Sunday, April 29, 2007

Violin Maker

My dad made a violin – which I now have.

Daddy didn’t play the violin or any musical instrument. No one in the family plays the violin so I don’t know if Daddy’s violin has a good tone or not but it is very special to me.

As I was returning to serious photography after a long hiatus, one of my self-imposed themes was “Hands”. Daddy’s hands, once strong, rough and gnarled – one finger broken and twisted by a rifle bullet, now showed their age in addition to their experience. When he showed me the violin, finally finished after many months of work, I seized the opportunity for a photo session.

My dad had always loved working with wood and credited his grandfather with teaching him to use woodworking tools. Daddy had always had a workshop and he used his retirement years to polish his skills. In fact, he demonstrated over and over again that an old dog can learn new tricks. Daddy was always trying a new tool or learning a new technique while working on his many projects.

For the violin photo session, Daddy hauled out his kit of patterns, pegs, clamps, knives and scrapers. I placed the violin on his workbench and opened the workshop door. I placed my Konica T2 with 52mm Hexanon lens on my tripod and fired off an entire roll of Kodak Gold film. The results, as processed by the local one hour photofinisher, were disappointing.

Far too few years later, the violin propped in a corner of my study, I searched for and found those negatives. Having acquired a few new tools and learned a few techniques myself, I also found the photograph I had originally wanted; it had always been there.

No doubt that there are better violins and I’ve made better photographs but Violin Maker is one of the few hanging on my wall.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Egret and Sunset Catch

The lakes at LSU are a great place to try out new equipment and get in a nice walk at the same time. My son and I certainly enjoy it. A few years ago, realizing that my old tripod was a bit flimsy, I had just bought a new one and took it for a hike around the lakes. On this new, heavy duty tripod, I mounted my trusty old Konica T2 along with another purchase: a very used Vivitar 300mm lens. By adding a 2x teleconverter to the Vivitar 300mm, the old Konica was looking through 600mm of focal length!

Even though the tripod was steady, the Konica plus 2X plus Vivitar sitting on top of it was not exactly motionless. Even so, we had a nice walk while I experimented with the equipment and a roll of Kodak Ektachrome E100VS – a highly saturated transparency film designed to produce very colorful slides.

The end of our hike, the last few shots on the roll and the close of the day were coming together nicely. We set up our cameras for a few closing shots. I spotted an egret standing patiently on a submerged stump near the middle of the lake and took a shot. Then, ignoring all advice about shooting directly into the sun, I relocated. Aligning the egret with the sun, I waited for something to happen. Surely the egret would fly away at any moment but nothing happened. Meanwhile, the sun continued to sink. Disappointed and giving up, I turned my head and yelled to my son that we should be going. Naturally, this was when the egret struck. I yelled in disappointment but recovered in time to get this shot.

I like this picture a lot. It was planned (well, sort of), pushed my equipment to its limit (well, a bit past), original (to me anyway) and reminds me of a nice hike with my son.

Monday, April 9, 2007


As a child, I loved archery. Robin Hood had his own television series and I was enthralled with the bow and arrow – it was much too early in my life to think about the technology of archery or even archery as a sport. I simply liked the idea.

About the age of ten or twelve, I asked for a bow and arrow. Not just any bow and arrow, my parents bought me a 30 “pound” Ben Pearson fiberglass recurved bow and a set of wooden (what else was there?) arrows – plus, a finger tab, a few target faces and a backstop made of heavily wound straw. I strung that bow (backwards for a while) and began to shoot – not practice, just shooting my bow and arrow.

In Boy Scouts, I learned a bit more and received the Archery Merit Badge at summer camp. I discovered different types of bows and arrows, techniques for shooting, sport, competition, and hunting – a long list of activities within the realm of archery. Eventually, other hobbies and interests displaced archery.

Years later, I rediscovered archery. Expecting the sport of my youth, I found that technology had changed archery forever. The compound bow had arrived. It was made of high tech materials and used pulleys to become much more formidable; more than ever, a bow was a machine. Bows had sights – even telescopic sights. My old finger tab had been replaced by a trigger release. Arrows were made of aluminum or graphite; “feathers” were plastic. Now an engineer, I couldn’t resist the new archery.

With a lot of practice, I became pretty good with that compound bow but, after a while, using it didn’t feel like archery. Going retro, I bought an old fashioned longbow and switched to the more primitive forms. OK, so the bow was made of fiberglass laminated over bamboo, it was still primitive compared to the compound bow. I made some wooden arrows with real feathers and felt like an archer again.

But there was a problem. Whereas with the compound bow and aluminum arrows my goal was to shoot a tight group, preferably within the bullseye, with the longbow and wooden arrows my goal was simply to hit the target.

One day I realized that, if time travel were possible, Robin Hood would be much more interested in my compound bow and aluminum arrows than in my longbow and wooden arrows (not to mention modern weapons and technology, but that’s another story).

So, what does archery have to do with photography? Well, I grew up with film based photography and have a number of old cameras (and an old fiberglass Ben Pearson bow). I also have digital cameras, computers and printers. What constitutes “real photography”? Which tools are selected when the only criteria is to capture the best image? What would Robin Hood choose?