Through a New Lens

I took a trip to attend a wedding in Vermont a few weeks ago and didn’t know what camera to bring. When I am hired to shoot weddings I bring my fancy DSLR with several lenses and flashes. But as a guest that setup it isn’t good for casual shooting and general portability. (Plus I always worry about people spilling drinks on it when I set it down to dance.) I considered one of my film cameras but, frankly, I’m rusty and I didn’t want end up wasting a bunch of film for no good reason. I shoot a lot with my iPhone but I’ve noticed that when one person has a phone out, other people take theirs out as a reflex which ruins the mood. So I decided to try out my new(ish) Holga Digital. It totally sucks and I would never recommend buying one but it was definitely the right choice for this trip.

To start with, it looks like a miniature version of the classic Holga. It is made of durable plastic and weighs next to nothing. There are two switches, one to select color or black-and-white and another to select f8.0 or f2.8. It has no screen to preview or review photos. The shutter speed is handled by some simple software; the metadata showed a range from 1/35 to 1/8000. There is some shutter delay that I don’t quite understand. The image quality is super low and it tends to put itself to sleep more othen than I’d like. That said, I ended up with some neat shots and some happy accidents. I lost a lot of shots I had hoped would turn out but I also discovered a number of keepers that I don’t even remember taking. I also loved that it was very non-intrusive. We like to review photos immediately (“Let me see that one!!”) which tends to lead to more photos (“Wait, take another one like this!!”) and/or a discussion about appearances (“No, delete that, I look terrible!!”). The Holga Digital left all of that up to chance and it left me free to actually experience my trip.

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Catch ‘Em All

Pokémon Go trainers have taken to the streets worldwide hunting down virtual monsters. I downloaded the game on the day it came out to see if it was worth all the pre-release buzz. And as soon as a cute little Pidgey hopped onto my desk a few minutes later, I was hooked. Mind you, I am not a gamer. I cannot tell you the current console versions or the last game I played with a controller. The only system I ever owned was a Sega Game Gear. I did play the original Pokémon (red?) but it was on a computer emulator years later. That said, this game is pretty special. Technology is actually forcing people to meet and interact with one another, and, in the wake of so many awful shootings and disturbing protests, players seem keen to keep in-game rivalries friendly; I’ve seen opponents share playing tips and noticed numerous “…but it’s just a game” remarks on Pokemon Go forums. It seems to be one of the few things in the news lately where people have found common ground.

Fad or not, Pokémon Go is a milestone for AR-style (augmented reality) games and the interactive app industry that will be talked about for decades. The unprecedented number of users (estimated at 20 million in the US) has developers scrambling to beef up servers to keep the game functioning. Yet even with the occasionally frustrating glitches and lags, the excitement of catching a not-yet-seen Pokémon keeps people out for hours, glued to their phones, telling themselves “just one more…”

While out filling my own Pokedex, I’ve been collecting photos of players in action. Already ridiculous, I can only imagine how these photos will look in 10, 20, 50 years.

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Charleston Strong

I was in Charleston over the weekend on a personal trip and found out about the “Bridge to Peace” unity walk. They expected 5,000-6,000 people to cross the iconic Arthur Ravenel Bridge at sunset to symbolize the city’s unity after the horrific massacre last week. I decided to go along and photograph my experience. Seeing so many people all come together at the same time with the same peaceful purpose was powerful and energizing. The local paper estimated 10,000-15,000 people attended.

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Rendezvous in the Woods

Over the weekend I attended my first Rivercane Rendezvous in Georgia. My friend David, whom I met while he was living in a wigwam in Virginia, told me about the week-long event several years ago but other obligations had always prevented me from going. He is a regular at several similar gatherings in the region and I was eager to not only see him again but also to get my hands dirty practicing some of the ancient skills that are central to these groups. Classes, taught by unlikely experts of all ages, range from bow and arrow-making to fire-starting and birdwatching

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As I do, I had my camera over my shoulder but I was intentionally not treating this as an assignment. I wanted to be an active, engaged member of the group to experience the things that brought this community together. They call themselves a family, and, as this was the 30th annual rendezvous, many of these people have literally known each other their entire lives. Although I only spent one full day in the camp, I felt immediately embraced by the community of conscientious, positive, free-spirited people from around the country. As I stopped by various lessons in progress, I inevitably I found myself in some special situations where I was able to make some photos; many, many more scenes ended up as mental snapshots. I thought, if only my school days had been more like this, where every class has a clear purpose, a tangible outcome, a passionate teacher and a warm breeze. (Class sizes were generally limited to 10, as well.)

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It’s always inspiring and humbling to learn about something you never knew existed, which happened frequently throughout my short stay. To me, any experience that offers a new perspective has value, especially one that does so in such a constructive and respectful way. If you are curious to learn more, there are earthskills gatherings around the country and they are always looking for new participants.
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Out in the Snow

I started this series of portraits in the snow last year and I didn’t know what chance I’d have to keep it going. This winter, I found myself out with a camera when some flakes started to fall and decided to try to add to it. It’s partly an exercise in approaching strangers and photographing in unplanned situations but I also love the serenity of fresh snow and seeing how people dress for it.

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