Reflections 2013

Backlit SagebrushThe end of the calendar year is always a time to remember, to reflect, and to look forward to what a new year brings. The actual date is irrelevant; in my country and culture the year ends on 31 December. Other countries and cultures might use a different day, but the effect is the same — a year is ending and a new year is beginning.

The Semisonic Song has a famous line Every new beginning comes from some other new beginning’s end. I used that line any number of times in my writings over the years and probably will again. It fits so many things so well. So it goes with the ending of a year and the beginning of a new year.

The celebrations tend to excess. I won’t be celebrating like that. I will retrieve Young Son from his journey to SoCal and we’ll return home. I expect we will spend a little time reflecting on the year together and remembering Wife/Mom. It seems appropriate.

As I think on 2013, it was a year of changes — some of them life-changing. I saw Wife through the end of her cancer and her life. That was a watershed event, culminating almost two years of diagnosis, treatment, rediagnosis, re-treatment, and uncertainty. She died on 19 January 2013 after the last-ditch efforts of her medical team failed. It was one of the hardest things to say goodbye.

It took me months to get my feet back under me. My struggle with the life change of losing my life-mate continues. It is not as intense as it was early in 2013, but so many things remind me of my previous life. It was not a life I wanted to give up; like Wife, it was taken from me when she died. I do not yet know what I am to be or to do, but I keep working on it.

Work all but dried up in 2013. I offered my resignation twice; both times it was rejected. I am expensive and I worry my expense drags the company down. But I’m also not quite ready to move on. Perhaps my principal engineer is right and we are about to turn the corner on work. I am willing to give it another six months, reevaluate at that time, and assess the current project climate. I am confident I can find enough contract work to keep myself fed if it comes to that. Or I could take on a teaching job, work on that nine months of the year, and spend my other time traveling, photographing, writing, and doing some contract work.

My Girl contracted leptospirosis on our way home from a Texas marketing trip. She was a sick girl and I thought I might lose her. I was unprepared for that. She pulled through the infection and is herself again. The thought of losing her so soon after losing Wife was unbearable.

I began shooting film again in 2013. I experimented with film a bit in 2012, but never posted any results. I bought my first medium-format camera in 2013 and expect to shoot medium format quite a bit in 2014. I’ll shoot 35mm when I need the portability of the smaller camera.

Late in 2013 I bought a medium-format film scanner. I’m still learning to use it and I think it has a problem with its sensor. If so, it will be exchanged. I will be spending time in 2014 learning to use the scanner so I can scan new images and old. I have many, many old negatives and slides that should be scanned to be preserved.

I made a few prints in 2013 from some of my favorite frames. This is now an important part of my life, the making of photographs. I don’t yet know what 2014 will bring in this regard, but I am considering posting a few of my best prints locally to determine if there is any interest in them as fine art.

I added quite a few new recordings to my collection. In particular, I picked up the back catalog of Mason Proffit. Over the years, I really enjoyed much of the Talbot brothers’ work. They were the core of Mason Proffit. I can see how MP became an influence on much of the music that followed them.

I found myself looking for Andrew York’s recordings. Andecy is one of my favorite solo guitar songs. He has a few recordings made over the last 20 years and I picked them up. They are wonderful recordings and the material is interesting.

I am going to take a few online photography classes in 2014. I am working my way through a Photoshop tutorial at the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 now. The objective of the tutorial is to learn alternative methods to simple desaturation to obtain quality black and white images. In January there will be an online class. The instructor will review four captures and post-processing of them and share results in a webinar. This is an easy way for me to get some training.

Learning is important, particularly as we age. I think learning new skills and expanding one’s knowledge keeps the brain active and healthy. It’s also good physically, particularly if you use skills (like photography) to get out and move around.

In January I’ll drive down to Ash Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary for a project I’m working on down there. The Girl will go with me. We’re going to drive back through Death Valley, then through Owens Valley. I’ll use the trip to do a little geocaching and make some images. The Girl will do her usual things — looking for rabbits, peeing, pooping, and sniffing… and keeping track of me.

In January I’ll end my Year of Firsts. I think I will celebrate on 19 January 2014. It will not be a celebration of Wife’s death, but a celebration of her life, her passage into whatever is next for us, and my survival of my first year without her. I will have experienced each of those special days that were important to us as a couple, felt the loss, felt the absence of my friend and soul mate, and survived.

My friend Jim wrote to me “It’ll suck less, but it’ll still suck…” He’s right and that simple statement is something I held on to all year and will continue to hold on to in 2014.

I expect there will be several Texas trips in 2014. I need to show my face to potential partners and clients.

I expect to make at least one trip to Denver to see Older Son and DiL, one to Rolla, Missouri (to see Wife’s family and some of mine), and a trip to the east coast to see Daughter and her family. I’m hoping to make those road trips because road trips are healing to me. I want to take the Girl as well. She’s an excellent traveler. I will also take my cameras along with me.

I expect a Sony A7r will be in my future sometime in 2014. I think my Sony NEX-5N is an excellent camera; surprisingly so. The largish APS-C sensor is as big as most dSLRs in a very tidy package. It has some quirks, but as a box to hold a sensor it’s very good. The metering and exposure systems work very well and it makes accurate exposures. I really like the electronic viewfinder with focus peaking. Because the camera uses manual focus lenses in stop-down mode, the EVF increases the gain so the viewfinder is bright and easy to use. Focus peaking makes getting critical focus much easier than an optical viewfinder (at least for me). Depth of field is relatively easy to gauge. Although Sony’s line of lenses is restrictive and their zooms plainly suck, use of vintage glass through adapters make these little cameras something very special.

I am expecting the Sony A7r to improve on my NEX-5N. It has a full-frame sensor and more pixels than I need. It will mean that cropping will be much easier for those captures where I just couldn’t get close enough. It will be an interesting pairing with the Pentax medium-format film camera, as well as the Nikon film cameras.

I will be developing my black and white film using caffenol, a coffee-based developer. I expect that work to “develop” in a couple more weeks. I have the chemistry in the house and only need a couple more tools to make it all work. Those should be delivered in a few more days.

I plan to take a weapons training class sometime in 2014. These classes are very good for me physically and mentally. Knowledge of use of firearm and blade for personal defense is critically important in a culture that celebrates violence. Although it’s unlikely I’ll ever experience an assault, the probability is not zero. It would be irresponsible for me to be unprepared. My personal view is that such unpreparedness is akin to eschewing insurance.

I worked out that I am on-track to fully retire in ten years. I could partially retire in six more years. I examined both worst-case and expected scenarios for my retirement portfolio and I should be OK financially. Of course, the end of the world could happen and break those plans. But that uncertainty is part of life. If it happens, I’ll figure out how to deal with it.

I am sure there will be other new things for me in 2014. One thing about life that’s interesting is that no matter how well it’s planned, shit happens. Sometimes it’s good shit and sometimes not. But, shit happens.

Enough ruminating for today and for the year. Happy New Year! Be safe, enjoy, and be blessed!

A Flicker

A couple of weeks ago I put my Konica Hexanon 300mm f/4.5 telephoto lens on my Sony NEX-5N and the tripod. I have a Vanguard TBH-250 on top of a set of Manfrotto 3021 legs. It’s a good combination of ball head and sturdy legs. It’s a lot stronger than I need for the Sony, but it’s very stable with that combination.

I put a polarizing filter on the lens and then watched the birds working the feeder on the side fence. Wife and I used to love watching these birds work and kept the feeders full. I thought this bird to be a European Starling, but my friend Leslaw tells me it’s a Northern Flicker. It’s related to the Red-Headed Woodpecker. (And that reminds me of a Wife story…)

The Hexanon is a very good telephoto lens. I was shooting at about f/8, ISO 400, and probably about 1/2,000th of a second. Enjoy…



On morning walkies yesterday, I noticed a raptor fly in and light on one of the power poles. I had my Sony NEX-5N with a Komine-build Vivitar 200mm f/3.5. As I approached, the big bird watched me. I paused every few steps to make a capture. Then I’d advance another few steps. Finally, at about 150 feet, the bird bailed. I wasn’t quite ready to capture the lift off, but it was certainly beautiful.

My friend Leslaw tells me this is Swainson’s Hawk. It’s favorite food is grasshoppers. It’s a little late for grasshoppers here and I’m surprised the raptor hasn’t migrated to South America.


Mountain Rocks

Mountain Rocks

Merry Christmas and remember why we celebrate the day. It was a baby boy born some 2,000 years ago that changed the world.

My friend Jimmy loaned me a Tokina build 70–210mm f/3.5 Vivitar Series 1 zoom lens in Nikon mount a couple of days ago. I was complaining about Tokina lenses. (The truth is I have another Tokina-branded lens in about this focal length, but a bit slower, and its sharpness is nothing to write home about. But I digress…) He told me to go shoot it and then report back. So I did.

It was a bit late for good light, but I noticed enough interesting contrast on the hillside a mile or so away to make a capture. I wanted to play some with black and white conversions in Photoshop and needed a few frames. So, here is an early example of a Photoshop conversion to black and white. I used a bit of curves to adjust the white and black points. I adjusted the contrast curve slightly. Then I used the Photoshop black and white tool to make the conversion.

It’s basically the equivalent of a yellow filter (for film) with the yellow dialed back just enough to moderate the highlights in the brightest of the rocks. I’m taking a class to learn to do some of these things. I’m not really Photoshop literate. I think it’s time I learned something about this tool.

Ki and Me

KiI didn’t get the post quite right in this image. I think the mid-tones are a little off. Yet I like the image because it captures some of the character of my Girl.

The terrier in her wants to be lead — the alpha. I accuse her of “following from the front,” just like I used to my children. She doesn’t really know where we’re going, although she knows many of our regular paths. She runs out ahead searching for “wabbits” I suspect, sniffing, peeing, and sometimes pooping to tell other passers-by “Ki was here.”

To keep her honest, I often call her back in with a “Heel!” If that doesn’t do it, then she gets a touch from the collar. That usually brings her back with a snort. I’ll tell her “Don’t you snort at me!” She often responds with what I call a “blow” — a strong exhale. That’s as if to say “Yeah, right.”

She is a terrier. I call her my “terrible terrier” many times. But she’s really not terrible.

If I wasn’t the leader, then she would be. That’s nature of alpha dogs, be they male or female. She doesn’t really challenge my authority, but she tells me what she wants. I sometimes accuse her of “telling me what I want.” Then again, I used to accuse Wife of same.

Speaking of Wife, I think about her a lot right now. A year ago we were really in the thick of it. With lymphoma cells in her central nervous system, she was scheduled for a marathon MRI study on Friday. I could tell it was bad, although I couldn’t tell her that. I think she knew anyway, although she generally kept her thoughts to herself. It became more difficult for her to interact — speech was difficult. It became more difficult for her to see as well. She complained of double vision.

I knew all this most likely meant she had lymphoma in her brain. The fever, nausea, and physical effects were apparent to me, whether the doctors would confirm or not. I knew Wife was dying.

It would be confirmed for me in a few days when the report of a brain lesion came back from the MRI study. The finality of her disease would be revealed in a couple more weeks. Although I couldn’t be certain, I knew what was happening. My sense of impending loss was heavy. I recall it so clearly now and I feel that heaviness. I suppose this is common, but it’s a first time for me. I am still in my “year of firsts.”

So, on this Christmas Eve I recall the events of last year. I don’t think my intent is to make myself feel bad. Hell, I already do that enough without any help. I think I want to hang on to those memories for they are a part of what defines Wife’s character and my character. They are watershed events that lead up to my change of status from husband to widower.

In a few more weeks I will complete my “year of firsts.” I wrote, I think poorly, about moving forward but not moving on. I am leaving behind my former life as husband and the husbanding of Wife. That is a fact. But I don’t want to move on — that has a sense of deliberation that I don’t have. That is, a sense of deliberate change as if I had left her. I did not. I would not. That is not in my nature.

No, I see this as a time to move forward. I was released from my responsibility as husband when Wife died. Almost all the things that needed to be done after her death are complete. The amount of things to deal with is reducing weekly. Eventually I will achieve my goal of dropping things that are no longer wanted or nor longer useful. I see that as the sign it’s time to move forward to new things.

That means it’s time to figure out what those new things should be. I have part of a plan assembled. It isn’t complete, at least not yet. But it’s a beginning. That will have to be good enough.

Ki needs me. I think I need her more than she needs me. But it’s a good partnership and we have a great interspecies friendship. For now, it is Ki and me.

Moving Forward, Not On

BewareI intended to write something this weekend, but chores got the better of me and I didn’t get it done. I’ve been thinking quite a lot as Christmas approaches. You see, Christmas was Wife’s holiday. I think she lived for the season. She loved to give gifts at Christmas.

As I reflect on the year past, it’s clear I’ve been dealing with the fallout from losing a spouse. There was more than just the business affairs to handle. There was an accumulation of 40 years of stuff, much of which I no longer want or need. So, in parallel to dealing with my emotions, my grief, I spent a lot of time dealing with things. Many of them were donated to charity. In fact, most of them were.

I’m approaching the end of this phase. I’m also approaching the anniversary of her death. It’s not an anniversary to celebrate, not in the normal sense of celebration. I will, however, celebrate her life and remember her. As my friend Jim says, “It sucks less, but it still sucks.”

I sense the need to move forward. I’m not really moving on, because that implies something I am not doing. These changes didn’t come by any choice, but by circumstance. I’m not leaving Wife behind because she’s no longer here. I am, however, prepared to move forward to whatever is next for me.

I’m still working out what that should be. For one thing, my expenses are reduced and I’ll be saving more of my pay. It’s time to get serious about padding my retirement account so I’ll have funds to draw from when the time comes I cannot (or don’t want to) work so much.

For another thing I intend to pursue more art. I am working on my photographic skills. As the chores around the house are reduced, I’ll feel free to do more weekend trips. I want to drive out to the coast and spend some weekends out there with a camera. I want to drive up into Oregon and Idaho, and maybe Washington to explore and make images. There will also be some geocaching to do as I wander about. I have a lot of Nevada left to explore.

I might face a change of engagement some time along the way. Work has been slow this year. There are some projects in the pipeline that should provide me with chargeable time. I’m hoping that 2014 will provide enough work to justify my continued employment. If it doesn’t, it will be time to think of a change. I’m not OK with drawing pay and not having enough to do.

In any event, I’m ready to move forward. I want to do some things besides working here at the house and staying home most of the weekends. It’s time.

Pentax 645

Pentax 645Although it wasn’t in my plan to buy a medium-format SLR so soon, one became available a couple of weeks ago on fleaBay. The initial price was a bit high (think KEH retail) so I just watched. The seller lowered the price twice, the second time with a starting bid of $400. So, I set a snipe bid and waited. I won the auction and took delivery of a nice Pentax 645NII medium-format SLR.

Unfortunately it came with no lens. What use is a camera with no lens? This set into motion a bout of GAS (Glass or Gear Acquisition Syndrome for the uninitiated), which, unfortunately, generally causes gas (yes, the ruminating variety) in the afflictee.

One morning about a week ago I found myself obsessing over the purchase of the gear and supporting infrastructure. I’d been waffling for a couple months on film scanners. Nikon Coolscan 9000s are selling for about $3K and up, which is about 3x their original retail price. They’re great scanners, but are discontinued and so parts will become difficult to find sooner than later.

Given I’d bought a medium-format camera, I had two ways to go — I could send out the films for scans (or have them scanned when processed) or I could buy a film scanner. I have a ton of old 35mm negatives and slides that need to be scanned and archived. I am committed to shooting film, both 35mm and medium format (and eventually large format). The test scanner I bought last year is fine for mounted slides, but the film transport is awful. It can be done, but requires a lot of fiddling to get the frames centered. It’s not acceptable.

So, I gave myself a mental kick-in-the-pants and pulled the trigger on the last of the medium-format rig and ordered a Plustek Opticfilm 120 film scanner. It has a decent reputation although it started weak. Apparently there was a problem with some of the early film holders that prevented sharp focus of the scanner’s imaging system. They figured it out and although they haven’t completely rectified the problem, they’re testing each unit before releasing it for sale and that solved the problem.

I am publicly committing to spending a year working with film in both 35mm and medium format (6×4.5) sizes. I wrote in my journal this morning that I completed the easy part — buying the equipment and researching film and developers.

Now it’s time to get after it and go shoot film. It will be work, but making art is work. I can do the technical part. I need to determine whether I can do the art part.

I have some early experiments that I’ll use to make some test scans this weekend (or next week if I get out to shoot this weekend). I know I have an archive of black and white negatives from the 70s and 80s somewhere in my house. I want to scan my archive because it contains some interesting images from almost 40-years ago.

This is what I said I wanted to do. I’ve been working up to it for about a year. Now the question is whether I can and will do it, or be just another wannabe. I’m fixin’ to find out.