Saturday, September 29, 2012

Switching Gears...

Most of my recent posts have featured small towns, Ohio, urban landscapes, and so forth.  While I enjoy those road trips and urban scenery, it's a change to go N and visit my daughter and her partner near Marquette.   I grew up in the NW edge of the Adirondacks in New York, and visiting the northern part of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula remind me of living there many years ago.  There is a freshness to the air, and a rejuvenation of spirit when I am up here.  Things seem to have more clarity.  
Chocolay reflection

Marquette is "just the right size" for me, and it sits on the shore of Lake Superior.  Not the mining town of a century ago, but it's a far better place than back then.  In fact, it is a far better place than when I first passed through it in 1985.  The downtown is thriving, and lots of new construction is taking place at the lower harbor.   The area is scenic, and although there are many grand views of the wonders of nature, sometimes its is the tiny view that makes a big impression...
Pixie Cups
It is a big change of gears to go from shooting in N Ohio, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It takes me a little while to get my brain in sync with my eyes. While I am inhaling that wonderful September air here, feeling "at home" and really seeing what's in front of me in the photographic sense is a more nuanced process.  I am often not pleased with most of my shots because while the area has a special grip on me, the shots that capture what I feel don't come easy right away.  This forces me to slow down.  The moment finally does come when I see something magical and I get it on film or silicon.  Then, it is that moment I know that I am truly in tune with the UP.    This is hard for me to really explain, but I know if you have had a similar experience, you'll know what I mean.  
We will be returning home to Ann Arbor in a couple of days.  Will we come back to live here when we retire?  That is a good question.  There are friends that would be left behind, and all those connections that one makes when living in the same city for 30+ years.  However, I think that this place will give us more peace of mind, beautiful nature, and a way of life that is more beneficial in many varied ways.
January 2007, from Sugarloaf Mountain.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

NW Ohio trip, Part II

On the last day of August three of us went down to NW Ohio, primarily to visit Leslie Hunsberger at her store in Findlay. That part of the trip was covered here. Abby, Mike, and I also did some photo exploration of some other small towns and county seats on the way to Findlay and the return trip to Ann Arbor.
Bowling Green - A college town with a main street dominated by Victorian-era storefronts, Bowling Green is a lively place. There are some really interesting shops, and it seems to be an enjoyable place situated on the flat lake plain.
Corner Grill
Ohio Mark

North Baltimore. - We erroneously got off at an exit on the highway due to construction, and ended up in this small town that held our attention for quite some time. N. Baltimore has a small theater, a busy rail line, and some interesting shops and eateries. It also has just enough rust to make it look a little rough around the edges, which means interesting, at least to me. Small-town gem
Sorry, no queen for a day today.
Taking Route 15 NW from Findlay, we encounted this hulking steer outside a large milling operation. It was definitely worth the stop!

A little further on, we encountered Ottawa.Ottawa - A tidy town with a beautiful statue erected in memory of their firefighters, dating back nearly a century. There is also a nice mural on one of the buildings. I sort of felt like we had gone back in time a bit - that's not a bad thing. Like most of the places  we visited, it is situated along a rail line.
Fireman's memorial, Ottawa, OH

Defiance. I was looking forward to seeing the town of Defiance, and I admit that maybe with that name, I was thinking it would be grand. The downtown main street was extremely busy with many lanes of traffic, probably pulling people out to the strips outside of town. However, the closed upper floors on many buildings  lacked "charm" and it was underwhelming in many ways. That might be an unfair assessment coming from an outsider, so if you read this and live in Defiance, tell me otherwise. The city hall was symptomatic of what I mean. A really ugly upper modern story added to a late 1800s building...
vintage karate
An old window sign in Defiance.

Napoleon -- Napoleon is a charming county seat with a beautiful county courthouse that dominates one end of the town. The Henry County Courthouse just glowed in the late afternoon sun. Henry County Courthouse
Our last stop of the day was in Wauseon. This small town has a LOT of train traffic -- three freight trains went by while we were there. The town has seen better days, like many small towns along the railroads, but the people there are friendly, and we ate at a small cafe that had amazing prices, good friendly service, and great pie...
  Dinner at Tiffany's
There is a train museum there, too, which has a nicely restored New York Central RR station.
Wauseon station
I'll admit that it is sometimes hard to keep motivated to shoot as the day wears on, moving from one town to the next. In a perfect world, I would have some sort of grant (or lottery winnings) that would allow me to spend 24 hours at each place, shooting a lot, have a writer talk to people, and finding the scenes that tell something more about the character of a town and its people. It definitely helps to have others along to keep the enthusiasm from flagging and share the observations that we came away with.
In this climate of polarizing politics, it's important to keep in mind that we are ALL Americans, with more shared values than we believe, and most folks treat you the way they'd like to be treated. Going through the small towns of Ohio and Michigan, and elsewhere in the Midwest is one way to experience the resilience of Americans, and the ways in which we are connected.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sally Mann visits Ann Arbor

Sally Mann lectured in Ann Arbor this afternoon, as part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series, sponsored by the UM School of Art & Design. This was a much anticipated event for me and a bunch of my fellow photographers. Sally Mann, an accomplished photographer that is probably most famous for her long series of portraits of her kids growing up on their Virginia farm -- spoke to a huge, packed house at the Michigan Theater this afternoon. If you are not familiar with her body of work, visit her web site for more information. I really didn't know what to expect. Photographers that present lectures are often content to let the images speak, and usually have some sort of backstory to tell about the images, the process, or the thought that went into making them. Sally's lecture was journey into her past, growing up in Virginia, and her relationship with the black woman that worked for her family as a maid and caregiver. It was a thoughtful essay on how she basically grow up in a culture that was totally incurious about the blacks in day to day affairs, how slavery and segregation has formed the South (and of course, the North as well)and how she has worked in her own way, to repay the debt to her nanny/family maid. There was a lot to think about from her lecture, and the images she did show us were primarily of her family's maid, and then the wet-plate images she has been making of black men at her studio. She was quite eloquent about her feelings of doing portraits, and how hard it is to come away with images that she is really proud of. Inside the Michigan Theater

I know that good artists work on their craft every day -- that's how they become great. We don't get to see the poor results from artists -- just the finished works that they are happy to finally show. Since Sally is working with collodion, it's a much more pain-staking process, with many variables to consider. Sally's description of her feelings about working on her portrait work made me mull that around in my head long after her lecture.

This was a very memorable lecture - thought provoking, introspective, and educational. I think that if some us came out feeling a little humbled, then that is a good thing.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

A Visit to The Mecca in Findlay, OH

On Friday, August 31, Abby and Mike accompanied me on another photo safari into Ohio. Our stops were: Bowling Green, North Baltimore, Findlay, Ottawa, Defiance, Napoleon, and Wauseon. Mostly I shot film on the trip, so I will do a followup post on the photography of the places we stopped after I develop my film. A year ago, Abby and I ventured S to Findlay and some other towns which I blogged about. At that time, we first met Leslie Hunsberger at her shop Imagine That! on E. Sandusky in Findlay. In the past year, I have seen a lot of activity take place in Ohio thanks to Leslie, Matt Marrash and the Film Photography Project folks. It was time for another field trip to Findlay to visit Leslie, so the three of us left Friday morning (if you stick to the 4-lane highways, Findlay is a little over 90 minutes from Ann Arbor).

Leslie has two shops -- Imagine That!, which sells photography-related products and services, and The Mecca -- which is her studio and camera collection as well as store. This is what I love about Findlay -- it's very arts-oriented, with lots of loft and retail space available, allowing specialty places like these to exist. There are many small art galleries, too. Rent in a place like Ann Arbor really stifles that kind of use.

The Mecca is the "film Mecca" where you not only see lots of cameras on display, but they are also being used. Leslie posts here what current models are loaded with film to be used.

We met up with Leslie and Lauren Bagley at Imagine That!, and had a blast at The Mecca talking about photography, film, and what has been going on lately in Ohio. Back at the end of June, there was an event called "Analog Pulse" in Cleveland which was well-attended, and we got to hear about the young people that are using film cameras, and are enchanted by Polaroids. Leslie's film fridge is bulging with Polaroid film, and it would definitely cause legions of 'roid fans to drool...
Ammo Dump

Needless to say, I was impressed by that film fridge, and I finally bought a package of the Impossible Project b&w Silvershade film for my SX-70. We had a lot of fun looking at the objects in the studio, and here are few more shots from inside The Mecca.

Used Polaroid cameras have had a resurgence in sales, now that the IP film is available AND the Fuji pack film has been getting more attention. Young people are excited to see that image come from the camera. While it's a niche product, it is proof that it still has relevance in photography. It is too bad the morons that bought Polaroid sucked the money out of the company only to kill it and the product line. Leslie showed us the Polaroid 8x10 processor that she bought from Cynthia Davis (of Ann Arbor, manipulated Polaroid fame), and now that the IP folks are once again making the 8x10 film, she is able to use it! Note in the last photo, the cameras that are for sale. Apparently, the Debonair plastic camera is selling quite well, and is a favorite of teenage girls!

Based on what I saw at Findlay, it is possible to make significant sales of film and paper and related supplies if one is willing to try and work with the local colleges, and tap into the "analog camera" segment of today's market. I'm not talking about becoming just another stop on the Lomography bandwagon. It takes some savvy and dedication to sell these things in today's market. If one is able to really make the film world accessible to new users (and recapture old users), by networking on the Internet, working with local groups, and "branding" appropriately, I think it could work in our local area. If brick and mortar stores continue to operate the way they have been used to all these years, then film becomes less relevant and the local clientele suffers, and the store often ends up ignoring film altogether. Making that extra bit of effort to make film stand apart from the digital world could pay off.

We had an enjoyable lunch with Leslie and Lauren at Logan's Irish Pub, and after doing a bit more shooting around Findlay, we said our goodbyes and headed off to our other stops for more photographic adventures. Thanks again to Leslie for being such a gracious host and also for the goody bags! If you are heading to Findlay, you can find The Mecca at 111 E. Sandusky St.