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Now, I’m pissed.

September 3, 2013 1 comment

Warning: this post contains very strong language.

It’s been a while since I posted to the blog, mostly because I didn’t have anything to say.  Now, I do.  This is a photograph I took last year:

Root formation along the McKenzie River Trail.

Root formation along the McKenzie River Trail.

This is a natural root formation along the McKenzie River trail.  It has been here for hundreds of years.  Thousands of people have stopped along the trail to marvel at its beauty and all have shown the sense and courtesy to leave it alone.  Until now.

Today, my wife and I took the dog up to the trail for a Labor Day family outing and I discovered this (DJ took this photo with here cell phone):

2013-09-02 14.08.33Now, I’m pissed.  No, let me rephrase that.  I’m fucking livid.

JP, whoever the fuck you are, I hope you’re reading this.  You are a colossal piece of shit.  You hear me?  You are a miserable, festering pile of human waste.  You have forever destroyed a spectacular natural work of art.  No one will ever be able to enjoy the beauty of this root formation without having to stare at the disgusting ass wipe you left behind.  You deserve to spend the rest of your pathetic life living in a cold, colorless world where neighborhood gang bangers tag your stupid pickup once a week.

Fuck you, asshole.

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Get ’em while they’re hot!

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

I now have posters available through Zazzle!  You can access my Zazzle Store directly here: http://www.zazzle.com/mitchellelder  Or you can begin on my website here: http://www.mitchelder.com/purchase.html

These posters are optimized for printing at 24×36 (portrait layout) or 24×24 (landscape layout) at full resolution 300dpi.  Please keep in mind that if you order a larger size, image quality may suffer.

Here There Be Dragons ready-made poster in 24×36 available at http://www.mitchelder.com/purchase.html

Portrait of the Artist

August 19, 2012 Leave a comment

We spent the morning up on the McKenzie River Trail making some photographs and having a nice picnic.  DJ snapped a couple of pictures of me at work with her point-and-shoot. Here I am photographing the dragon’s head with my 75 year-old camera and lens.

This is a Pacemaker Crown Graphic (http://graflex.org/) made in 1947.  I have the original sales receipt from a store in Chicago.  It was purchased by a veteran upon returning from the war and used part-time over the years to shoot weddings.  When he died, he willed it to his grandson who left it in the attic for years before selling it to me.  It came complete with two flash attachments, two porta lenses (used to make a standard lens into a mild telephoto for portraits) four film pack adapters, old Kodak film and even a bunch of Sylvania bulbs.  All of it was still in the leatherette case.  The lens is a Wollensak 135mm Optar – sharp and contrasty.  The shutter is a Graphex shutter and has performed accurately for me over the past five years.

The Graflex is a great way to get started in large format photography if you’re on a budget.  It lacks many of the movements traditional field or technical cameras have but it’s rugged and easy to use.  I use my jacket or vest for a dark cloth to save weight.  I use my Nikon D200 as a light meter and to get instant results with a histogram.

I use Velvia 50 slide film which comes in individual sheets and must be loaded into double-sided film holders in total darkness.  For that, I use a light-weight, portable film changing bag.  I load the holders at home in advance and carry them into the field in a ziplock bag.  I store all my film and processed plates in the refrigerator in ziplock bags with companion moisture absorbent packets.

Usually, when I’m out in the field with this camera, people ask me about it.  One of the most common questions they ask is, “Why would you use such an old, manually intensive camera?”  The answer is, it makes better photographs than my digital.  It makes better photographs than your digital, too.  There are several reasons for this.  One, it requires that you take your time and think things through.  Believe it or not, this results in better images.  Photography is all about seeing.  Large format cameras require so much time and effort to set up and use, they result in the development of a work methodology that produces a higher kill ratio.  In other words, I may come back from a full day in the mountains with only one or two plates, but odds are at least one of them will be quality.  That’s a 50 percent or higher rate of quality production.  Compare that to my digital where it’s common to fill up a card with hundreds of images and only have one or two truly good ones.

Second, the plates I do produce are richer, sharper, more colorful and better composed than those I produce with my handheld digital.  This is because the camera itself forces me to go through the motions of composition, making those small changes that, in the end, result in the difference between making photographs and taking pictures.

Third, large format lenses are better, even old ones like mine, and therefore produce better results.

This is not to say that you can’t take a great photo with a digital or other handheld camera.  You can.  But if you want the best quality image you can produce, only a large format camera will do.  This is why these large cameras are still made and used by landscape, architecture and product photographers.  For more information on large format photography, visit these websites.  I suggest starting with Ken Rockwell’s site.  Everyone has an opinion on Ken, my opinion is he’s honest, direct and easy to understand.

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/4×5.htm

http://www.largeformatphotography.info/

http://www.viewcamera.com/

More New Photos!

August 15, 2012 4 comments

I’m so happy!  I just got my new film back and my images look great!  I found this spot not far from the trail one day when I was out fishing on the McKenzie ( I caught a nice, 12-inch rainbow, by the way) and I went back last week to make this photograph.  I really love this image.  This little spot looks like it’s been transported to the present from deep time.

This image is the same root formation I photographed with my digital a couple of weeks ago.  This one was taken with my Crown Graphic 4×5 on Velvia 50 at f22.25.

I hope everyone enjoys these as much as I enjoyed making them!

Here There Be Dragons

July 29, 2012 8 comments

I went up to the upper McKenzie River this past Wednesday and spent some time along the river trail taking some photographs with my 4×5.  I haven’t had the film processed yet but I do have some images I took with my Nikon.  I use my D200 as a light meter and to get shots when I don’t have time to set up my big camera.  Sometimes the light changes so fast I don’t have time to get my 4×5 setup.  But until I get my film back and scanned, I have this:

Root formation along the McKenzie River Trail.

Casualties of War

It’s been a while since I last posted to The Donut Shop Conversations and being Memorial Day, I dug through some old files and found this analysis of Tim O’Brien’s short story The Things They Carried.  If you’ve never read it, I suggest you do so.

An elegantly simple story, The Things They Carried is deceptively profound.  Beginning with a simple premise, author Tim O’Brien elevates the theme of a list to sociopolitical commentary and psychoanalysis.  What’s more, he slips it in through the backdoor.  By detailing what his fellow soldiers carried on their person in to battle, he creates a deeper, more meaningful inventory of what is lost from, or replaced in, their souls.  O’Brien’s title may be The Things They Carried, but his message is the things they lost.

Vietnam defined a generation and profoundly transformed the nation.  To say that the young men and women who fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia lost their innocence would be trite.  They sacrificed their youth upon the altars of corporate colonialism.  And after giving so much for King and Country, many returned to a world that no longer existed.  If the Vietnam War can be defined in a single word, that word would have to be: loss.

In this poignant narrative, written in first person from a point of view that can only come from having been there, Tim O’Brien strips away the Hollywood and video game facade of war to reveal the truth: there are no winners.  Everybody loses something.

Those who fought in the jungles of Vietnam lost many things along the way, but one of the first casualties of war was their patriotism and sense of purpose.  With no measurable improvement or results, death and destruction became routine – just part of the job – like the daily commute:

They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility.  Their principles were in their feet.  Their calculations were biological.  They had no sense of strategy or mission.

In a war with no clear objectives save the daily body quotas, the men are forced to concern themselves with only their survival.  The daily marches, the nightly watches, are all for one end: stay alive long enough to get home.

What they didn’t know then, but soon learned, was that they had also lost the home they knew and dreamed of returning to.

First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey…In the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending.  He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

At the end of their tour, the freedom bird would fly them out of Vietnam, but it would never take them to the Promised Land.  Once you’ve spent your days killing other human beings, things are never the same again.

They lost a right the rest of us take for granted: the right to live till morning.

Lee Strunk made a funny ghost sound, a kind of moaning, yet very happy, and right then, when Strunk made that high happy moaning sound, when he went Ahhooooo, right then Ted Lavender was shot in the head on his way back from peeing. 

In a world where you can die on your way back from taking a piss behind a bush, every breath becomes the elixir of life.

With every step, every thought, every heartbeat threatening to be their last, some abandoned all pretenses of decorum – dropped along the trail like yesterday’s C-rats.

Sanders wrapped the thumb in toilet paper and handed it across to Norman Bowker.  There was no blood.  Smiling, he kicked the boy’s head, watched the flies scatter, and said. It’s like that old TV show – Paladin.  Have gun, will travel.

The loss of perspective is clear: Paladin never roamed the countryside leaving human road kill in his wake.

Some, like Kiowa, a half-blooded American Indian and son of a Southern Baptist Minister, lost their faith.

Shrugging, Kiowa pulled off his boots. …He tried not to think about Ted Lavender, but then he was thinking how fast it was, no drama, down and dead, and how it was hard to feel anything except surprise.  It seemed un-Christian.  He wished he could find some great sadness, or even anger, but the emotion wasn’t there and he couldn’t make it happen.  Mostly he felt pleased to be alive.  He liked the smell of the New Testament under his cheek, the leather and ink and paper and glue, whatever the chemicals were.

Can the comfort of a familiar object bring solace in a vacuum of faithlessness?  For some, yes.  Some cast off any faith they may have had in favor of superstition.  “Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot.”  Faith is a major casualty in war.  Ultimately, our faith is in humankind, others like us.  We hold out hope that others will perform honorably and with “good faith.”  When lives are taken in an instant, at the whim of these others, our faith is lost – sometimes forever.

They discarded their humanity while they tried to hold on to their compassion:

After the chopper took Lavender away, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men into the village of Than Khe.  They burned everything.  They shot chickens and dogs, they trashed the village well, they called in artillery and watched the wreckage, then they marched for several hours through the hot afternoon, and then at dusk, while Kiowa explained how Lavender died, Lieutenant Cross found himself trembling.  He tried not to cry.

Contempt for the enemy must always be generated in order to justify all the death and destruction and in the end, compassion for human life becomes elusive.  In the case of Kiowa and others in the platoon, compassion moves beyond their grasp.

And some things that they wanted to lose, some things they wanted desperately to rid themselves of, they couldn’t shake.  The war had become a cancer in their lives and each village represented a new tumor to be excised and cauterized.  They embraced their contempt and roamed the countryside, Gods of Death, burning and destroying everything in their path.  But every day brought a new tumor, a new lesion, and a new excuse to destroy:

They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same.

Like feral dogs, they had lost their rational mind but gained a close relationship with their reptilian brain.  Such is the nature of war.  In the end, those who fight it are reduced to animals in the wild.

They are trained to kill and loosed upon the world.  But someday the freedom bird comes to take them and once home again, these feral dogs, these trained killers, these children who have gained a view of themselves that no one should ever see, are asked to simply return to their average lives as if nothing ever happened.  And in the end, we all lose.  O’Brien tells us that once lost, innocence cannot be regained:

He [Lieutenant Cross] was realistic about it.  There was that new hardness in his stomach.  No more fantasies, he told himself.

Like war itself, the theme of O’Brien’s tale is straightforward: it’s not what you carry that counts, but what you lose.  No matter what you take into battle, you leave behind something precious.  O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical tale of men in the grisly business of killing shows us that there are no locks strong enough to guard against the losses that war creates.  And more than any other conflict in American history, Vietnam shaped the nation and the US military – because of what we lost.

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

May 18, 2012 1 comment

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I don’t often write book reviews so I’ll break with tradition and skip directly to point: go out right now and get a copy and read it.  It is one of those rare books you’ll never forget.

This is the autobiography of Enzo, a Lab mix who recounts for us his life with Denny, the man who first chose him from among a litter of chubby puppies born on a farm in eastern Washington.  Yes, you read it correctly – autobiography.  It turns out some dogs are very articulate, as I always suspected.

Denny works as a service manager at a BMW and Mercedes dealership while he attempts to break in to the competitive world of auto racing.  As his closest companion and biggest fan, Enzo is always by Denny’s side as he risks his financial future and his life to race to the top.  And as the family grows from one man and his dog, to a young couple with a baby girl, Enzo’s role in Denny’s life changes from chief companion and cheerleader to stalwart guardian of home, hearth and heart.  As Denny’s ever-present chronicler and wingman, Enzo details the struggles and vicissitudes of modern life with pathos and understanding few humans themselves ever achieve.  Yet at times, his frustration with his inability to effectively communicate so overwhelms him that the only thing left is to shit on the carpet.

Like us, sometimes the only thing we can think to do is punch the other guy in the face.

Garth Stein has spent considerable time pondering the life of dogs.  Enzo’s inner motivations are so honest and true it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Stein spent an entire day moving around his house on all fours and attempting to communicating only with facial expressions.  If you’ve ever had a dog and asked yourself, “Why in the hell did they do that?” you’ll wonder no longer after reading Stein’s book.  Enzo explains it all.

Enzo’s take on human behavior is a breath of fresh air.  As he struggles to come to terms with the motivations of the people around him, he gains an understanding of what it takes to be happy in a world we can’t always control.  He watches and learns and dreams of the day when he will be reincarnated as a human with the ability to speak clearly and grasp doorknobs with an opposable thumb.  He doesn’t always understand why people do the things we do, but he knows he wants to be one of us if for no other reason than to teach the rest of us what he’s already learned about being a good person.

Get this book, read it and then give your dog a hug.

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