As the days slowly shorten in anticipation of autumn (still a good seven weeks away), I feel a bit more enlightened this summer. Perhaps it was because we battled COVID-19 from late May through a good portion of June. I began to realize I needed to reclaim focus (you know, brain fog and all).
Alas, this is not quite so easy. But one component of my journey towards focus is camera gear.
I do love me some vintage cameras and lenses. After recovering from COVID, we returned to another favorite pastime: antique store browsing, most often with an eye out for vintage SLR cameras and lenses. I have become more discerning in what kind of camera gear I’m interested in. In June, I found something truly special: the Exakta VX IIa and the Carl Zeiss Jena 58mm F2 Biotar circa 1958 made in East Germany. The camera is something of an over-engineered lefty machine: the shutter button is configured for left-handed photographers. Having changed just a little from its pre-war design, the camera is an engineering marvel and quite beautiful to look at.
As for using it, I tried to like operating the camera. As others have noted online, the Exakta VX IIa is cumbersome…and I ended up ruining a roll of Alford HP5 Plus because I thought I fully rewound it, but take note! It seems to take twice as long to wind the film from the spool.
But, oh snap…that CZJ lens? My wife and I are almost fighting over this lens adapted to our Sony a7iii cameras. There’s a reason these Carl Zeiss Lenses are highly coveted.
Yet this is not a lens review or even a camera review. True, I would love to find more Carl Zeiss glass, either from West or East Germany. That’s not the point. What is coming into focus is what I leave behind. I’m slowly letting go of the collector, and instead I am focusing on the kind of kit combinations that really speak to my soul.
I recently sold three film cameras, including one of two Pentax K1000’s. Film photography has its place in my configuration, but I resist being a collector as the main goal. I might sell more stuff, too.
The CZJ Biotar illuminated something about our philosophy of photography: we prefer to shoot with what makes us smile. We both love how the lens renders. At a recent paid shoot, I brought a couple nice, modern Tamron autofocus lenses. They stayed in my bag. Meanwhile, she shot with the CZJ Biotar all evening while I shot with the Nikkor-P C 105mm F2.5 AI. These two lenses never left our camera bodies. A few weeks before this shoot, I shot some portraits of a dear friend with that CZJ Biotar. I was floored by the rendering (see below).
The realization I’m coming to more and more: the joy of our unique configurations means we do not need to match other people’s styles. We have nothing to prove except that we love photography and being in the moment. For us, these old manual focus lenses draw us into the moment. And this is precisely what I mean about focus: being in the moment – all in.
Recently, I have noticed my photography goals have shifted slightly. In fact, when I renewed this website for another year, I “downgraded” it because I recognized my desired outcome really is not booking clients regularly. Of course, if someone were to reach out to me and want to work with me, I would gladly talk.
Yet in recognizing there are so many talented photographers in the world ready to receive paying clients, I just came to the point that my joy in this journey is not about getting paid a lot of money for it. Quite the contrary: I wish to BE a photographer; to put in the work required of a thoughtful artist, not to become an Instagram influencer.
Thus, even this blog (which has laid dormant since last autumn) will shift to become a journal for me. It’s a photographer’s journal, documenting the camera/lens combinations I’ve used this week… where I’ve gone to photograph… what I felt made a photo work, and when it did not.
A couple notable items to document this week include the photo above: I’ve been recently shooting with the Nikon D800E. It’s a 36 megapixel, full-frame DSLR. While I still shoot on Sony mirrorless (and some 35mm film cameras), this Digital Single Lens Reflex (for those that didn’t know what that meant) is a “real” camera. Yes, my Sony A7iii is sort of a real camera. Indeed, for events that’s the camera for which I’ll reach. But this Nikon is the kind of camera photographers have used for years. It’s heavy, with an optical viewfinder that does not assist me in manual focusing. And yet, I cannot put this camera down. I am shooting with manual focus (vintage) Nikon lenses. This shot was captured at the Glacial Park in Ringwood, IL with the Nikkor-MICRO 55mm F2.8 manual focus lens. And what is also nice, it has the option in camera to crop to 5x4 format. It’s a different way of seeing, especially for landscape. This lens cropped this way really gives me a sense of framing. It requires my composition to be central–not in the center per se, but unmistakable. I’ll continue shooting with this crop and lens combination over the coming days.
I had a dream. Okay, nothing so grand. And certainly nothing compared to Dr. King’s beautiful “I have a dream” speech. But many years ago, I dreamed of writing a book. Or maybe a few books. Reality soon settled in. My ideas for a book were too narrow to be feasible.
When I picked up a camera for the first time as an adult (not an iPhone, but a “real” camera), I never dreamed it would lead to publishing something. As I grew in my photography, I began to realize it had power to communicate. But what? Even this blog, which has long been neglected, really just spoke within my tiny brain’s fog of random thoughts.
Lockdown and the last 18 months of trying to find normal again was the spark for a photo book magazine. For years, my photographs were mainly single images on social media. But a photo zine cannot be a bunch of random pictures. Even great pictures. That’s what is called a portfolio (and that is what this website is all about).
The Zine is called “Life Rebooted”. In it, I put together a photographic narrative reflecting on the last year or so following the drastic mitigations called “lockdown”.
This zine isn’t about monetizing my photography. While you can buy my photo zine here, trust me: I ain’t gettin’ rich on it! It’s about compiling my emotions and observations over the last year that was so very difficult for all of us. I was amazed at the ability for folks to bounce back and deal with life after lockdown. It’s a reboot. And while we may go through a few more reboots in the future, I think you will find that God has endowed us with a will to rise above it all. To live again. Life has indeed rebooted, even if the system still feels a bit buggy.