Sunday, November 28, 2010


It's been funny to watch the child learn how to use a camera phone. Taking pictures, for her, will be second nature - like eating or breathing. She's on her second decommissioned iPhone and has no problem turning it on and going to the camera app. I'll hear the click of the "mirror" and the whine of the "motor drive" and then she'll announce the subject of the picture: "Papa" or "Sadie's foot!" She's currently working on a couple of "series" – the ceiling fan in her room (whilst having her diaper changed) and an abstract, Rothko-esque series of black and orange (her finger over the lens.) I think to myself that if she sticks with it over the next 15 or 20 years she'll turn out to be a much more accomplished photographer than her father, who waited into his thirties before taking up a camera with any real seriousness.

But I also realize how different taking a picture is now compared to when I was teaching myself photography. There is an immediacy to taking snaps with a phone that is at once literal and at the same time virtual - looking at a tiny screen to frame the shot. It is akin to all the other screens we stare at every day of our lives (computers, televisions, DVD players) – life-like but not completely real. And disposable. The image itself (if you can actually call it that) is what? Is where? Bits of electronic information? A series of ones and zeroes? Even as a professional photographer, you simply trust that digital images are there... somewhere.

Shooting film was an altogether more precious affair. It wasn't just the care and precautions you took in handling such light sensitive material but the care and caution you took to make sure each frame was exposed properly – or at the very least, adequately. You had to know or be reasonably sure because there was no little picture on the back of the camera. And for anyone who processed and printed their own black and white film, taking a picture became an exercise in thinking in negative. "Expose for the shadows - develop for the highlights" was the mantra you lived by. Holding up a freshly developed roll of film to the light, you knew if you had succeeded or failed. Were the highlights so dense and black that you'd never be able to see any detail in them? Was there absolutely nothing in the shadow areas? Would making a decent print prove to be impossible? And every image was precious because of the time or effort or expense involved. But at the end of the day it was something you held in your hand or hung on the wall.

Perhaps I'll set up the darkroom some day and stand in the strange, warm orange light and watch my daughter's wonder as images appear from nothing in the developing tray, as if by magic.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Sorry about that. It's been a wild several weeks here. For starters we had our second child. I say "we" in the loosest sense of the word. As the father-to-be you try to act important and useful but of course you have no medical training and all the real work is going to be done by your wife. If I learned anything from the birth of my first daughter, it was to do my best to not pass out during labor – it drains resources and manpower better spent on the mother. But all went well and the newest member of the family is home and happy.

Of course it's been a steady stream of friends and family and in the midst of it all our first daughter had her second birthday which has meant a steady stream of gifts and presents that puts your average Christmas to shame. And I say "had" although it seems to still be going strong a good week after the actual day. My wife and I could easily have gotten her nothing and she wouldn't have missed it. But we're not part of the solution – we're definitely part of the problem.

The wife had had it in her head for some time that we were getting her a toy kitchen. We had been around and around about what to get and driven the length and breadth of greater Boston to look at the various options. The choices seem to fall into one of two categories: shoddy and cheap, or nice and expensive. And for me there's an added aesthetic dimension: garishly bright or pink versus stylish and natural. And all the while you're asking yourself (and your spouse), "how much do we really want to spend on a toy stove?"

As I'm loathe to bring more cheap Chinese crap into the house, we had decided upon an Ikea stove (the only discernible difference between cheap Chinese crap and cheap Swedish crap is that at least the cheap Swedish crap has style.) But I had begun to notice the stuff they have at day care – clean, natural, varnished, furniture-grade plywood. Sturdy, well-built and with a minimum of fussy (and breakable) parts. So I finally looked to see who the manufacturer was –Community Playthings.

Now I don't want to get to up on my political horse and ride all over the blogosphere, but this little company in upstate New York is what America and it's economy should look like. The quality maple they use is grown within a small radius of their woodshops – their woodshops, as in, made-in-America. Local, sustainable and friendly as hell. When we realized we had ordered a stove too big and called to get a different model, they cheerfully shipped the new one and return-shipped the first stove, all at no charge. Every time my wife got off the phone with the customer service woman she was warm and fuzzy for at least several hours.

So we paid more for the beautiful and well-built toy stove. I know that when my daughters are finished with it that someday my grandchildren (and perhaps their grandchildren) will get just as much enjoyment out of it as they did. I feel so good about it that I'm not the least bit resentful that they have a better stove than I do ... I think.