxes in order so I can send off my check in support of The War Effort;-(

The big excitement this Saturday, though, already happened about 4 PM when we had cops swarming all over the place. I'd called for code enforcement to check up on my neighbor who's always building without permits, and very little of it ever conforms to the building code. Nobody was around the department at that time so the City Manager himself said he was on the way. A truck was backed into the yard next door drilling a well, no permit visible. I was in the middle of the street photographing the scene when I was confronted by the contractor and the homeowner, telling me that I had no right to photograph them. I dialed the police on my cell and told them what was going on, but by then I got attacked, fists flying, lots of screaming and cussing, and a couple minutes later when the city manager arrived I was semi-conscious lying on the ground. The guy from the contractors who did the punching took off on foot before the cops arrived but they got his name from his boss. I have a few gashes on my face, nothing major, but I'll live to testify.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The artist and the photographer

One day the phone rang and it was a woman named Wilma wanting to know if I was still in touch with any of the Flower Children that I'd known and photographed back in the 60's. A mutual friend had given her my number. It turns out that Wilma is Wilma B. Seigel, M.D.,a long time artist as well as a recently retired physician. Medical school and practice had put her art career on hold for a whole bunch of years, but it was like she wanted to pick up the pieces where she'd left them nearly 4 decades ago. I had a good feeling for what that had been like because my first wife had been a late start into becoming a doctor also, and the world was much less receptive of women physicians back then when the two of them were in med school.

We chatted a bit. I came up with a name or two that I could still attach to a current phone number. After telling her of some of my adventures photographing various rock groups and counter-culture types she suggested that I might fit in nicely with the project myself. We set up a day and a time and I took the drive up to her Fort Lauderdale studio. I sat for her as she made several charcoal sketches, and I got off a few 15mm shots while she was doing it. I was very impressed with some of her finished works on display! I was also amazed at her ability to sketch in charcoal and felt she was really capturing something deeper inside of me, not just a likeness of somebody sitting in a chair. After a late lunch with Wilma and her secretary I headed back to North Miami. We exchanged emails a few days ago and she told me that a finished painting was nicely in progress.

I found the experience of working with an artist, working surrounded by all that art, very stimulating on several levels. It was more than just something interesting to photograph. There was an electricity in the air! It brought out an emotional feeling that I'd not had before while working on this project. I need to figure out if there's a way to capture that feeling within me, save it, savor it, and make it work for me in the future. It was a fantastic experience

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Board of Adjustment Meeting

I keep being asked to serve on various city advisory boards here in North Miami. This one is the Board of Adjustment. We're a "Quasi-Judicial" board that holds public hearings, and we make recomendations to the City Council on whether or not somebody can get a variance to build too close to the property line or have a fence higher than the ordinance allows, that sort of thing. Nothing really major, and the council still has to aprove it. We meet once a month in the Council Chambers.

When the current City Charter was adopted about 45 years ago they put in there that we'd get paid $10.00 a meeting. Back then that was enough money for a couple to go out to dinner at a moderately priced restaurant and maybe see a movie afterwards. Gas was about 27 cents a gallon. Now I probably spend more than $10 driving around town looking at the properties on the agenda. The Council salary is also set in the City Charter but they gave themselves an expense allowance plus health insurance. Not us! I keep asking myself why I keep doing it month after month.

Oh well, I do enjoy it. It gives me something to do when I'm not running around taking pictures that include myself. It's an excuse to travel around the city and keep up with trends in housing and what new businesses have moved here. In this shot I'm pondering something of great importance to somebody who applied for a variance. I don't remember what it was now though.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My face and bad habit spread worldwide on t-shirts worn by worldclass photographers! The pretty worldclass photographer is wearing the latest shirt. The handsome worldclass photographers are wearing the first one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Old Acutrements Follow

I go over to the neighborhood Starbucks a couple times a day for a coffee and a cigarette. The local law won't let you smoke inside, but most days and evenings the weather is just fine for sitting outside on the covered patio.

I remember as a little kid growing up in a house that usually had a few people smoking every morning and night, and riding in a closed up automobile in the winter, everyone but me puffing away. The tobacco companies advertized on radio with catchy jingles, and had some of the best commercials on television. Camel boasted about their cigarettes being distributed free to our fighting men overseas. But on the homefront office buildings and schools were heated with coal, even some homes, factories and trains ran on the stuff, and buses and trucks belched diesel fumes. Nobody worried about it. The perpetual haze over the cities was a symbol of employment after The Great Depression, a rallying sign to the millions of factory workers putting in the hours to help Win The War. Scrubbing the air was low on the list of priorities. With all that what's a little tobacco smoke? Of course the plaster inside of buildings contained asbestos fibers, another carcinogen, as a fire retardant. So who's to say that all the 60 to 80 year olds with lung desease got it from cigarettes? What about two good friends of mine, both non smokers, who died of heart attacks in the last few years, a protestant minister of 54 and a political consultant aged 51?

Some men preferred cigars while others accumulated collections of pipes, the tobacconist always coming up with exotic new blends to try.

Back before insect repellants contained DEET they were largely ineffective. How many mosquito borne illnesses were prevented by a smoldering cigarette dangling from a fisherman's lips? I still enjoy smoking a few a day but I'm hardly a chain smoker. I make life difficult for myself by rolling my own which does cut down on the amount that I smoke. And I love the way a whisp of back lit smoke looks in a photograph, especially a black and white photograph.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Killing one bird with two stones

(missing photo, please come back)

When I discovered that I could shoot photos with ultra-wide angle lenses that included myself, I played with it a bit, and practiced the technique with both hands. It was really only a variation of the old photo-journalist technique of holding the camera way up over your head to see over the heads of the crowd. I was always pretty good at it, guessing my focus distances, framing, and aim quite well most of the time. At first the self-portraits were little more than a joke, but people seemed intrigued by them, fascinated, and most people seemingly paid no mind when I told them that the photos were really rather carefully posed, that they're far from candid shots, that I'm acting a role in the photograph.

I can usually judge the lighting effects fairly well by observing other people in the same light, and I mostly work with an incident light reading from a seperate hand held light meter (mostly a Weston Master V) even though the Bessa L body does have an accurate behind the lens metering system. It's more that I want to get all of my "fumbling around" over and done with before I start taking photographs, before in fact that I even pick up the camera. In this photo I decided to hold one camera in each hand taking two photographs at the same time. The camera in the photo, in my left hand,I think is a Leica body with a 21mm f/3.4 Super Angulon. My right hand is shooting with the 15mm f/4.5 Heliar on the Bessa L body. It was an interesting trick to see if I could do it, but I never got a pair of great pictures that way. In fact I rarely got ANY outstanding photographs while trying to get two pictures at the same time.

The T-shirt is interesting. It has a photo of me taken by famous advertising and wedding photographer Marc Williams, which he shot on South Beach at a sidewalk cafe. This wasn't as popular as the first T-shirt where I look mean, nasty, and grumpy. James Mitchell is the one who had the idea for the first shirt and got them printed up. He handled the second one too. Contact James at cvocek@aol.com if you want one.

But getting back to the one handed photography, the light Bessa body is easier to hold than a heavy Leica M while firing the shutter and winding on to the next exposure. It's a LOT lighter. The accessory viewfinder helps your fingers brace the camera steadily. On the down side it's a bit noisier than a Leica. The fact that the Leica will fire when wound but the Bessa will only fire when the wind lever is also cocked out away from the body has both good and bad points. The Bessa's metal shutter curtains are an advantage when out in the sun. You won't likely burn a hole through them!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Local Politics, International Intrigue?

  • e's po
    I took James and his fiancee Hideko over to my usual hang out, the Starbucks on U.S. 1 and 135th Street, where I usually run into lots of people that I know and oft times make new friends with people that I meet there. Everybody seems friendly and it's easy to get into conversations with what had been total strangers mere moments before. It's that kind of place.

While we were enjoying our coffee North Miami City Councilman Scott Galvin showed up and joined us for a few minutes. He and I have been friends since the first time he ran (and lost) when he was only 18. Well, he waited a few years, ran again, and won. He represents my district and lives about the same number of blocks east of Starbucks as I do west. That's him in the top photo between James and Hideko.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

German Camera/Japanese Woman

A couple of months ago James Mitchell was back in Miami on business and brought his fiance Hideko along for the trip. I drove down to South Beach to pick them up in the truck, not the most ideal vehicle because it really only seats two. My previous truck had a bench seat that sat three with plenty of room, but a nice lady decided to run a stop sign and broad sided me with just enough force to bend the truck's frame without causing me any more than some minor bruising. State Farm totaled the truck. I called Bill Lehman, the dealer, and got this truck, another Toyota Tacoma, and the very first automatic transmission that I ever owned! James had assured me that Hideko could ride on his lap for the ride from South Beach to my neighborhood Starbucks.

James is the perceptive genius who first emailed me a few years ago when Johnny G posted a photo of me on the Leica Forum, a cigarette dangling from my lips and a hang-dog expression on my face rivaling that of the most down and out street person. James said it was a real classic look, the equal of the famous shot of Cuban revolutionary Che Guaverra, and belonged on a T-shirt. Would I allow it? Sure, I said, just get Johnny G's permission. Emails work fast! A week or so later the first shot of somebody wearing a shirt appeared on the Leica Forum. Soon orders were coming in from as far away as Australia, as were pictures of people proudly wearing their shirts! Unfortunately James ordered just a dozen at a time, driving up costs, and shipped via Priority Mail guaranteeing that no profits could be made at $20 each. I did manage to get a couple of shirts out of the deal though, and a lot of notoriety.

The Miami Herald did a story about it, and about every other paper in the Knight-Ridder chain picked it up and ran it. Had James or myself been more astute businessmen he wouldn't still be placing the occasional order for a dozen more shirts. I keep thinking that perhaps The GAP could have featured it before Christmas in all of their stores and sold tens of thousands of them. Dream on! (Maybe it could become this year's official Starbucks shirt?)

Business brings James back to Miami on a fairly regular basis. He'll be here again next month with Hideko for several days beyond what his business commitment requires, and I'm hoping to get some more pictures of the three of us together, perhaps all wearing The Shirt. Maybe go around and get some landmarks of significance in the background to add variety to the shoot. I'm also thinking of swapping vehicles with my ex for a day or two so we can enjoy the spaciousness of her SUV. It pays to stay friends.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Visit From Jon part deux

I enjoy the little undertow of stories that you can find in the 15mm portraits, like the sub plot that laces through a detective novel, or some pulp fiction.

Here are more photos from the visit with Jon Sinish (you'll find others a few posts back).

When Jon was in town recently on business (yeah, he has a business: www.advertising-for-small-businesses.com) we had to check out the beach and make sure that condos hadn't completely engulfed everything or hurricanes washed it away. I took him over to my usual haunt, Starbucks on U.S. 1 and 135th Street, to prove to the people there that I actually did know people other than the regulars at that Starbucks. We drove around a bit and looked at the buildings that at one time were the location of places like Jaybo Photo Lab and Browne's Photo Center back in the days when 2 hour E-6 processing was a godsend and film ruled. We did a lot of talking about old times and projects in progress. His Miami visit was all too short.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Talking Local History

The Oleta River State Park is a large urban park that preserves a bit of wilderness in the heart of the metropolitan Miami area. I've been living nearby for what will be fifty years come November, and remember when it was truely wilderness, mangrove swamp much the same as you find in the Eveglades where it meets Florida Bay. Here it borders the northern reaches of Biscayne Bay and the Oleta River. When I was a kid it was called the Graves Tract, and I have no idea what great plans that Graves, whoever he was, had for this piece of swamp land back before World War II. The Civilian Conservation Corps, a government "make work" program during the Great Depression in the 1930's, had created a grid of mostly overgrown "mosquito control ditches" to get some tidal flow closer to the inhabited area along U.S. 1. Still, the mosquitos at the Boulevard Drive-In Theater no doubt kept many a teenage couple from much in the way of disrobing in the back seat.

By the early 1970's word got out that somebody planned on covering the tract with hi-rise condominiums and local conservationists and civic activists got the City of North Miami to float a bond issue to save the tract from development. In order to pay off the bond the city cut a deal to set up a company, Munisport, to develop the area that was already far from pristine, into a sports complex and golf course. They'd put in a landfill for city refuse saving us a fortune in fees to the county. The rest of the tact would remain untouched and the sports complex would be on the filled in land. Eventually the state of Florida kicked in some money and developed the state park on the northern half of the property, and opened a branch of Florida International University just south of that. The city built a new sports stadium used by the local high schools. Since no plan is perfect, eventually it was decided to do a long term lease on the remaining filled in land and yup, a hi-rise development by the name of Biscayne Landing is going in after all, but it's only a small fraction of the original plan of 35 years ago.

Back during the Munisport days I was flying over the tract nearly every week in a helicopter taking progress photos. At the time I was working for the North Dade Journal as well as doing public relations photography for the city and for Munisport. There was a small heliport right there on U.S. 1 back then, and as much as I have a fear of heights I couldn't resist the money. The first time you sit in a chopper with the door removed (so it's not in your way) is a real experience! I never did drop anything, though, and always started out with three cameras loaded so a film change aloft was rarely required. The pilot would circle, banking the craft so I was shooting down at an angle without having to lean out.

The South Florida Fishing Club, of which I'm a member, holds its annual barbeque at the park, as do many local clubs and civic organizations. As usual I'm recording my adventures with the 15mm lens on my Bessa L, or sometimes a Leica body, getting all my friends on film for posterity, and usually eating too much.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Starbucks, A Mirror Of Society

Just about every day you'll find me at the local Starbucks a few blocks from my house. Coffee and a cinnamon donut at breakfast, coffee after dinner. Sometimes a cup or two in the afternoon also. I meet my friends there. I meet clients there. I make new friends there, getting into conversations about everything from hurricanes to politics. I always carry a camera loaded with black & white film, the Bessa L with the 15mm Heliar, even when I'm not carrying any of my Leicas or other lenses. Most people there are regulars. They get used to seeing me photographing myself and whatever with whomever. I often give out cards with links to my photos on line, along with my phone number. From time to time I make up a bunch of small prints and give them to the people in the photos. One time Belle Deaux made up a bunch of little refrigerator magnets using some of the pictures and my name and contact info. They're stuck on refrigerators all over town!

Everybody that works there knows me by name, and I'm warmly greeted when I arrive, but God help me if I ever wanted anything but "a tall coffee" because it's usually poured and ready before I make it in through the door! During their breaks they'll often come out on the patio and sit at the table with me, as do a lot of the students from the nearby college campuses. Maybe it's because I have interesting stories to tell or perhaps it's that I insist on being called Al, not Mr. Kaplan. Just one of the guys! Once I got into a long conversation with a young woman about the writings of Jack Kerouac. I suggested that she read "The Town And The City", and I was very surprised that she'd never heard of the book, that it hadn't been mentioned in the course she was taking. I then told her about meeting and photographing one of his contemporaries, beat poet Allen Ginsberg for a newspaper article years ago. She asked me a bunch of questions about what it was like back then.

I find it interesting that the under thirty crowd seems so at ease in socializing with one another. The accents you hear include plenty of foreign ones from Russian to Jamaican to Spanish and Israeli, but this seems to be the generation that finally pretty much said goodby to regional U.S. accents, being I suppose the second generation that really learned their English from watching Sesame Street, not just from their parents. They also seem very at ease in racially mixed situations, and interracial couples have become quite common, openly showing affection and holding hands, walking arm in arm.

I've posted this photo a little larger than the rest (just click on the photo to see it larger) so you could get a better look at the people behind me. You may not realize how much the 15mm distorts space/perspective if you are not used to looking through that lens or at photos taken with very wide angle optics. The couple at the next table are a lot nearer to me than they appear to be in the photo. Well, it's the same thing with your side mirrors on your car and the warning that reads, "objects in the mirror appear farther away than they actuallly are."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Back In The Darkroom Again!

Strange how things repeat themselves, events seemingly re-enact themselves years later. I remembered the photos I'd shot of myself way back in the late 60's I guess, using the 19mm Canon lens I'd just bought, to take some photos of myself in my brand new just built darkroom, showing off the fiberglass over plywood sink I'd made, my 3 or 4 year old Omega B-22XL enlarger and my just purchased 2.5x3.5 ancient old Kodak Precision enlarger. I had no wrinkles or lines in my face, didn't need glasses to focus the image, and had a big mop of unruly curly brown hair without a trace of grey. I was wearing a leather vest, no shirt, probably bell bottom jeans which don't show in the photos, the epitome of hippie photographer sylishness. I propped the camera on various surfaces with the little Leitz table top tripod and used the self timer for a few shots so I could mail off some pictures to friends in Boston and Wyoming.

Fast forward to the Now! I decided to add some darkroom images to my self portrait project using the 15mm Heliar on the Bessa L. The 19mm Canon had been stolen a dozen years ago and been replaced with a 21mm Super Angulon, but I'm mostly using the 15 these days. No tripod needed because I just hold the rig at arms length and shoot. a sixth sense doing the framing, which kind of amazes me too! I honestly don't know how I pull off the framing and compositions with the camera "out there".

So here we are over 35 years later. What's changed? The end wall is now covered with wide shelves storing what were once 250 or 500 sheet 8x10 paper boxes, each now used to store 100 contact sheets and the 500 sleeved negative strips numbered to match, all neatly dated by months and year. Shelves under the sink hold trays and bottles of chemicals. The beat up used air conditioner I started with has twice been replaced with newer more efficient units. The planned paneled ceiling never happened, nor did the tiled floor.

Along the way a yard sale yielded a box of about every size negative carrier Kodak made for the Precision enlarger, for long obsolete sizes of film pack and roll film negatives. I also got a tripod adapter for horizontal projection on the wall for murals, but never locate the "camera back" that gave you a ground glass panel and allowed you to insert sheet film holders like a view camera. The strangest thing fits below the lens where the swinging red filter is on many enlargers. It has three color seperation filters. Instead of using a filter pack to get the correct color balance in color printing you make three exposures through the three filters, controlling color balance with the length of the exposures. I never tried that.

I have a 50/2.8 El Nikkor that I got back in '62 when they first became available on the Omega and a 105/4.5 Rokkor on the Kodak. I also have two lenses for 6x6cm that I can use on either, a 75/3.5 Spiratone, again from the 60's, and an 80/5.6 Componon that I picked up new for cheap when the Componon-S hit the market. The Componon is extremely crisp but truth is I mostly use the Spiratone. Why? Well with medium speed film like FP4 or Plu-X the Componon will clearly resolve the grain. The inexpensive Spiratone produces what looks to be a sharp print but the grain isn't clearly resolved, creating a much smoother image. Over the years I've picked up two 11x14 four bladed Saunders easels for centering an image on the paper. Prints to 11x14 are washed in vertical Mid-Jet washers made by Saunders but once marketed by Omega.

All in all it's the same me doing pretty much the same thing with pretty much the same equipment in the same place as when I put it all together back in 1968. Let's see, in another 38 years I'll be 101...Nah! Well, you never know, do you?

Monday, January 16, 2006

On The Beach...

When LIFE Magazine finally gave up trying to compete with the network news back in the 1960's their long time picture editor, Wilson Hicks, was hired by the University of Miami to set up a photojournalism program. The U of M sponsored an annual photojournalism conference every spring with out of towners staying at University Inn just across U.S. 1 from the campus. Those of us who lived in South Florida mostly attended via commute, but we spent evenings at the Inn sitting around the pool, chatting, and comparing notes.

I think it was the second time I attended a conference that I met Jon Sinish. He lived just outside of New York City in the Connecticut suburbs, and when I made my annual pilgramage to The Big Apple I'd stay at his place and take the train in and out of Manhattan along with thousands of others. In turn, he'd stay at my house during the conference and we'd drive to the U of M every day to attend the programs.

The conference gained status as an official annual meeting of ASMP, the Society Of Photographers in Communications. Reps from Leitz, Nikon, Canon, Kodak and other suppliers were there showing off their latest goodies. The world's top photographers lectured and showed slides of their work projected via Carousel projectors. Things originally shot in black and white, or page layouts from magazines, were copied on Kodachrome II film so they could be projected. Three days of lectures and presentations by the likes of Bruce Davidson, W. Eugene Smith, and a host of the world's other top photographer would be enough to leave your head spinning for days afterwards. To actually get to chat with them one on one around the pool in the evenings...words can't describe it.

Jon and I gradually drifted apart as the demands of families took up ever more of our time. After a few years of being renamed The Wilson Hicks Conference it kind of just died out. Jon stopped making his annual visits and I seldom went to New York anymore. With the coming of the internet and email we re-established contact a few years ago. Jon has since made a few trips to Miami and we manage to squeeze in a few hours of driving around town, seeing the changes around that have taken place, visiting some of my media friends he'd met years ago, and just catching up with what's been going on in each other's lives. Meanwhile he's still in the advertising business in Connecticut just outside of New York City. Check out his website: www.advertising-for-small-businesses.com

We make a strange looking pair. It isn't just distortion from the 15mm lens. I'm 6'3" and Jon is a bit shorter than that.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sometimes people ask, "Why Leica"?

Somebody once said "Light oozes through a Leica lens like a reeeaaalll heavah sorghum syrup." but I can't remember who, just that the southern accent was the only thing around thicker than the syrup. That was back when "bokeh" as a description of a lens's out of focus rendering was an unknown term outside of Japan. It was the late 1960's and a guy named Jerry Powers had started what was then called an "underground" newspaper. Now we'd refer to it as "counterculture". He called it The Daily Planet after the newspaper that Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego, worked for as a meek, mild mannered reporter along with Lois Lane. Why he never got sued for using the name is one of the mysteries of the universe. I used to shoot an asignment or two for the paper every week (it should have been called The Weekly Planet).

It was also the era of The SLR Revolution. Photographers were dumping their rangefinder cameras and Rolleiflexes for Nikon F's with their noisy instant return mirrors and motor drives. Judges banned cameras in the courtrooms, but soon relented as long as the camera made "no more noise than an M Leica". Working for The Daily Planet meant covering lots of rock concerts and getting backstage passes. It meant covering lots of drug trials. It meant getting to cover lots of counter culture personalities who came through Miami.

In this photograph Abbie Hoffman was being interviewed live on radio at the station. I was the only news photographer allowed in during the on the air interview because I was the only one who hadn't sold out to the allure of a motorized Nikon F. I had my new M4 and an ancient double-stroke M3 (well, it wasn't ancient then)with me. He could get pretty fired up when speaking to a live audience, lots of gesturing and such, but here in the studio the only fired up thing was his voice at times. He managed to look very calm the entire time, even pensive, as in this shot. I shot some on stage stuff during a speech he gave during that same Miami trip, but nothing seemed to capture his intelligence and seriousness, his inner spiritual message, as well as this one did.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

It was a more enchanting era when you made friends at the camera store standing around drinking coffee. Browne's Photo Center was the store. That's where I met Paul and Louise Dana way back when, a pair of avid amateur photographers who befriended my wife Stephanie and myself. Paul was about to retire as a mechanic from Pan Am and Louise was a commercial artist who mostly worked at home. She was a lot younger than Paul, perhaps mid forties at the time. He liked view cameras and his Leicas, and bought the first M5 I ever saw. Louise was an Alpa girl, with an assortment of Switars and Kinoptic lenses. They had a darkroom set up in their house west of Miami Lakes back when there were cows still grazing there, rather than the houses and hi-rises that sprouted a decade later.

Al Olme was the manager of Browne's, and every weekend he'd make sure that a whole bunch of us would gather at somebody's house or another, compare notes and prints, discuss what progress we were making with out various photography projects, then we'd set up the slide projector as it got dark, and show one another our latest Kodachrome marvels. Some of us had pull-down screens mounted on the living room wall, a projector living on a projection stand or a bookcase by the opposite wall, always plugged in and ready to go. Everybody had pretty much standardized on Kodak Carousels, but the Danas insisted on a Leitz Pradovit with its superb Leitz lens, and always brought their own projector.

When our daughter Elena was born in 1971 Louise fell in love with our baby. She was childless herself, and doted on our daughter. We spent even more time visiting them, having dinner with them, and taking pictures in their garden. That's where I made this picture, in their back yard.

I'd borrowed Paul's 8x10 for awhile but it was HUGE, and film cost was a killer. I had a 4x5 monorail Graphic view camera because a lot of jobs required one in those days. But I also had (and still do) a nineteenth century E. & H. T. Anthony 5x7 view camera with leaky red bellows. I got new red bellows made. I had a 203mm f7.7 coated Kodak Ektar for my 4x5, and it more than covered 5x7. The combination gave me a lightweight flat bed field camera with a reasonable amount of swings and tilts. I probably made 4 or 6 exposures of Paul and Louise, and the print looks to me like it was printed on DuPont Varilour. I have no idea which box now has those negatives, or even where the box might be around here. It's easily been 25 years since I last saw Paul and Louise, and about that long since I last used the camera, but I ocasionally get it out and admire the varnished mahogany, the brass fittings, the workmanship you only find in fine furniture, and even then it's rare today.

That Ole 70's Time Machine

Friday, January 13, 2006

Time and Temperature

A few times a year I go to the doctor's office for a check-up. When my old physician retired I started seeing Larry Katz, M.D. Larry seemed like the kind of guy I could relate to, and wasn't put off by the fact that I "know too much" about medicine because I was married to a doctor once. His office was only a few blocks from my girlfriend's house and I was living there, which was probably the deciding factor in seeing him. I split up with the girlfriend a dozen years later and moved back into my own house, but I still use Larry as my doctor.

My ex-wife doctor with whom I maintain a civil relationship is now practicing in South Carolina-otherwise I'd probably see her.

In this photo, I am going through the routine of having my vital signs checked by the office nurse before seeing the doctor. She's just finished telling me "no tricks this time please", referring to the first time she took my "time and temperature" and was convinced that I nearly had the blood pressure of a corpse.

Years ago when I did a lot of pistol shooting I learned how to calm myself down like that to get a steadier aim, and need I say it helps with 1/15 sec and over exposures, which I must say I'm pretty good at. I can also send it instantly higher than what should be normal. Because of this talent, I'm not sure that I've had an accurate reading in years. I always seem to manage giving them one in the "normal range" and I'm not so sure it isn't with some effort on my part!

The ability to calm myself that much is useful when I'm shooting the camera at very slow shutter speeds. 1/8 or 1/15 with a 35 on my Leica is no problem, and slower than that I can usually get 1 out of 3 that's more than sharp enough for publication, even down to 1/2 if I lean against a building or post, or brace my elbows on the table. With the 15mm on the Bessa I shoot a lot of those self-portraits at arms length at 1/15, sometimes as low as 1/4, but we're back to the shoot 3 and try for the 1 that's sharp enough.

The nurse finished up with me, Larry asked me a mess of questions, as usual, about the medication and doseage that the neurologist had switched me to. He muttered "You shouldn't be driving on that stuff!" It's our routine. Right after he says that I remind him that the neurologist tells me not to risk driving unless I am taking it!

Talk about a second opinion. He renewed my prescriptions as usual, and told me to cut back on fatty foods. And that finished up our visit, his examination, and often, my allowance for the month!

I wrote the check for the visit and off I went.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

From Above - The Kosher Pig Roast

Shooting over the heads of a crowd is a talent every photojournalist, eventually, realizes he must develop. All kinds of news situations require a better angle, either so you can actually see the subjects of importance or so you can relate them to the situation.

That probably explains a lot of my successful compositions when I shoot for my 15mm self-portrait series without using the viewfinder. I "just know" what the coverage is for the lenses I use, so when I see a picture I can get in position, grab the camera with the lens I want to use, raise the camera to my eye, and I'm exactly where I need to be for proper framing. I've tried zooms on an SLR a few times, but it seems that you waste too much time after the camera is up to your eye zooming. I've lost too many good shots while fiddling with the zoom. With regular prime lenses that's not a problem.

For years I was always set up with 19 or 21, 35, 90 and sometimes a 180mm. When I first got the 15 there was a bit of a learning curve but I soon developed the same sixth sense for what the lens was seeing, and I soon discovered that I could be in the photos along with my subjects, simply by holding the camera out at arms length. Here the circular group of people around the barbeque mimics the round metal platter on the grill. The sharp leaning angle of the palm tree on the left and the pillar on the right leads your eye into the center of the action. Only the camera and my right hand knew that the top of the tiki hut roof just touched the frame edge, and the chair facing right towards the frame edge adds just a touch of tension to the composition.

These are members of the South Florida Fishing Club who are carving a young pig at our annual barbeque. Last year's event was called a Kosher Pig Roast as most of our membership is Jewish. Fortunately we have a few Cuban members who knew where to buy the pig and how to cook it. There was plenty of other stuff to eat, from hot dogs and hamburgers to barbequed chicken, for those who wouldn't eat pork.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Doris and the Councilman

Doris Jacobson has been a long time city activist here in North Miami, seving on a variety of advisory boards. I first worked with her when she chaired the Youth Opportunity Board and I was appointed to the board nearly thirty years ago. Here she's in the lobby outside the city council chambers letting Councilman Scott Galvin know just exactly how she feels about some issue or another on the night's agenda. She can be very persuasive!

I first met Scott about17 years ago when he decided to run for a seat on the city council. He was 18 at the time and few people took him seriously. I was very impressed with his knowledge and personality, and made no bones about telling people just exactly that! That same year I ran against another incumbant, more from a desire to get the incumbant out of office than wanting to be on the council. The mayor encouraged me to run, and right after I filed the incumbant dropped out. I thought I was home free. Then another guy filed to run against me. His family owned a radio station and he was able to outspend me 7 to 1. I found out that the mayor had also switched sides! The city attorney and I talked a young female attorney into running against the mayor, who had been running unopposed. It was a fun race. Scott lost but everybody knew who he was! I lost by a narrow margin but I'd gotten the incumbant out of office, my original reason for running. Chris Moreno became our first (and only) female mayor. A very good one too! Scott waited a few years, ran again, and got elected. Last year he got re-elected. I expect he'll be running for state office, or even U.S. congress in a few years.

When James Mitchell came out with the Al Kaplan T-shirts last year I emailed Scott a link and he ordered one. A few weeks later at a city council meeting, during council reports, he stood up, took off his suit jacket, and put on the T-shirt. I met him in his office during break and got this shot of him at his desk.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Halloween at the Nursing Home

It was the late 1960's and I was the photographer for The North Dade Journal, a twice a week local paper owned by The Miami Herald. We covered the political scene for half a dozen small municipalities, carried lots of advertizing, and ran just enough stuff of general interest so people would read it. We were always getting calls from various organizations and companies to cover their events. The woman who handled public relations for Arch Creek Nursing Home called to tell us about their upcoming Halloween party.

The editor told me to go over there and get some photos of the afternoon festivities. I was greeted by the P.R. directer as things were getting under way. Staff was busy helping the residents get into costumes, putting make-up on them, stringing crepe paper ribbons all over the place. A table overflowed with munchies and a huge bowl of punch. It was obvious from the beginning that the staff was fighting a losing battle. People more interested in watching their afternoon soaps, reading the paper or a book, or perhaps just dozing in the sun were being forced to "have fun". It showed on their faces!

I shot a few pictures of the sort that I'm sure would have passed muster with the P.R. directer, then exposed a few rolls showing the reality, as I saw it. I got back to the office and soon put some contact sheets on the editors's desk. He was ecstatic! His red crayon quickly circled about 8 or 9 photos and the next day we ran with a full page of pictures of the Big Halloween Party. We never got another call from the nursing home to cover an event. This was always my favorite shot of the party. Their expressions tell it all.

I was having fun in those days, and as usual not quite aware of the impact my photos might have had in a larger ciculation newspaper. But it was still the old Miami, we were too settled in, and wrapped up in our work to think these shots might have mattered to someone outside of ourselves, or have been noticed by a national publication. The editor and I worked well together, but we were probably Miami's biggest secret as far as our talents went.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Some of my earliest memories are of playing with Monkey. At the time my father was still helping win WW-II in the South Pacific. He returned a couple of months before I turned three. For 60 years Monkey always sat on my bureau in the bedroom, sat next to my hairbrush and whatever else was there at the time. A tangled mess of neckties, fishing tackle, cameras, turquoise and silver Indian jewelry, a pile of clean socks waitingto be sorted and put away. He just sat there and watched and waited.

My own son and daughter, Jonathan and Elena, saw Monkey and asked about him but never seemed interested in playing with him. They had their own new shiny toys to play with and Monkey looked old and his nose was missing. I remember being told that I'd pulled off his nose while I was still a baby.

When I started shooting the self-portrait project a couple of years ago I was lookingfor something to use when I wasn't with other people, something to add interest to the photographs. It was almost as if he called out one morning as I walked past "me, me, ME! Take ME!" I carried him out to the truck. It was the first time he'd been out in many years. I got a few frames of him riding next to me on the seat. I was stopping by my ex's house and took Monkey in with me. She thought I was nuts! I explained the project but then she REALLY thought I was nuts, and was worried about what people would think of a grown man walking around town with a toy monkey.

Well, Monkey has been to the Post Office and the supermarket, the drugstore, the park, even city hall, and nobody thinks I'm nuts. They either assume it belongs to one of my grand children (I don't have any) or they think the project is fascinating once I explain it. I'm having fun and Monkey is enjoying his newfound popularity. The ex? She still thinks I'm nuts!

Coffe Mate

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Coffee Break - The Daily Ritual

Just about every afternoon I drive the few blocks to the local Starbucks for a cup of coffee. Depending on the time it's either crowded or empty. This was one of those days when I could drink my coffee in peace, enjoy a cigarette, and let my mind roam free. Most days when I get there it's over run by students from the nearby campuses of Barry University, Johnson and Wales University, Miami-Dade College, and Florida International University. Oh, there are people from my age group also, but other than a Miami-Dade County cop and a guy from Austria who's opening a sign shop in the plaza I never seem to interact with any of them. Instead I'm always surrounded by young people, either inviting me to sit with a "Hey Al!" or, if I arrive first, pulling chairs up to my table and joining me.

The conversation ranges from politics to rock and roll. For some unknown reason the classic rock of the 60's is the new "in" music blasting from the speakers and they're intigued to hear stories first hand about the rock festivals that I attended, what it was like to photograph Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, to eat pizza with the Jefferson Airplane and party with The Grateful Dead. They've all seen my photographs on line, and while they're impressed that I've met and photographed a few presidents it's the rockers they want to hear about. Sometimes it gets deeper than that even. The other afternoon I got into a conversation with a young woman about the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. I had to explain to her that really they were of my dad's generation, already long established writers when I hit my twenties. She was just starting to explore Kerouac's writings and I suggested The Town And The City as a good starting point.

Every February there's a camera show, a photographic flea market really, at the North Miami Armory. A couple of years ago I posted on the photonet Leica Forum that those of us who live in South Florida should meet there and then go out to lunch together at Jimmies's Place, a local diner. One of the guys, Johnny G, shot a photo of me which he posted on the forum. Soon I was Emailed by James Mitchell. He wanted to use it on a T-shirt. I agreed and Johnny G said "do it"! Soon the Leica Forum had pictures from Australia to Europe to Japan and half the states and provinces of North America. Men and women of every nationality wearing their Al Kaplan T-shirts. An old friend, now an editor at The Miami Herald saw one and the paper ran a story. Just about every other paper in the Knight-Ridder chain then ran the story. I've made lots of friends through my writing and posting my photographs on photonet. There's a link here on this BLOG. If James still has shirts (and he'll likely get more made) you can contact him at cvocek@aol.com

But back to reality. I had my Bessa L and its 15mm lens with me as I sat there alone enjoying my coffee and cigarette. The lunch crowd had already left and the afternoon folks were yet to arrive. I was wearing my T-shirt, and my thoughts drifted to what other things I could photograph myself doing, what other places I could visit. It was relaxing, very relaxing. I took the picture.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

My Darkroom - The Early Days

Within a year of purchasing this house back in 1967 I'd constructed my "ideal darkroom" with a fiberglass over plywood sink large enough to handle 16x20 trays and a dry side counter that could hold my Omega B-22XL and Kodak Precision 6.5x9cm enlargers with room to spare. A cork bulletin board over the counter is still used for tacking up print orders and time/temperature charts for developing film. There was about a ten year period when my friend Al Olme shared the darkroom with me. I packed up the Kodak enlarger for the duration, replaced with Al's D-2V-XL and we put his B-22XL next to mine. It was so convenient to be all set up for 4x5, 6x6 and 35mm at the same time. No lenses to swap!

I went through a brief period of doing pictures printed up from 2 or 3 different negatives a la Jerry Uelsmann. I'd visited him once in Gainesville with my friend Bob Greger who was trying to start a photography gallery at the time. Jerry took us into his darkroom and showed us some of the techniques that he used for combining several images into one print. I also bought a three of Jerry's prints for $25 each.

Today my darkroom has a newer air conditioner, a lot more shelves all full of 45 years worth of negatives and contact sheets, and a washing machine. Why not? It drains into the sink, and the top is used as extra counter space for my paper cutter. I've added a film dryer. The Kodak Precision still sits next to the B-22XL, one set up for 120 film, the other for 35mm. I really should get a new sound system. I used to have a cassette deck and speakers at one time. A decent radio would do as well. I can get all my favorite songs on FM radio, all the 60's classics, because the younger folks are back into classic rock, the same stuff that blasted out of those speakers 35 years ago over the drone of air conditioner and the sound of water gurgling in the print washer.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It was That Time of Year again, the stores filled with stuff we don't need at prices that would fall 50% a few days later. In my travels I made mental note of who had the best price on Christmas candles. Why pay full price to stock up on "hurricane" candles in a few months when red and green candles throw as much light as white ones? This year the hurricanes, Katrina and Wilma, were late in coming and I had an ample supply on hand when the orange and black candles got marked down after Hallowe'en.

The parking lots were full, the roads clogged with tourists and shoppers. I only had to make a quick trip to the supemarket to pick up some things like milk and bread and bananas. I thought about taking Monkey along, but we'd be about forever picking out exactly the right bananas. That and the fact that we often get into long and strange conversations with check-out clerks, the other people in line, even little kids, especially little kids! But I really expected the store to be crowded, and here it was mid afternoon and nearly empty!

It made me regret making the decision to load Tri-X in the Bessa instead of the MACO 400 that I'd gotten from Mikal Grass. I'd been wanting to try it under flourescent lights. It's a strange film, with sensitivity well up towards the infrared range. Since flourescent has a lot of its emissions in the blue/green end of the spectrum I figured I'd best bracket my exposures, not something you want to do while being jostled by crowds. Oh well, another time! I picked up what I needed and drove home.

Merry Magnolia

Leave it to South Florida to do the "Southern" thing. The holiday banner in the supermarket sports a magnolia instead of a poinsettia. Magnolia are not even in bloom in December.