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January 16th, 2024

Diane Arbus And The Darkness Within

I found this on my porch this morning so either the delivery person left it late last night or sometime before 6am today.

Of the great film photographers, there are four whose influence have always been with me, going back to my teen years. David Plowden, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Frank…and one I tend to mention with some hesitation: Diane Arbus.

Her photography is like an ice pick to the soul, or at least it is to the painfully romantic such as myself. But she was unquestionably one of the grand masters of the art form. She knew what she was about, and she hit her mark with precision.

If I were to choose one image that most represents her to me, it wouldn’t be the boy with the toy hand grenade, or the work she did with asylum patients, the images of midgets, transvestites, old people. It would be the shot of the Hollywood set house on a hill. It’s an unusual one for her in that there are no people in it, its subject is in the distance, and the sky and space around the subject are essential to it. I don’t think there is anything else in her oeuvre quite like it.

Diane Arbus: A house on a hill, Hollywood, Cal. 1963 

This one shot to me is the heart of it. Everything she ever did emerges from what she is saying in that one shot. 

I could not be more distant from her in my own work, and yet it speaks to me and I admit a lot of it resembles her. I admire David Plowden for his straight on composition and for the deeply felt, timeless silence within. I love the drama in the photography of Margaret Bourke-White, and her mastery of the black and white process, which is every bit as good as Ansel Adams’. Robert Frank’s work captures moments that show us the humanity of its subjects in their environment. He is as humane as Diane Arbus is alienated. I don’t think anyone who knew her was surprised by her suicide. Saddened and grief stricken surely, but how can you look at the body of her work and not be surprised at how she ended it.

Her work speaks to me because I am usually wandering down the same dark paths she did. Why I didn’t fall in like she did I have no idea, other than different metals behave differently in the fire. Maybe I’m just too curious to be completely demoralized. Or maybe I just accept the indifference of the universe in a way she never could. There is no despair in my photos, at least I hope that’s not what anyone sees in them. What I do in my art photography is, as best as I can tell from a lifetime of doing it, maybe something akin to brutalism, a sensation of the gods talking past you, conversing among themselves and not even seeing you, timeless, eternal, indifferent. It’s the silence that moves me. I am more like David Plowden than Diane Arbus. There is no silence in her work, just a lot of despair.

She was one of the grand masters. I admire her because she knew what she was about and she hit it with precision every time. That not only takes skill, it takes a lot of self examination to be that good at it. I have one of her photography books, and I bought this because it promises to tell me more about the artist and hopefully I get a better idea of why she fell into the darkness she saw everywhere.

by Bruce | Link | React!

October 18th, 2021

Weekend Of Nostalgia, Ten Minutes Of Terror

Well…serious doubt. I have a bunch of undeveloped film I need to get to, but which I’ve been putting off because Kodak mucked with the formula for HC-110, my go-to developer ever since I was a teenager. I know this developer. I get exactly what I want out of every film I commonly use, and I am comfortable enough with it that I don’t worry about using it with a new film I’m trying out. I adore this product. So when Kodak fucked with it I was pissed off. Then I worried.

Allegedly they made the change to make producing it more environmentally friendly. And it just happened to take away another virtue of the developer some of us loved: the nearly limitless lifespan of the concentrate. For decades we ignored the expiration date on the bottles of concentrate because we knew it would probably still be good for years afterward. From now on we would have to pay attention to that date.

And there was more. You use HC-110 by first making a “stock” solution from the concentrate. Then to develop, you dilute the stock further. Dilution ‘A’ is one part stock to three parts water. ‘B’ is one part stock to seven parts water. The more it is diluted, the longer the processing time, which works better for some films. Dilution ‘A’ gives you a very rapid development time. I always use ‘B’ as a “one-shot” developer. That is, use it once and discard it. That gives you consistent results over re-use which slowly exhausts a developer.

Kodak insisted that nothing regarding dilutions and processing times had changed with the new formulation. But the chatter on the photographer forums was full of doubts about that, especially when you actually mixed up some of it, because whereas the original formulation was syrupy and with an amber tint and a very distinctive (and unpleasant) odor, the new formulation seemed just to be water.

But from the photographer forums I heard that it was all good as far as dilutions and processing times. So I bought a bottle and for months it just sat in my basement darkroom while I worked up the nerve to try it. And thus, my backlog of undeveloped film grew.

And I dawdled. This happens to me when I have to shift gears because something’s changed that I didn’t expect to change and now I have to adapt to this sudden change, but first I need to overthink how. 

Then one day on a Facebook group dedicated to memories of growing up in Rockville, someone posted a shot he’d taken of a train wreck that had happened in the early 1970s on the main line out of DC. I’d covered that wreck with my Mamiya Press Camera for a local county newspaper. It took 120 roll film and had swappable film backs which came in handy when you’re in the middle of something. Plus, it gave me large 6×7 negatives which provided lots of detail with very little grain, even if I was using a fast film like Tri-X Pan.

So I remembered working that train wreck. And there, in that guy’s photo, to my delight, was I, walking back up the tracks and presumably to my car after getting some close in shots of the wreck, the Mamiya slung over a shoulder. 

Photo by Tom Lockard
From the Facebook Group “You know you grew up in Rockville if you…”

It was like seeing a window into my past, into a happier time…when that great big beautiful tomorrow really was in front of me…or so I thought…

I still have that Mamiya Press Camera. It is one of only two cameras I still have from back in my teenage days when I was aspiring to be a newspaper photographer, the other being the Canon F-1 I bought after a summer flipping burgers at a local fast food joint. The lens on it had frozen up and so I’d consigned it to the top of my camera cabinet, along with my first camera, the little Kodak Brownie Fiesta. But it had nostalgia value to me. I took photos with it that got into the local newspapers. We’d worked together back in the day. So even if it was no longer functional, I was keeping it.

It sat for a couple decades up on top of my camera cabinet, reminding me of a happier time. Now I had to see if I could get it working again. 

I looked online to see if I could buy another lens for it, since I doubted anyone would repair the one I had. As it turned out, someone had a nearly mint condition lens for it and I snapped it up.

So I had my Press Camera working again, now I needed to run some film through it to see if everything was still working. And also admittedly, to revisit the feeling of being a teenager again, working with that camera and imagining that someday I would be a professional newspaper photographer. As it turned out what I revisited is it’s actually somewhat difficult camera to work with since the viewfinder really doesn’t give you a good idea of where the frame is, and the rangefinder is very dim, which makes focusing it something you have to be careful about. But having those swappable film backs, like the Hasselblad has, is very nice when you’re in the middle of something. 

The trip to York turned into a two day affair. I went back with the Hasselblad and the Canon F-1N, and I knew I had stuff I really wanted to get developed and scanned. So now I had more film to develop, and today I dug into it with the new HC-110. Almost immediately I began to worry. The stuff really did look like it was just water.

Worse, although allegedly the concentrate didn’t expire until late 2023, some small amount of something had crystalized out of it while the bottle had been sitting there, and I didn’t notice until I’d emptied the bottle into a mixing bucket and felt something rattling inside. I tried adding water to get whatever it was back into solution but it wouldn’t budge.

Now I was really concerned it was a bad batch. But I pressed on and decided to test it with the two 120 rolls of Tri-x Pan I ran through the Press Camera, which were themselves a test of the camera. I had images on them I didn’t want to lose, but which I wasn’t entirely happy with either because it’s difficult for me to compose to a “normal” focal length lens and that’s all that camera has. I reckoned that if nothing came out of the tank I could always run another couple test rolls through the camera and try a different developer. After venting to Kodak about what they did to my go-to film developer.

So I mixed up my chemicals and did the thing I’ve done so often I probably do it in my dreams too and just don’t notice that its dreaming. I have a nice Weston thermometer and the old Kodak Darkroom Dataguide and it looked to be five minutes of developer, followed by a splash in stop bath, and four minutes of Rapid Fixer. As I poured developer into the tank I was nearly convinced I would only see blank film when I opened the tank up again.

But when it was time to pour the developer back out of the tank it came out a dark rose red. Not exactly what the old formulation did, but close and I was encouraged. It meant Something was going on in there.

After the fixer I took the tank to my utility sink where I had the film washer going, and opened it. Success. Exactly the density the negatives were supposed to have.


Now I can get to the other stuff. I have some good ones in those rolls. Post some of it maybe this weekend after I’ve got some of it scanned.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 20th, 2020

That Feeling Of Wholeness

…or at least somewhat. I don’t have a boyfriend, I probably never will. But I have a full paper darkroom now…sorta…and you take the feelings of completeness where you can find any.

So…following up on my post a while back about finally establishing a paper darkroom at Casa del Garrett…I did some of this over the weekend…


These are the first fiber base silver prints I’ve done in decades. Fiber based photo paper gives, in my very strong opinion, much Much better dynamic range in terms of darks versus whites than RC (Resin Coated) paper does. Although I’ll grant that RC paper, and mult-contrast paper, have improved immensely since I was a young man finding his way around the darkroom.

But I’m still hassling the details. This one would be perfect except it’s got a rust spot on it from a clip I used to weigh it down in the wash. A second attempt is in the print dryer. Because glossy fiber base prints must be dried in a print dryer, roller squeegeed face down on an absolutely clean and smooth chromium plate.

Photo-Flo makes an acceptable substitute for Pakosol, but I am still unhappy it isn’t made anymore. Nothing put the gloss on glossy paper like Pakosol.

I think I have that “first good print” now that I promised the co-worker who gave me her granddad’s Beseler 23c, but I’m still deciding.

I’d forgotten what a chore cleaning up after making silver prints is. Let alone the entire process of washing and drying fiber paper prints. I’ll be very surprised if my water bill isn’t a bit more next month.

I need to think about this for a while…now that I’ve done some silver prints, and against my experience with digital printing. Digital printing is no easy peasy thing either if you want everything just perfect. But the difficulties in getting to what you want are different in each process.

Sometime next week I want to set down my thoughts about it. Now that I have a paper darkroom set up I reckon I’ll keep doing silver prints. But it really is an altogether different thing. Each individual print is its own work of craft and art. You have to work each print as though it’s a custom, one-off work, even if you are printing dozens off the same negative. I suppose this gives the silver print its value. If the negative is a difficult one…needing lots of dodging and burning to get it right (I had to do some on that Grand Canyon shot, but it wasn’t extensive), and some delicate touch-up work with a spotting brush afterward, you might really have to sweat each and every print you make.

Again…I suppose this is what gives the silver print its value…provided the print maker is good at it. At the moment I rate myself above average…but that’s mostly coasting on what I learned back when I was a young man. I think I can get better the more I work with it…and I reckon I probably will if only for the personal and artistic challenge of it. The only thing that’s changed for me since those days is I have a Much better enlarger now. Well…and multi-contrast and RC papers have apparently improved immensely. I was actually stunned at how much dynamic range these have now.

But the computer can make so many little corrections, spot touching, tonal adjustments, dodging and burning masks, that sort of thing, plus sharpening algorithms that correct for handheld blur you might not have even noticed until you got into bigger enlargements, that it’s probably going to remain my primary tool going forward, even now that I have the paper darkroom I’ve always dreamed of having. Both of these media make me think about the final image differently, in their own ways, and that’s a good thing. But it’s the paper darkroom I realize now, that makes me a better photographer. That is why I’m going to keep doing this. But…not routinely because…whew…it IS a mess to clean up afterward let me tell you…

I remember long ago, when I got my first really nice German enlarging lens, a Rodenstock Rodigon 50mm. I remember how shocked I was at all the flaws in my negatives it revealed. It made me a better photographer. Likewise, I’m seeing things now that I would have otherwise just written off after I looked at the scans with a thought of “Oh I’ll fix that in the computer”. Everything starts with the initial photograph, whether it’s digital or film. Get the focus right, keep the camera steady, get the exposure right, and what the camera gave you won’t fight you every step of the way when it’s time to make a print or pull off an image file to post somewhere.

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 20th, 2020

The Things You Realize In Hindsight

I’m pretty much finished setting up a full paper darkroom down in the basement now. And somehow the entire house just feels different.

I’ve been posting this play by play adventure to my Facebook page because it’s so much easier to just snap a picture of the work in progress with the cell phone and put it up there. But this is a big event in my psyche and in the thread of my life and that’s exactly what I set up this blog to write down and it’s inexcusable that I’ve neglected it here. So this is a start at remedy.

A couple years ago a co-worker offered me her grandfather’s photographic enlarger. She was moving out of state and needed to shed some extra things and among them were what was left of her grandfather’s darkroom stuff that she’d inherited but never really used. She wanted it all to go somewhere it would be appreciated and used and she knew I was a photographer. So she made me the offer of all of it including the enlarger.

At the time I’d made my peace with not having a complete darkroom. My rowhouse was small and there was no room in the basement to build such a thing. The previous owners had finished the front half which I was using as an art room. I had the drafting table set up there, and a desk for the art room Mac, and the two scanners, one for my cartoons and the other for my B&W negatives. There was a small half-ish bathroom in the back that I set up to develop film. It had a tiny shower that I didn’t really need, and for a time I thought about taking it out, along with the good ol’ boys bar in the front half, and building a paper darkroom in that space. But I decided I wanted to keep the bar, and the shower stall became a storage closet instead. Developing film and then scanning it in and doing the rest in the computer proved to be so much better than the labor intensive and now very expensive process of developing prints on silver bromide paper. Plus, the only photographic paper I wanted to use in my printmaking, Agfa Brovira, was no longer in production. The Agfa was so much better than Any of the competition I just didn’t feel it was worth the effort if I couldn’t get any. By then I had an excellent large format inkjet printer that makes very high quality B&W prints, so I was satisfied.

I told her as much, but then fatally added that if the enlarger was a Beseler 23c I’d take it, because that Beseler was the only enlarger I ever wanted. And it was true. I lusted after that one back when I was a youngster. Unlike the others it had a two rail construction which made it as sturdy as a tank. You could tilt the enlarging head on its side to project on a wall and do huge prints…providing you had a way to develop them. But living on a youngster’s budget and having only the bathroom of the apartment mom and I lived in to use as a darkroom, the Beseler just wasn’t in the cards.

Well…guess what kind of enlarger it was.

The deal was I would give her the first good print off of it. So I accepted and when I got it and everything she had boxed with it home I took an inventory and tried to figure out what I still needed and where the hell was I going to put everything. The back basement shower stall seemed the likely place to set up an enlarger table. I could turn off the water service to it easily and build some shelving to support it and store things like paper and trays and such underneath. But where would I develop paper? The little bathroom was too small to lay out trays.

I wasn’t sure I could do it. Or where I would put things. And I still needed some things I didn’t have anymore. I’d saved a bunch from back in the day when the thinking was someday maybe I’ll own a house and build a darkroom. But I hadn’t saved everything. I had the darkroom timer…a nice Time-O-Lite I preferred over the GraLab everyone else liked when I was a kid, mostly because it was all metal and the mechanism just fascinated me. I had the Very nice Rodenstock Rodegon 55mm enlarging lens I’d bought back in the day, but I needed a good 75mm one for the medium format negatives I had and that would be expensive. Plus a lens board for it. I would need negative trays for the Beseler in 6×6 and 6×7 format. I needed a new print dryer. The print flattening and glossing agent I used to use, Pakosol, wasn’t made anymore. Agfa Brovira wasn’t made anymore and what was worse in my opinion was everything that was available now was multigrade paper which Kodak Polycontrast had taught me to hate. The Beseler did however, have a much better arrangement for using them: a tray that was just below and above the negative carrier. Back in the day I had to use a clip on tray for my Polycontrast filters that sat below the enlarging lens and I just knew it was subtracting resolution from the print. But I would need to buy a set of multigrade filters too.

All told, I reckoned I would have to spend just over a thousand bucks to get everything back together again. The 75mm enlarger lens would be about half that expense, but I wasn’t settling for anything less than a Rodenstock if I was going to do this. Then there would be the cost of the paper. Everything about analog photography is expensive now. Probably because it’s only a few of us diehards that are still doing it,

I was a perfect storm of indecision. It’s really hard for me to break out of one of those. So I dawdled over it. For two years now I’ve dawdled over it. And I began to feel guilty which only made me avoid it more. Then something just…came over me…and I had to do it. Maybe it was the lockdown. Maybe it was just the sight of that poor enlarger sitting on my dryer with a plastic bag over its head all this time. I decided to go ahead and spend the money for the things I still needed, and work through how to set up a darkroom in the back half of the basement.

When I lived with mom in the apartment in Rockville the bathroom sink was wide enough for me to place three 8×10 trays on it, with one actually in the sink. The enlarger sat on the toilet seat. I cut a drain hole in a plastic wash tub and put that in the bathtub to wash my prints. The sink in the back basement here at Casa del Garrett was much too small for that. There was just no room in there, really, even to develop film. I’d made it light proof so I could load a film tank, which I then took out to the bar in the front half and did my processing there. I could was the film in the film washer I’d kept from my kidhood, which I could connect to the faucet of the utility room sink in the back. But for paper I needed more space. Which meant I needed to make the entire back basement light proof. 

Luckily that wasn’t such a big problem. The basement is two-thirds underground and the only outside light that gets in the back is through a small window that I could cover over. I made a light seal out of quarter inch black foam core and darkroom cloth I had left over from when I made the bathroom light proof. Then I sat in total darkness back there for about ten minutes while my eyes adjusted to make sure it was all light proof. After a while I was able to detect a couple small light leaks. I patched them and did the experiment again. It was all good.

I needed to figure out how to layout a darkroom there. The bathroom took up a lot of the space already. But the shower stall in it could hold the enlarger. The washer, utility sink and furnace were on one side of the back basement opposite where the shower stall was built. In the other back corner I had my dryer, and a chest freezer…the tops of both were about even and at the right height to set my developing trays.  I could put a safelight in the rafters above.  I began work on setting up the enlarger in the shower stall, but first I needed a place to put everything I was storing there. So I had to build some more shelving and redistribute some things elsewhere in the house. Here’s the mostly finished result…

Running electric cords to the Time-O-Light was all I needed to do. The Time-O-Light controls both the enlarger and the safelight I put up near the ceiling. The shelves can store my trays and negative carriers and such. 

I think I have everything ready now. In a little while I’ll mix up some chemistry and make my first silver print in something like 35 years I think. I’d stopped in my mid to late 20s after I accepted that I’d never be a photojournalist. Later, when I did begin getting newspaper gigs again, mostly for Baltimore OUTLoud, it would all be digital anyway. I had what was left of my print darkroom things stored away in a box for decades, only to get the film development stuff out when I bought the house, and set up a film only darkroom in the basement bathroom. The rest of it just sat in the box. Until my co-worker, Courtney, gave me this enlarger.

It’s odd…I bought the house in 2001, but now somehow it feels more like it’s really mine now that I’ve set up a full darkroom in it.The art room was certainly me. Pretty much everything in the house by now is me. But all this time one essential piece was missing. When I give Courtney her print later, I need to thank her for bringing me back to this, and back into a place I didn’t really know I was missing for so long. The house is complete now.

by Bruce | Link | React! (2)

October 2nd, 2019

Killing Your Customer’s Trust, One Improvement At A Time

For decades…ever since I was a teenage boy…Kodak HC-110 has been my developer of choice for black & white film. I have used it to excellent results on Kodak films, and Fuji Neopan, and Agfa and Rollie films. I’ve used it for so long I know it instinctively.

No more. I’ve just been informed on one of the photography groups I follow, that Kodak is selling a “new and improved” formulation of HC-110. The big difference? They omit a step to remove water from the concentrate. This effectively nullifies one of the big advantages of that particular developer: the concentrate had an insane longevity so long as you didn’t open the bottle. Otherwise it is the same formula. You get the same developer you always did when you dilute the concentrate to working solutions.

They’re saying they did it out of “environmental concerns”. However, they’re still selling the original concentrate in Europe. So you have to suppose the environment in question was Wall Street, yet again. Dig it…Kodak degraded the longevity of a product that’s been favored by many photographers for generations, to move more product. And there goes my trust.

I’m still not feeling well, but I just now took an emergency walk over to Service Photo hoping to snatch up the last of the old concentrate, but Kodak beat me too it. The shelf there is full of the new, where before they only stocked one or two bottles at a time of the original. So I guess I’m done with it. I don’t care that it’s the same thing going into the tank. I care that Kodak doesn’t care about the quality of its products anymore if higher quality means fewer sales. Trust is gone, and with it my business.

I still have two bottles of the original concentrate left. Kodak ticked me off a few years ago when they started selling it only by the liter instead of the pint, which meant I ended up wasting a lot of it. I don’t want to risk separating the liter bottle into smaller ones because once you open that bottle it starts absorbing moisture from the air and that’s what kills its longevity. Water activates HC-110 concentrate. Stick an exposed piece of film into the concentrate and nothing happens. It needs water. But once it gets it in any amount the clock starts ticking. Well…ticking faster. Much faster.

Watching to see what the other photographers head to as substitutes.

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 2nd, 2019

At 65 I’m Only Now Exhibiting My Photography

I got the camera bug when I was an elementary school kid. Mom let me use her camera to take some vacation pictures and after they came back from Kodak I got lots of complements on how good they were. I don’t even recall those shots now, but later that year mom gave me my first camera, a little Kodak Brownie Fiesta, for my birthday. I took it with me on a school trip to the C&O Canal and when those shots came back I even got complements on them from the same teacher who later wrote in my file that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects.”

In High School I was the student newspaper cartoonist, and also became its photographer after the kid who was picked for that roll had an argument with the student editors and walked off the job. It was around that time I started doing my art photography, after my art teacher, Frank Moran, lit a fire for it in me. I’ve had a camera in my hands most places I’ve wandered to ever since.

I’m in my middle sixties now, and I have a long history with the camera. Yet I’ve never had a show. Not even a little thing at a neighborhood gallery. I’m horrible at self promotion and that’s damage from a life lived almost entirely single. You fail often enough at one of life’s most essential tasks and it makes you skittish in more landscapes than socializing and dating. There’s a nagging certainty of failure that haunts every attempt at self assurance, no matter how inviting things appear, and especially when it comes to artistic pride since that’s so close to the heart that has come to expect breakage. It took me the nearly twenty years I’ve been working at the Space Telescope Science institute to work up the nerve to ask if I could show my photos at the Institute gallery.

I wrote about this in a previous blog post…about how the wound your gay neighbors live with every moment of their lives digs in deep, and becomes an …iron ball and chain of low expectations regarding my place in the world, which I would always excuse as my simply a not having a very competitive nature.

…I never tried very hard to make a place for myself in the realms of my first loves, cartooning, painting and photography. I kept my artwork to myself, and those few times I did venture out to try and market myself, or find work as an illustrator or photographer, I barely knocked on the door, accepting the first rejections I got as final. In retrospect something very deep down inside of me seemed to know I’d never be accepted in the lands of my dreams. I had no clue what I would do for a living, accepted that I would always have a low income life, going from one menial job to another, renting rooms maybe in other people’s homes if I was lucky, but never a place of my own, never a good job that I loved. That was for other people. I never bothered somehow, to examine why I felt that way very closely. I had an assortment of ready excuses. No college degree. Not very good at self marketing. Maybe I just wasn’t as  talented as I thought…  

I stumbled into my career as a software developer purely by chance; the PC and dot-com booms created such a booming job market that anyone who could code even a little was fairly dragged into it. I had a knack for logical thinking that enabled me to figure out how to turn requirements into software, even if it never dared look within as to why I felt so unlikely to succeed at a career. Right from the beginning I got praise for the quality of my work, rose in skill and wage level from one job to another, and ending up working at Space Telescope making six figures. It was a dream come true it seemed. Deep down I was completely scared I didn’t deserve any of it. I think it was only when the director of the Institute handed me a special achievement award at a ceremony a couple years ago that I finally began to really believe I belonged there, among those other highly skilled professionals. I was 60. Somehow it’s still harder to acknowledge to myself that I’m one of them than it was to admit to myself that I’m gay. It still feels pretentious. I have a little Baltimore rowhouse now, in a city neighborhood that is on the rise, and a nice car, and a dream come true job. And my first dreams are all buried in the past. I pursue them now in my basement art room in my spare time.

And then of course, there’s how low self esteem impacts your love life. Some folks just write love off altogether and dive into the one night stand no strings no complications scene. Others of us just stand quietly in a corner with a flower in hand and hopeful expression on our faces and the unkept look of people who forget sometimes to take care of themselves because they know somehow it doesn’t matter all that much. Please love us. Please don’t break our hearts. But the heart was already broken even before you came out to yourself, in that first moment when you flinched away from knowing. Gay Pride only goes so far healing the wound. You have to work at it, you have to dig down deep to really get to all the subtle little places where it still exists, still hurts still holds you down.

The Institute gallery is a hallway leading to the cafeteria. It is open not just to staff but to the entire Johns Hopkins campus, and now all the folks from NASA and Goddard who are working here along with us on the James Webb Space Telescope flight operations center. Until recently it showcased both staff and local talent from the Baltimore area. Photography, paintings and drawings and other pieces of original artwork. But in recent months it’s been scaled back and now it only occupies half the space it used to. I’ve no idea why, other than perhaps its former curator retired.

Last July I had my first show there, which was my first show ever. And I was very apprehensive about it. My art photography has a very dire sense to it, that I don’t much care for, but it is what it is. I considered just showing some nice travel photography, but the previous gallery by the Institute staff photographer showcased his images from the American Southwest and that’s where my best travel photography is also, so I thought I needed to do something different, and the only different I had was the art photography. I fussed for weeks trying to decide which pieces to put up, afraid that the inner strangeness of my photography would creep people out. In the end I selected ten images that were true enough to what I do, but which I judged to be not quite so glaring.

I put them up on a Monday and waited. If nobody had said a word to me about them other than a few polite very nices and very goods I would have counted it a success. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelmingly positive feedback I got, even from some folks in the science staff. And I think it changed some people’s understanding of me. I wasn’t just the old computer geek oddball anymore. There was something more to Bruce people hadn’t expected to see.

Because…well…I hadn’t let them. I have another show starting next week. This time I’m doing some color work. And this time I’m not afraid to let my art photography be seen for what it is. It’s taken this long. The insidious thing about loneliness is it becomes familiar, and eventually…comfortable. Like slowly dying of hypothermia, and you get sleepy and you just want to rest and you don’t notice how it is draining the life out of you.

My first gallery show, July 2018.




by Bruce | Link | React!

May 3rd, 2016


According to Google, today is Teacher’s Day. I want to thank a few. Not the ones  whose class I sat in though the ones who took an interest and kept the fire burning within me have my eternal gratitude. Frank Moran…my art teacher in high school, and one of the best teachers a kid could have. Marvin Watts, my college English teacher who encouraged me to  write because he said I did it well if I put my mind to it. Don Poole, my jr. high science teacher, who encouraged my curiosity about the mechanical  universe. I have the life I do today in large measure because of the interest they took in me when I was a kid.  But today I want to also thank others, who lit the fire within from a distance.

David Plowden…



Robert Frank…



Margaret Bourke-White…


Russia's Dnieper River Dam, the world's largest, during the beginning phase of its construction.


…and…I hesitate to say this because her work is so relentlessly dark, but…Diane Arbus.




These were the ones who showed me what the camera could do. Plowden is the one probably closest to my heart, but the others are pretty close too. There are other masters of the art whose work I have loved very much, and found inspiring…Ansel Adams being probably the grand master of the form. But those four, Plowden, Frank, Bourke-White and Arbus, shone a light within which I could see myself. Which is what teachers do.




by Bruce | Link | React!

January 30th, 2013

Working On My Photo Galleries

My silence here lately is because I’m spending what free time I have to blog working on a redesign of my photo galleries here.   A big part of why I bought my domain back in 2001 and put this web site up, was for it to be a showcase for my cartoons and photography, and both those galleries need some refurbishing.   Over the years Facebook made it easy for me to neglect my own web site, but thankfully their policies lately, and Timeline which I absolutely despise, have brought my attention back to it.

Here at least, I have some control over how my artwork is displayed.   Also, by putting my artwork up on my own web site I am not agreeing to anyone else’s business model for their use.   Artists take note: Those Terms Of Service can change at a moment’s notice and next thing you know your artwork might be selling toothpaste.

Or worse…

NJ gay couple sues, condemns use of their picture in Colorado ads

Photographer Kristina Hill…and married couple Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere…are suing an organization that used the engagement photos of Edwards and Priviterein in a smear political attack mailer against Colorado State Senator Jean White…

This is that case of the same sex couple whose engagement photos were appropriated for use in some anti-gay republican attack ads.   They’d posted the photo in a blog they started to celebrate their upcoming marriage.   Two years later it was snatched by “Public Advocate of the United States”, nutcase Eugene Delgaudio’s SPLC listed hate group, for use in anti-gay republican attack ads.   Additionally the photograph was altered to show different a background, to make it seem as if it were taken locally for a given race.   Always protect your copyright…

by Bruce | Link | React!

September 16th, 2012

Adventures In Medium Format Photography…(continued)

I took a day trip to York, Pennsylvania yesterday to do a little test of the Hasselblad with the metering prism, diopter and focusing screen I bought for it, and two new black & white roll films I’d never worked with before; Fuji Neopan 100 and Agfa Retro 80. The Agfa is advertised has having almost H&W Control like qualities of grain and red spectrum response, but it develops so they say in HC-110. Since Kodak is not at all well these days, and they’ve stopped making Pan-X altogether, which is what I like using in my medium format cameras, I need another source of film.   So I am experimenting.

I haven’t developed the Agfa yet, but the Fuji is already stunning me. It’s emulsion backing is more transparent then the Kodak…to an H&W Control degree practically…so there will be more bandwidth in the resulting images.   Plus it lays absolutely flat on the scanner tray. I don’t need to fuss with it to get it to lay flat, it just does.   My shots with it in York are running though the scanner now.   I’ll see what kind of images I get later today.

But I am already delighted with what I see the metering prism doing for me.   All exposures are exactly on target with the new prism.   Much, Much better then I was able to get reliably get with the Gossen hand held.   My thing is I like shooting into the sun and that can be tricky.   I’ve developed the Fuji and the two additional rolls of Kodak Pan-X I took with me and glancing at the negatives as they came out of the wash everything was spot on.

And it’s faster to work with then I expected. Since there is no direct coupling between the meter and the lens, you have to transfer the reading you see in the meter to the lens manually. But the reading you get is in EVs (Exposure Values) and the Hasselblad lenses have EV settings on them that are a snap to use. Once you set the EV on the lens, the shutter speed and f-stop settings are latched together and you just rotate both depending on whether you want the highest speed or the greatest depth of field.

I am having zero problems now with focus.   The new focusing screen is both brighter and because it has that split-image focusing aid in the center, quicker to focus with.   Plus the diopter is a big, big help.   I can see everything snapping into focus now, whereas before I had to search it out and sometimes I was just guessing at it.   I got it wrong a bunch of times I later found out.

I should have done this Much earlier, but it was a pricy accessory.   The only problem I was having as I wandered around York was the Distagon wide angle lens is flarey.   I had to pass by a bunch of interesting shots simply because there was obvious lens flare where I was shooting from and I could not find a way out of it.   The Distagon is an old design.   It also has noticeable vignetting at the extreme corners.     But it’s amazingly sharp.   There is a newer 50mm lens for my Hasselblad I’ve seen on the used market, which they claim has improvements over the Distagon in terms of vignetting and flare.   But that’s another big wad of money.   There’s a 40mm that’s an even bigger wad of money and I really like shooting at the wide angle perspective.   It suits the kind of work I do.   But I can only spend so much on photography equipment in a year.   Film itself is getting a tad pricey…for some reason.

The Hasselblad is a tad heavy to start with, and the metering prism adds to that.   But it’s a compact weight and I don’t mind carrying it around if it’s because the camera is built to last.   I like solid things in my life and especially my tools.

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | React!

September 13th, 2012

Adventures in Medium Format Photography.

Looking back over my receipts, I bought the Hasselblad in January of 2005 with the Kiev 45 degree prism and the 80mm Zeiss Planar lens and hood for just under a thousand bucks. Sounds expensive but they went for about that new back in the 70s when I was a poor teenager and a thousand bucks back then might as well have been a million. I’d wanted one ever since I saw what those amazing Zeiss lenses were capable of. But it was way out of reach. New ones are still way (way!) out of my reach. But used older ones are something I can afford now, and this one was in cherry condition…like whoever owned it had barely used it. Over time I bought another two film backs for it and a 50mm Distagon lens because I like shooting wide angle. But the camera mostly sat in the camera cabinet.

That was partly because Apple’s Aperture software just gaged on the large scans off it. To work with them in Aperture I first had to drop them down in resolution in Photoshop. It was a pain in the neck. The workflow completely broke with those scans. You couldn’t even bring the image up in the browser because it would just go gray and you would get an “unsupported format” error message. Eventually Apple just declared it would not support grayscale image scans altogether, that Aperture was for digital photography only, and that pretty much meant it would not be usable for photographers who still liked working in film.

I could have switched to Adobe’s Lightroom product, but after working with the Hasselblad for a while I was discovering that everything about working with that camera was a pain in the neck. The standard focusing screen had no focusing aid and my aging eyes could have really used one. Or at least a diopter. So I was never able to focus on a subject quickly. Plus I had to work with a hand-held meter which only added to the slow deliberate pace of taking pictures with it. Some photographers are fine with that but that just completely messes me up when I want to explore a subject. And it was a triple pain when I had the red filter on it and had to futz with calculating the filter factor in addition to everything else.

It was: see an interesting subject. Stop. Fuss with taking the meter out of my pocket and its case. Figure how to get a good reading. Do I need to walk in close? Angle the meter down a tad? Wait…I don’t have my reading glasses on. I can’t see what the meter is telling me. Put the glasses on…take a reading. Transfer the reading to the lens. Bring the camera to my eye and compose. Wait…take your glasses off.. I’ll just set them down over here. No…better put them back in my pocket. Now try to focus. No…I need my distance glasses to focus because I don’t have a diopter on this thing. Focus…focus…not sure that’s right but it’s the best I can do… Compose. Shoot. Put meter back.

So I became disappointed with it and mostly the camera just sat. And I never got a chance to see what an amazing camera it really is or how much fun it could be to work with. I figured I would just stick to my 35mm SLRs for expressive photography.

As I said, Apple eventually declared it would not support film photographers. I discovered this after an upgrade to Aperture completely hosed the display of all my black and white image files and I looked on their support boards to see what the problem was. (As an aside…Never tell Apple disciples…never even hint to them…that their holy computers and software are anything but perfect.) So I bought a copy of Lightroom. I figured since Photoshop had no problem with the scans off my film scanner it wouldn’t either. And it doesn’t. So I was finally was able to just wander around the shoots I’d done with the Hasselblad. as few as they were because I hadn’t taken it out much…and I was stunned.   (The following JPEGS don’t do justice really to what I saw…but to do that I’d have to upload the original size image files and at about 150 meg a shot you would wait a long time for those to load…)

My God…why hadn’t I been using this camera more…? Well..could be because I needed a diopter and a metering prism at least. Through the lens metering is much, Much faster, more accurate because you are getting a reading of exactly what you’re taking a picture of, and if you put a filter on the lens you get a meter reading on the light coming through the filter…you don’t have to futz with filter factor calculations (those two shots of Monument Valley were taken with a red filter, which darkens the blue sky and brings the clouds out into sharp relief).   Then this month KEH ran a medium format equipment sale and I decided it was time to spend the money to make the Hasselblad usable for the kind of photography I do. Light footed, hand held wandering around for what I like to think of as found images. What I figured I needed to do it right: a plus 1 diopter, a brighter grid lined focusing screen with a split image focusing aid, and a center weighted metering prism.

The pieces came in the mail over the past couple days and just a few hours ago I assembled everything and…whoa. Gonna shoot some test rolls this weekend. One roll of Rollei Agfa Retro 80 and a roll of the Fuji neopan 100. Because Kodak is not looking at all well and I need other sources of film to feed my habit. But already I am Loving what the Hasselblad has turned into with the new accessories. This is going to be fun. Finally.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 18th, 2011

From Eye To Brain To Finger To Metal…

Episode 13 of A Coming Out Story deals with my discovery of photography as an art form…

What really got it going, and I have understood this for decades, was getting my first 35mm SLR camera. Ever since that moment, that What You See Is What You Get functionality of the 35mm SLR has completely entranced me. And they’re fast. Back in the early 1970s, open aperture through the lens metering had become common on all but the very least expensive (like my Petri) SLRs. And even the stop down metering of the Petri was fast, compared to holding the camera in one hand and a meter in the other. You could compose, focus and meter all at once and get the shot without ever having to take your eye out of the eyepiece. And what you saw in the viewfinder, was guaranteed to be what you got on the negative, since you were seeing exactly the same thing the film was going to see when the shutter opened.

I’ve tried to get into other kinds of cameras, because in one way or another they interest me too. My Mamiya C 330, a twin lens reflex, for its 120 roll film format and lens interchangeability, unique to TLRs. Various rangefinder cameras I’ve tried because rangefinders and small, lightweight, quiet and easier to focus in low light situations. But none of them have really worked as well for me as the 35mm SLR. Even my Hasselblad, a 120 roll film SLR, doesn’t really quite work for me. Having no through the lens metering makes it worlds slower, more deliberate in its use, then every 35mm SLR I have ever owned.

For me, the 35mm SLR is my instrument. Back in my teen years, after I had dived head first into full fledged shutterbug land, I worked one summer at a fast food joint flipping burgers to be able to buy what I thought at the time was the best 35mm SLR made: the Canon F1.   In 1971 they had just come to the U.S. market, and I thought it just blew away the only real competition it had back then, the Nikon F.

I used that F1 all through my senior year, doing photos for the student newspaper and the yearbook. It was my constant companion in the halls and classrooms of my school. But there was another kid who was my rival back then. His name was Lindsey and he was always carrying his Nikon F.   His professional black no less Nikon F.

I respected, and feared truth to tell, Lindsey’s abilities as a photographer. He was Good. He was also bold and brash in a way I could never be, and played the part of the glamorous photo pro with that damn Nikon as if he’d been born to it. I was envious. Eventually I decided to go with invisibility instead. Since I just didn’t have it in me to be out there and fabulous and make my subjects feel and respond to the glamor of my camera’s gaze I would become invisible instead, and observe. After a fashion that style worked for me. People became used to seeing the camera that was always with me and they came to forget its presence and I got tons of good candids. I became the detached observer. That has been my style ever since.

Though Lindsey’s skill as a photographer intimidated me, I had no such feelings about his damn Professional Black Nikon F. It was his tool, but also his status symbol, and he used it to get attention as much as he did to get his shot. But before I bought my F1, I had done my research (the geek was strong in me, even back then) and my logical analytical brain came to loath the Nikon F for what I regarded then as its inferior design, and when I was a teenager I made no bones about it to anyone who cared to listen. You are never so opinionated, as when you’re that age.

Time passes, the universe expands. On a trip out to Boulder Colorado for a JWST conference, I stopped in Topeka Kansas to visit a friend. He asked if I wanted to stop by the camera store they have there and I followed along, thinking to myself that here in the middle practically of Kansas it wouldn’t be much of one.   I was wrong.   That store, Wolf’s Camera, was amazing.   Bigger and nicer even then Service Photo is here in Baltimore.   And there, in the used camera display, was an almost mint condition Nikon F2.

I asked to look at it. And when my hands got around it, and I worked its mechanism a little, something awakened inside me. Something very much like the sensation I had when I bought my that Petri 35mm SLR back home and held it in my hands for the first time.

So I bought it.

And…the good 28mm lens they also had in that case to go with it, since I mostly shoot in wide-angle. Later, when I got back home, I scanned the used Nikon f-mount lens listings at B&H and bought a better 24mm f2.8 lens for it, and a 50mm f1.4.

A month later I am reading this on a photographer’s web site, while researching information on the old Nikons…

When doing photography for art’s sake, a camera can mean everything for putting you in the right frame of mind. Like that weird inter-being nerve fiber concept in “Avatar”, a photographer connects to a camera.

This is what I have come to realize (against the better judgment of my logical analytical side) You connect creatively with your tools at a very low level, intuitive, almost nerve-ending space and it might make no sense at all to that logical part of your brain (It’s Just A Tool!) but if it works for you then eventually you just go with it.

My Left Brain frowns at the Right Brain a lot, but I have always known at an intuitive level how connected I am to a camera while I am in the zone.   Sometimes I hit the shutter release and I just know that was the one, and I feel an almost electrical pulse run from the camera through my hand and into me.   Call me crazy, but that is how it feels. Finally, when I picked up that Nikon F2 in Topeka, I had to stop denying what my creative side has been telling me all these years: the Nikons can work with me…and maybe sometimes they work better.

This isn’t anything to do with their mechanical design.   It’s this: tools have their personalities, especially complex mechanical ones, and some personalities work better with my creative moods then others.   A mechanism can feel right, can seem beautiful to that creative part of me, even if the logical part finds tons of fault with it.   Yes, it’s weird.

So it’s been with me and Nikon cameras. I could go on and on and on and on about what I don’t like about their design (ask some of my high school classmates).   But the Canons have their personality and the Nikon a different one and I am a bit astonished now, after all these years, to hold one in my hands while I’m working and just admit that the Nikon =feels= more right.

Sigh.   They say its a sign of maturity to be able to let go of old prejudices.   These are not nearly the wonderful ground breaking cameras their ardent fans make them out to be.   Yes, yes, they did break significant ground in some ways, most importantly in terms of bringing a true system approach to 35mm photography.   The Nikon F was like the Kerby vacuum of cameras…there was an attachment for anything you wanted to do with one just about.   But it was mostly a kludge.   The one thing that made the kludgery worthwhile was the camera body: weirdly, clunky designed as it is, it really is that nearly bullet proof hockey puck they all said it was.

That’s part of their emotional appeal to me now. I like solid things in my life, but especially in my hands while I’m trying to be creative.   But it’s more then that.   The Canons feel brick solid in my hands too (even more so their lenses…the Nikon lenses just feel cheap and clunky to me), and yet they have a distinctly different sense to them mechanically from the Nikon.   During the breaks while I was on jury duty I wandered downtown Baltimore with the F2 and it was a revelation. I was cursing and fumbling with its controls because every damn thing on a Nikon is backwards from the Canon…shutter speed setting, aperture setting…and yet I have never felt more at one with a camera when I was in that particular creative zone that I was in.

So…(here it comes…) I went ahead and found a good example of an F online…and bought it.   Oh…AND an all black finish one at that.   It arrived last week.

Lindsey…are you reading this?   Go ahead and laugh…

by Bruce | Link | React!

August 16th, 2010

Images From A Sideshow Running Away With The Circus…(continued)

Here’s some shots of the counter-demonstrators…

As I said previously, the main contingent of the counter-demonstrators came in two waves shortly after the NOM rally began.   But even as NOM was setting up there were a handful of individuals there on the sidewalk near them, quietly speaking their truths.   And among these was Mel White and his companions from Soulforce.   I saw Mel occasionally walk over to some of the NOM folks and chat with them for a while.   What was said between them I have no idea: much as I would have like to have snapped some photos of those conversations, I kept my distance.   At 56 going on 57, I have a very negative opinion of the possibility of changing minds, let alone hearts of any of these True Believers.   But I deeply respect anyone who still believes in their heart that it can be done.   So I stay out of it.   This is why I am not a professional news photographer.   The spirit of Weegee laughs at my deference to the better angels.

More and more I am seeing at these demonstrations, young heterosexual couples who see this struggle as their own too.   And it is.   Only on its face is this a fight about homosexuality.   Look closer.   It’s a fight over the right to love and be loved, waged by the power hungry war mongering human gutter, that throughout history has viewed the power of love as the essential enemy to be smashed wherever it exists.   The gay rights struggle is the lover’s struggle.

There were also lots of individual folks bearing simple statements in support of the right to love.     Sometimes you   thought you saw another lonely heart, determined to stand up for what in their own lives is yet to be…

As I said, the main force of counter-demonstrators came in two waves.   The first was peaceful and positive.   The second wave were a tad angrier.   And…louder.     They were quickly asked/ordered to move further down the plaza, away from the NOM event.

I understand this anger perfectly well.   And I am not going to sit here and pontificate that this sort of demonstration is counter-productive.   The other side turns us into scarecrows they can safely fear at a distance, and defeat with bar stool valor and junk food religion.   They need to see that we are as human as they; and there is nothing less surprising on this earth then the sight of humans who have been attacked getting angry, and fighting back.   When people are denied the dream of love, when that ability to love another, and accept their love in return is gutted out of them, what is left?

I have have said often, that the one who fights this fight and doesn’t put their head down on the pillow every night, just a little bit angrier then the night before, just a little more angry then they thought it was humanly possible to be angry, isn’t really paying attention.   But it is oh-so easy for anger to become hate.   And hate will kill your soul.

This is the lover’s struggle.   When all you have left in it is anger, you are done for.   It is for love that we fight.   Every moment you can put anger aside and remember that, you defeat hate.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

Images From A Sideshow Running Away With The Circus…

Here’s some of the shots I took at the NOM rally in front of the Capital yesterday…

They held the rally in front of the Capital south wing, which is right across from the Supreme Court building, but you really couldn’t see the court all that clearly for all the trees.   The rally was mostly tucked away in one corner of the grassy park there in front of the south wing.   This is what the crowd looked like, just a few moments literally, before Bishop Coles brought his cavalry in.   It was almost exclusively white, and very nearly half media and NOM organizers.

Brian Brown getting a tad heated in front of a media lady just before the rally started.   I don’t know what she may have asked him but he’d been really nice and polite to the media there, even the gay media, before this.

A couple NOM supporters brought their kids along.   Most of the early arrivals were older folks.   You didn’t start seeing many young people there until Bishop Coles’ cavalry came along.

That LET THE PEOPLE VOTE chant was an early hit with the crowd.   Here they are while Brian Brown gives it a few turns.

Sometime into Bishop Coles’ speech a larger group of counter protesters arrived.   (There had already been a few individual counter protesters there, including Mel White and Soulforce companions, as NOM was setting up.)   The first wave of them just made themselves quietly known with signs around the perimeter of the event.   NOM tried to have them removed, but the Capital Police told them basically that as long as they were quiet and didn’t interfere with the event they had a right to be where they were.

Some gay folk wandered around the NOM crowd during the event.   I don’t know if this couple were with the larger group of counter protesters or not.   The man’s t-shirt reads: Together 14 years, Married 1 year, 2nd class citizens every day.

Walter Fauntroy, with some other clergyman whose name I thankfully don’t know, waiting to speak.   The white clergyman was there when NOM was setting up so I assume he was one of their local organizers.   And unlike Bishops Jackson and Coles, he actually paid attention to all the other clergymen as they spoke.   He didn’t talk much with the crowd though.   Coles worked the crowd a little bit.   Jackson was working the media.

Bishop Coles right after his speech, walked off the sump and whipped up the crowd with that LET THE PEOPLE VOTE chant.   Black people were denied voting rights in this country for generations after then end of slavery.   But those same rights were not won back by the ballot, but in the courts.   The lesson that the courts have an important role to play in protecting the rights of all Americans, and that the basic human rights of minorities are not a popularity contest, seems to have escaped a lot of folks there.   Prejudice does that to a person.   Oh…YOUR rights don’t count…

More later…

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 2nd, 2010

The Things I Do For A Damn Photo…

The great photographer Margaret Bourke-White once averred she became positively irrational if she couldn’t get a shot she wanted. I know the feeling, but I guess part of the reason I never became a professional photojournalist is I am too polite about it.

Case in point: I’m driving home from Orlando, up I-95, in the lost, lonely mood I usually am after vacationing in a spot where I’m likely to run into a lot of happy couples. It’s the morning after New Year’s Eve and it’s gray and cloudy and looking very, very somber, and I am driving back north away from the sunshine and warmth of Orlando and Disney World and back into the Baltimore Maryland cold. So I’m not feeling exactly cheerful.

As I drive through North Carolina, I see an abandoned motel to my right, that oddly has its front walls entirely removed. What you see is just the shells of the rooms behind the wall, like a lot of post office boxes with their doors torn off. The effect is of a stark hollowness.

No… I think to myself. It’s too obvious… But I can’t get the image out of my mind. I’m driving north and the miles are piling up and I just want to get back home and back to my nest and sulk for the last few remaining days of my vacation and maybe do a little housework. But I can’t get the damn thing out of my head. I even know Exactly the shot I want to get. I can picture it in my head clearly…picture exactly where I need to stand and what angle to shoot at and what my camera settings are.

No…no…it’s too obvious. And…I don’t want to go there. I’m feeling down enough as it is right now. Do I need to make myself feel worse? I think not. Damn…the sky is just right for that shot though. I’ve never seen a place with just its front wall torn off. Why the hell did they do that? It’s so damn odd… Be nice to just wander around it a bit. No…it’s probably fenced off. I’ll bet they have No Trespassing signs plastered everywhere. Do I want to get arrested in North Carolina? Seriously. Just let it go. Damn the sky is just right… Those gray clouds…just the right amount of sunlight up there. That scene really wants to be low contrast. I should just keep going. I don’t need to go there. I’m feeling miserable. Damn that sky is just right. If I stop some other trip it won’t be right. They might have the rest of it torn down by then. I should just keep going. There will be other shots like that one. I’ve never seen a place with just the front wall torn off like that. Do I really want to be wandering around a derelict building all by myself? It might be dangerous. Some thug might see me pull up in my Mercedes-Benz and decide to shoot me for my car and my camera and nobody would ever know what happened to me. Too dangerous. Why the hell did they just take down the front and leave the rest of it up? It’s so damn perfect. It’s like its bearing its empty heart to the sky. All those people who stayed inside, found warmth, shelter for the night, maybe a moment or two of love, and eventually they all left without a second thought and now it has nothing. The front wall was its face…and then the people left and its face fell away and all that’s left are the empty rooms open now to the sky. I should keep going. I don’t need this. I should turn around. Do I really want to go there? Darn it…I can’t let that one go… How far to the next exit…

Which by then was about 3 miles ahead of me and the motel in question about 12 miles behind. I did a loop back and on the way looked for some other possible shots in the landscape. And I found a few, which made me feel better about loosing travel time. There were two service roads paralleling the main Interstate where some lonely restaurants and strip shopping seemed to be barely holding on. I figured after I took a few shots at the abandoned motel I could drive up one of the service roads and get a few more of other stuff by the highway.

I actually had to drive past it again and loop back to find the correct exit. What apparently happened was a new highway was built nearby, cutting off the old exit by the motel, which killed its drive-by business. I had to go back to an exit a few miles in the other direction, and find the place where I could access the service road that led to it. There were few other surviving businesses along that road. A collection of self storage bins. Some odd pumping station whose purpose I had no idea. There were some empty highway billboards and a junk yard/auto body shop that looked like it had been picked over until nothing of value was left. Yet it seemed to still be in business. I wondered who got their work done there. Close by the motel was a trailer/RV park that actually seemed to still be doing a reasonably good business. It was called Sleepy Bear.

I have no idea what the abandoned motel next to it was called, but it was clear that its current owners wanted nobody getting near it. There was a huge, and I mean huge NO TRESPASSING sign right in front. The building itself was only partly fenced in however. Anyone could just walk onto the property from the street.

The service road dead-ended just past the motel, where the old highway interchange had been closed off. I wasn’t about to park in the lot. But there were some pull-offs just down the street that were off the property and I stopped Traveler there and popped the trunk. I took out the new camera, popped off the lens cap, adjusted the hood, switched on and checked my settings. I took a quick light reading. Then I wandered over.

Damn…that sign is big…

Okay…fine. They didn’t want me trespassing. I looked the site over to see if I could get the shot that had been so fixed in my mind the moment I laid eyes on the motel, without setting foot on the property.

Yes…I can do this…

But I was beginning to get the creeps. It was deathly silent all around me…gray and overcast and a tad chilly. Even the Interstate just a few dozen yards away was quiet, due to it being early New Years Day. All the revelers were sleeping it off. Only us lonely travelers on it now…just the occasional sound of a car going by was all there was.

I walked up to the fence along one side of the motel. I couldn’t take my eyes off the building. In a creepy sort of way it felt like it was looking back at me, through empty eyes…

Damn…they really did just yank the front walls off of everything here. WTF…???

I began to wonder if trespassing meant don’t go beyond the fence or if I was trespassing by simply walking up to it. I decided to just get my shots and skedaddle. This is why I am not a professional photojournalist. I am way too timid. The spirit of Weegee laughs at my timidity.

I couldn’t shoot through the fence…the chain link was too much in the way. So I raised my camera above my head and started shooting. The nice thing about a digital camera is you can see your shots instantly and know if your getting it. Every time I clicked the shutter the LCD display on the back of the camera showed what I had just taken. So I could adjust the camera angle a tad and take another…and so on until I had it. At one point, I knew I had the one I wanted…the one that said it. Whenever that happens, it’s like a little electric current goes through me from the camera. I swear.

I backed off and looked around some more. I felt something tempting me in. But I wasn’t going to risk getting arrested. I’d seen a little house down a private driveway next to the motel, and there were certainly people over at Sleepy Bear. As I walked back to Traveler I saw a truck towing a nice vacation trailer behind it drive away. I wondered if the driver noticed me. I walked briefly to the front of the motel again, near the sign but well on what I thought was its good side.

Damn…that sign is Big…

I fired off one more shot of the front of the motel and tarried with the idea of wandering around the front some more to see if there were any other good shots I could get from outside the fence. But something about that sign kept creeping me out.

They really mean it…

So I got back into Traveler, started up and headed back toward the Interstate. There were a couple other shots I’d seen as I made my way to the motel and as I approached one of them, a sign that said simply “Units Available” in front of a long lonely row of cookie-cutter identical self storage bins, I wondered if I could just stop my car in the middle of the road and take it from out the window, because it didn’t look like there was any usable shoulder to the road there. I didn’t want to get stuck. I was about a quarter mile away from the motel.

Suddenly I saw a police car coming at me from the opposite direction. It blew right past me and if it wasn’t doing at least 90 I am no judge of speed. There was nothing in the direction it was going, except Sleepy Bear, the little house behind the motel, and the motel, and the end of the road.

Damn! Damn! Did someone see me taking pictures and call the cops??? I wasn’t about to hang around and find out. Good thing I didn’t stick around… I decided to forgo getting my other shots and politely asked Traveler for triple digit velocity. Traveler happily obliged. I don’t think Das Auto likes being confined to American highway speeds. I had a couple tight curves to navigate but Traveler hunkered down over them and didn’t even flash the Electronic Stability Program light at me, and there wasn’t anyone else out on the roads just then except me and Mr. Policeman.

Good thing I didn’t have the camera hanging out the window… I figured the cop, if he was called out for a trespasser at the motel, would first check the area and only then would the thought cross their mind that perhaps the perp was in the car that they’d shot past like a bat out of hell. By then I’d be well down the Interstate and it would be a fifty-fifty shot at guessing whether I was going north or south, if I was even on the Interstate to begin with. I didn’t think anyone could have gotten my license plate, and at a distance all I would have seemed to be driving was a white compact car of some kind.

I slowed to legal speed when I got on the Interstate. I wasn’t about to get caught in a radar trap either and I had noticed a lot of them already that morning.

Probably they’d have let it go when they discovered the trespasser had left the scene. Why bother, right? Except…do you blast down the road like a bat out of hell just to nail a trespasser at an abandoned motel?

I wasn’t trespassing dammit. I stayed behind the damn fence. What is it with that place…?

I stressed about it all the way to the Virginia boarder. I took the memory card out of the camera and hid it so I could plausibly say, What…Who…Where…Huh if cornered. Except that people who wear their hearts on their sleeves like I do don’t make excellent liars.

The spirit of Weegee mocks my timidity. Did I take some pictures? You talkin to me? Yeah I took some fucking pictures…

Oh well. I got my shot and it was worth it…


Abandoned Motel – Lumberton, NC.

Dang…I wish I could wander around that site and get a few more shots. But I don’t think they want to let me…

by Bruce | Link | React!

May 29th, 2009

Western Light

Yes…I haven’t been very talkative here lately.  I’m on vacation and these days I try to keep the world at arm’s length when I am trying to rest and relax.  I’m at my brother’s house in Oceano for a bit…then on to San Francisco and the Java One developer’s conference.  At the moment, I just don’t want to deal with the world.

Here’s some images for you, until the talking feather comes back my way again…








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