Friday, December 31, 2010

My Continuing Descent Into Hipsterdom

You still won't find me sporting a pair of skinny jeans (you're welcome), but my hipster cred continues to accumulate.  A couple of months ago I became the somewhat sheepish owner of a Holga 120N medium-format camera.  For those who don't know, the Holga is a "toy" camera - a cheaply-made, all plastic Chinese camera that shoots 120mm film.  The camera is prone to light leaks, accidental double-exposures and heavy vignetting, but is very popular with art photographers and people looking to get into medium format film photography on the cheap (and, of course, hipsters, although Polaroid still takes pride of place on that score).

I've shot about ten rolls of film with the camera so far and just recently got the first set of developed negatives back from the photo lab.  Below is a shot from the first roll that I put through the camera:
Ira in his usual afternoon napping spot (Holga 120N, Kodak Tri-X 400)
Okay, so yes, it's a pet shot - that's our oldest cat, Ira (named after NPR radio host Ira Glass, of This American Life; yes we are that big of geeks) - but I think it came our pretty great, especially considering it was the first time I used the camera.

I will be posting more shots from this camera soon.  I really could fall in love with medium format.  Those big, frick'n negatives are pretty damn sweet.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

No Need To Dream . . .

Fresh-Fallen Snow, Christmas Morning 2010, Chicago (Canon 40D, 17-40mm f/4, color converted)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas From Chicago

The weather outside is indeed frightful, but it is cozy and warm inside . . . 

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas (Canon 40D, 17-40mm f/4)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It Would Be Much Easier To Get Out Of Bed . . .

If it was not literally freezing outside, and there was a Top Pot doughnut shop to stop off at before work.
Top Pot Doughnut Shop, another reason to miss Seattle

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Film is slow . . .

. . . but I am slower.  I am just now, finally getting around to dealing with the analog images that I've been taking over the last few months.  I think that I really need to teach myself to develop my own color and black & white film rolls, at least the new 120mm stuff that I have been doing.  There is no really convenient place to get 120mm film developed - the few stores that develop on-site have store hours that simply don't work with my work schedule - and the delay on getting 120 rolls back from the shops that will send it out means that by the time the film gets back, much of the excitement of the moment that I clicked the shutter has dissipated.  (Plus, 120mm film processing is freaking expensive.)

Anyway, here are a few 35mm images from the Labor Day "destination shoot."  This is a concrete factory, I believe.  I had been thinking about photographing this place for awhile.  The lines of the elevators are nicely dramatic, and it sits right next to a bridge that provides a good vantage point from which to take images.

All of these are shot on cross-processed Provia 100f slide film, with my Canon Elan 7ne 35mm film camera.  I think the cross-processing really works well for these industrial shots.  My understanding is that the Provia generally gets the type of green color shift seen above.  Other slide films will give more true colors or different color casts.  I'm eager to do some further experimentation.

Some Days, I Really Miss Seattle . . .

Lake Union, from Freemont/Ballard
Pike Place Market (cliche, but iconic)
Seattle Center (Christmas, Seattle Style)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Snow Dog!!

First snow of the season.  Couple of inches so far and still snowing . . .

Rudder wasn't quite sure what to make of the snow, but he seemed to get into it as the walk went along.  Right now he is much more into laying on his dog bed in my office and being wrapped up in a blanket.  (Smart dog.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Run (and Walk) For Their Lives

PAWS is the local no-kill rescue shelter, and where we met Rudder (aka, the best dog ever!).  PAWS was throwing a fundraiser today - a 4K walk/8K run.  K and I headed over this morning with Rudder to do our part.  K did the 8K run, and Rudder and I did the 4K walk.
It was windy and more than a bit chilly on the Lakefront, but the event was a lot of fun and there were a ton of great dogs and dog owners there to support PAWS and animal rescue efforts.

Rudder met a bunch of new friends . . . 

And everybody had a great time.
All in all a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy Accidents

Still have a bunch of photographs to process and post from my Labor Day weekend photo expeditions, but work has been crazy busy and I haven't had a lot of time to play with pictures or wax poetic about bikes.  I like having a little corner of the web to post my pictures and random writing, but I doubt I will ever be one of those really consistent bloggers who post daily (or even consistently weekly).  The blog, along with the photography, writing and even the non-commuting biking, are hobbies that necessarily get set aside when more pressing obligations intrude.

The wait for the remaining  black and white and slide film continues as well.  Not having to wait for processing is perhaps one of the biggest advantages digital has over film.  Perhaps even a bigger advantage than cost - which nods to digital after the initial cost of the camera.

Here is a little something in the meantime, however.  The shot above is an old shot, newly discovered.  I found a roll of old, exposed negative film that had not been processed.  The roll dates from mid-2003, and are mostly snapshots of K and I coming to the Midwest.  I had completely forgotten the roll and finding it and discovering the images it held was a fun little mystery.  

I have no idea where this was taken or even if the blurriness of the shot was intentional or simply a messed-up attempt at a skyline sunset.  I knew enough about photography in 2003 to either brace the camera or use a tripod for a low light shot like this if I wanted it to be in focus, so it may have been deliberately shot to be blurry.  Either, way I love the colors and the shot itself has an almost impressionistic feel to it.

I have also trying to shoot some abstracts recently as well (and not having much success), so that may have influenced my being drawn to this shot.

Hope you like it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Just Pretty Pictures

Sunrise and sunset pictures must be one of the most over-done subjects in all of photography.  Still, something about rolling yourself out of bed when its still dark, filling up a thermos full of coffee and then hiking your butt out to some remote spot to wait for just the right combination of clouds and light is very satisfying.
(Chicago Lakefront, September 2010, Elan 7ne, expired Fuji Superia 100)
These shots are from the jetty/retaining wall at the North Avenue beach on Chicago's lakefront.  There was one other photographer out there at the same time, but he was pointing his camera in a different direction, toward the cityscape to the right of these shots (a project for another day) and took off just as the light really started to get good.
(Chicago Lakefront, September 2010, Elan 7ne, expired Fuji Superia 100)
All three of these shots were taken within 10 to 15 minutes of each other.  It is really amazing how much the light quality can change in such a short period.
(Chicago Lakefront, September 2010, Elan 7ne, expired Fuji Superia 100)
These were taken with some crappy, expired color negative film.  I am still waiting for the slides that I took just before these to be developed.  So more (hopefully) pretty pictures to come, with a slightly different angle and perhaps even better clarity and color.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Another Peek

"Ascending" (September 2010, Elan 7ne, cross-processed Provia 100f)
I never really did a lot of cross processing even when I was shooting film exclusively.  But I've bought a bunch of expired slide film and am really liking the scans that I am getting.  More to come soon.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Destination" Photography

K and I stayed at home over the Labor Day holiday, and I took the opportunity of the extended lazy weekend to cross of few items on the "Honey-Do" list - and - to go on a couple of "expedition" photo shoots.  Now, of course, this was not the equivalent of an extended photographic vacation to Venice or a photo-safari in the Congo, but I did get to do some aimless wandering in Chicago's Northwest suburbs and actually voluntarily got up before the sunrise to take some photos of a couple of city locations that have been on my short list of locations to explore with a camera.  One shoot was an exercise in deliberate surprise, one a specific self-assigned project.
"At Play"
(Chicago Lakefront, September 2010, Polaroid Land 250, expired 669)
None of it, however, was shot digital.  As the recent spate of posts can attest, my photographic funk has definitely broken.  For better or worse, however, almost all my recent photography has been shot analog.  This is fine by me - although K did recently say that I needed to shoot some "real" photos - but the analog world definitely does not have the turnaround time that blesses digital.
To Come: The Wilds of Suburbia,
The result of these "destination" shoots was a couple dozen Polaroids and a large batch 35mm roll film that is now winding its way through one of the local pro photo labs.  I had a couple of straight color negative rolls that I would usually take to the nearest Walgreens where I just get the roll developed and take home the uncut strip to scan (no prints = fast and cheap), but I also had several rolls of slide film that I wanted cross processed, a roll of straight slide film and another bunch of black and white rolls, so I tossed the whole batch together and took it to someone who (hopefully) knows more about developing film than "insert cartridge into slot and push red button."
The Clarity Of First Light,
The color and cross process negatives should be ready later this week, but the rest will take probably another week at least. Even this lab, which did not bat an eye at my cross-processing requests, does not do its own black and white or slide developing.
And A Subject Worthy Of The Weekend
So expect to see posts of Labor Day Weekend photos trickle in as they become available over the next couple of weeks.  Not only does analog just take a little longer, but I am afraid I was a bit giddy with the shutter this last weekend and there is a lot of frames to go through with, hopefully, a proportionate share of keepers.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I had thought that having a second blog devoted to bicycling-related posts was a good idea (and I had a good name for it, the Random Randonneur).  The idea was to have Midwest Migrant be the general purpose blog, with a heavy photography influence, and with Random Randonneur to be a more focused enterprise.  But two blogs turns out to have been at least one blog too many.

Between the acquisition of a new dog and a work schedule that was much busier than expected, there has been a lot less time to ride and, thus, a lot less riding to blog about.  I continue to commute to work daily by bicycle, but have not been able to go on most of the "epic" rides that I had anticipated taking on this summer.  As the weather (finally) begins to cool, the riding time will diminish even more.

Given that there is not enough material (or at least inspiration) to provide posts for an entirely separate blog, the obvious choice is just to incorporate my bicycling-related posts here, along with the photography posts, life-as-a-lawyer posts and the rest of my other musings.  To that end, I have imported the handful of posts that I had made from the Random Randonneur blog to here, and have deleted the other blog from my Blogger profile.  (BTW: Kudos to Blogger on this - they really made the import seamless and simple.)

So, going forward expect to see bike-geek posts sharing space with the photography and the rest.  Among these bike-related posts will be a follow-up on my impressions of my Handsome Devil bicycle now that I have had a couple months of almost daily riding to really get a feel for it, some more write-ups on my favorite Chicagoland rides and other posts about utility bike advocacy, bike "culture," bike-related photography and whatever else springs to mind.

This is going to make the blog a true mishmash of topics, but I guess that will be a true reflection of my own odd stew of interests and amusements.  No focus, but lots of targets.

Keep the rubber down.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Scenes From The Commute

Damen Street Bridge (August 2010, Elan 7ne, expired Fuji Superia 100)

Early Adopter

I've been doing some experimentation with Impossible Project's new "Silver Shade" PX 100 instant film for the SX-70 Polaroid camera.  I am a cheerleader and supporter of the Project, as they are doing the crazy, journeyman's work of restoring a source of instant film for the classic Polaroid cameras that continue to have a huge fan base, but which Polaroid stupidly abandoned a few years ago.  I am a supporter of the Project and its goals with high hopes for the future.  And I have to be hopeful, unfortunately, because the present leaves a little bit to be desired.
(September 2010, SX-70, Impossible Project PX 100 film)

I will write more about this later, but will just say for now that the Project really is a labor of love . . . and the the use of these early films requires quite a bit of love, patience (and forgiveness) from the photographer as well.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Case For Grain

(Navy Pier, Chicago, August 2010, Elan 7ne, expired Fuji Superia 100)

This recent shot made me remember one of the aspects of film shooting that I really love, that is part and parcel with the film experience, and that (like so much that was once considered a drawback of film) is now experiencing a resurgence of popularity: grainy film.

(Harstine Island, Washington State, Fall 2003, Elan 7ne, Fuji Provia 100) 

I am old enough to remember the consuming quest for film stock that would produce "grainless" images - when landscape photographers waxed eloquently about the smoothness and lack of grain in Velvia 50 and the ongoing technical talks about how to expose/process/develop so that your final images showed as little grain as possible.  Yes, some people even then used grain artistically, but for the the majority of shooters grain was bad.

(Seattle, Washington, Fall 2002?, Canonet QL-17 GIII, Fuji Super HQ 200)

Now, when consumer-level digital SLRs and noise-reduction software can easily achieve near-pristine smooth images that could only be dreamed about in the days of film (and even from images shot at high ISOs where grain was just a given), grain is  no longer the big bogeyman of the film shooter, but often rather a courted "feature" of the images.  Film shooters have reversed all the technical wisdom developed to reduce the look of grain.  We shoot expired film, underexpose and cross and push process to our hearts content, just so we can get that "chunky" look.

(Seattle, Washington, Fall 2002?, Canonet QL-17 GIII, Fuji Super HQ 200)

I like grain, and have always had a thing for dark, brooding and grainy images.  When I want clean, crisp shots I reach for my 40D without a second thought.  Many post-processing programs now have options for simulating grain in digital shots, and there are techniques for layering blank frames of certain types of film onto a digital image to get an even more realistically grainy effect.  But simulating the grainy effect well is difficult.

(March 2007, Bloomington, Indiana, Canon 10D, color conversion and simulated grain)

And while digital noise can sometime create a pleasing effect, the mood is a lot more harsh and uncomfortable (sharp and rough) than the rounder, softer effect from film grain.

"Six String Samurai"
(Chicago Loop, January 2008, Canon 10D, color conversion, amped up sharpening and contrast)

How much easier to just pop in that roll of expired drug store film or some nice chunky and contrasty Tri-X and see what develops.

"Woods In Snow"
(February 2007, Bloomington, Indiana, Elan 7ne, Fuji Provia 100)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ride Report: North Branch Trail

When I first moved to Chicago and started biking again regularly, my go-to long ride was an up-and-back on the Lakefront Path.  That is still a great ride (about 35-40 miles door to door, round trip), but the northern section of the Lakefront Path is overly crowded during the summer, even at early morning hours.

These days, when I don't want to think about where I'm going to ride, my go-to Saturday ride is Chicago's North Branch Trail.  A little less than 20 miles of paved trail through the wooded Cook County Forest Preserve, the trail loosely follows the North Branch of the Chicago River, winding its way north from N. Milwaukee and W. Devon Avenues, along the river and then meandering through the Skokie Lagoons until it reaches the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

In the Spring and Summer, the Trail is shaded and grants some relief from the heat, although the humidity can be just as bad or worse because of the river and lagoons.  It is a relatively wide, flat trial, with minimal street crossings and two overpass bridges (no dismount needed).  It is not a trail on which you can (or at least should) get up to racing speed, but is relatively fast given the well-paved surface and relatively low traffic level on weekend mornings.  You share the trail with other cyclists (mostly recreational bikers on hybrids, with the hard-core trainers sticking to the faster and less crowded streets), walkers and joggers (there seems to be an group stroll on Saturday mornings at about mid-trail for "older" Asian ladies and gentleman) and the occasional stroller and dog.  There is also a gravel horse path that parallels the trail, but I have seen very few horses in the numerous times I have ridden the trail.

Once you get to the top of the trail, you can access the Chicago Botanical Gardens by bicycle, but just the back/service roads, with almost all of the actual gardens being off limits for bike riders.  For a shorter, up-and-back morning ride, the Botanical Garden makes a good turnaround stop, with a nice bathroom/rest area with some vending machines, bike racks (although the racks are not well designed to work with U-Locks) and shaded benches on which to sit a spell and savor that Powerbar or energy gel at your leisure.  For longer rides, the Botanical Gardens makes a good jumping off point as well, with the Skokie Valley bike path and the Green Bay Trail/Robert McClory Bike Path only a few blocks to either side of the Garden's North entrance.

Up and back will give me 44 to 46 miles, depending on the exact path through the Skokie Lagoons taken.  This always seems a little short to me.  If I have time, I will jump up to the Skokie Valley Bike Path and then come back via the Green Bay Trail to the North Shore Channel Trail, which includes a sculpture garden.  This will bring in the ride at somewhere in the 65-70 mile range, and to my mind is just about the perfect length for a weekend ride.  But for those mornings when I did not get out the door early enough, an up and back to the Botanical Gardens is a good fit.

The only drawbacks to the North Branch Trail are typical for in-city trails in general.  The quickest route to the Milwaukee/Devon trailhead where I generally start is by Elston Avenue, which merges into Milwaukee a few blocks before the parking area for the trail on Devon Street.  Elston has a good, wide bike lane and is a fast street, especially if you can catch the right rhythm for the stop lights, but it is not what I would call aesthetically pleasing for the most part and can be traffic-heavy at times.  The other drawback is as I mentioned above - the North Branch is really a recreational trail, not a route for intensive training (if you are in to that sort of thing).  It's a little too crowded, too twisty (although that can be fun) and too narrow for riding much above 18mph, except in short bursts.  But since I rarely ride faster than that other than for short bursts, this is fine by me.

The best part of the North Branch Trail is how isolated parts of it can seem from the city.  You can really feel like you are riding through the wilderness in sections - especially if you are lucky enough to catch a family of deer in the early morning mist or get a glance of a river turtle sunning itself on a muddy bank.

Sunday Ride Stats (August 29, 2010):
North Branch Trail via Elston/Milwaukee (up-and-back)
Bike / Load: Trek 2.3 / high tail w/camera
Total Miles:  44.5
Ride Time:  2 hours, 42 minutes
Average Speed:  16.5 mph

Friday, August 27, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010


More Lo-Fi Fun: Lomo LC-A

Rose Hill Cemetery, Easter 2010 (expired Fuji 100 Superia, Lomo LC-A)
The pre-cursor to the current lo-fi/toy camera fascination was the rise of Lomography.  A (very deliberately and very skillfully created) little cult of enthusiasm built up around a cheap, plastic-lens, russian knock-off camera, the Lomo LC-A.  The LC-A first came out in the 1980s, but the "lomography" marketing juggernaught really didn't take until the 1990s.  The LC-A is a cheaply made camera - a plastic lens, which tends to create strong vingetting and softness or blurring; and a body that is prone to light leaks and unintentional double-exposures due to poor film winding.  LIke the later-hip Holga, however, the characteristics of the LC-A that would normally be considered drawbacks have become to be thought of as its strengths.
Lakeshore Path, June 2010 (expired Fuji Superia, Lomo LC-A)
The lens tends to create soft, saturated images, with strong vignettes and interesting tonal shifts in the way colors render.
Lake CTA Station, August 2010 (expired Fuji 100 Superia, Lomo LC-A)
The LC-A can actually be most interesting in low light photography.  The camera keeps the shutter open long enough to get a sufficient exposure.  This can result in some interesting blur effects.  This shot really doesn't show it, and I haven't had much luck with that style, but I have seen people produce some very cool night and low light shots with this camera.
Daley Center Fountain, August 2010 (expired Fuji Superia, Lomo LC-A)
Because the LC-A is small, its easy to carry around pretty much everywhere.  I often toss it into the camera bag with whatever main camera I'm taking.  I can't say that I'm ready to buy into the "don't think, just shoot" mentality put forth by the lomo cultists, but it's nice to have options, and the LC-A is a fun addition to any lo-fi camera collection.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ghost In The Machine

These were taken back in late April or early May of this year.  (Notice the trees are just beginning to bud out.)  This was the first pack of the ill-stored and expired 669 which I took out to experiment.  Blue cast is very strong and other colors are muted.  The odd developing streaks that you see on the left or top of the photos was on all of them.  When I changed to a new pack I cleaned the camera's rollers and that seemed to help, but it may have just been a quirk of that film pack.  The streaks actually work, I think, for some of these shots, giving them an ethereal, ghostly feel.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Boats In Morning Sun

More Polaroids.  These are a couple of the better ones from the same outing from the last two postings.  The one on top is my favorite and seems the most like the types of shots I used be able to expect from this film in the past.  Because the film is old, the colors tend to be extremely washed out.  This was taken in strong morning sun and the colors on the boats are actually much brighter and distinct in real life.  I like the effect achieved here, though.