Instead of freezing in Minneapolis as usual, I was able to travel in Mexico during the Christmas/New Years holiday this year, visiting Huatulco, Oaxaca, and Mexico City. It was amazing to see so much culture compressed and layered, getting glimpses of ancient to modern, urban to rural and all the colors in between. As with every trip, especially the ones with good food a comfortable exchange rate, I wish I had been able to stay longer. But we packed in lots of stops and sights and I tried to make the most of the photo ops I came across along the way.
Every year the Batteau Festival sneaks up on me, and every year I regret not taking the week off. Right now, a number of my friends are making their way from Lynchburg to Richmond on simple, unwieldy boats known as “batteaux.” Over eight days, 15-20 of these boats navigate the James River, accompanied by dozens of kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders who camp with them along the shore each night. They endure all kinds of weather as they make their way 120 miles through Central Virginia just as the river traders did centuries ago. On Saturday night, at least, the weather was perfect. After the sun set and candle lanterns glowed in the dark, I walked out onto one batteau that was tethered to the shore and felt like I stepped back in time. There was a warm breeze and all I could hear were frogs croaking and the rush of the water. Around one lantern on a nearby boat, several people sat talking, dressed historically as the original boatmen would have, in simple, loose, light-colored cotton shirts and pants. Of course, there are plenty of modern conveniences that help now—propane cookstoves, electric bilge pumps, weather tracking apps—but there is something valuable about preserving traditions like this one. I’m already looking forward to next year.
How many storms have I been through? How many sunsets? And yet some particular combination of temperature, humidity, time of day and location created this unreal scene. After an intense but brief lightening storm driving through Central Virginia, the setting sunlight wrapped the entire landscape and sky in a golden blanket. The colors are impossible to recreate on a computer but I recall the scene being every bit as vivid as these photos.
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.
I explored Saugerties, NY, with my girlfriend for Thanksgiving and it was beautiful. She and her cousin Eli ended up being my photo subjects on our snowy hike by the Hudson River.