Hibernation inspiration

I’ve lived my entire life with midwest winters. Record snowfall, record low temps but this year has already had one of the worst low temps I (or just about anyone at this latitude) can remember.

It’s downright dangerous to go outside right now and being that I’m not much for “adventure photography” I’m laying low. But there is a benefit to forcing oneself to just stay home for a little while. It’s not the same as a sick day, because your brain is fully functional and you don’t feel the same drain of whatever cold or flu is working through your body.

I didn’t set much of an agenda, but I did quietly plan for some downtime activities. My two key features during this cold snap of epic proportions have been to watch movies and draw.

Drawing is not something I’m particularly good at, but I know enough to get where I’m going. I won’t sully the blog with my scratchings, but it helps my mind to relax. I like to draw quickly, I don’t really bother too much with detail. As soon as I start to overly focus on depicting, the drawing starts to fall apart.

While I’m a big fan of Andrew Loomis’ books, one aspect that i think he doesn’t do a good job on is explaining the importance of gesture drawing. There’s plenty of information about basic shapes and “building up” from simple forms to more complex shapes and contours. But he seems to gloss over those initial gestures- the strokes that inform the whole flow and feel of the piece. Especially when drawing the human figure, you aren’t going to portray an actual person without giving the drawing some life.

A crash course in drawing

So if you’ve thought about drawing or think you’re not good, start with this video and then try drawing a reference pose. Start with a piece of scratch paper and just draw that first line a bunch of times. It’ll be an S or C curve most likely, just do it a bunch. Use teh side of the pencil, they very tip, use heavy pressure and light pressure. This page is just to get your hand and arm used to the various ways to draw that line. Then on the next piece of paper start drawing the form using this force method. It’ll look ‘sloppy’ but it will probably look like a person within 5 or 6 strokes. I was surprised with the almost immediate improvement in the speed of my drawing and it helps to adjust your conception of “seeing” when drawing which really relaxes the mind.

Movie sign

I did not get through as many movies as I expected, but I was glad I got to sit through Seven Samurai for the first time in a few years. Part of the fun for me for just being able to sit down and watch a movie like that is to pull up a commentary track. While the soundtrack to Seven Samurai is great, it’s a movie that is fairly easy to follow along reading the subtitles while you listen to really smart people talk about all the aspects of what make that movie great.

Plus, with the benefit of the commentary it helps you appreciate all the amazing cinematography. As someone who really loves using wide angle lenses, Seven Samurai has some excellent wide angle and hyperfocal/deep focus composition.

It’s a sublime film, the characters are all so clearly defined and the movie set a template for hundreds of films that would come after.


I still don’t know if I could ever call a film that is almost 4 hours long “lean” but it does move along quite nicely and the film does not overstay it’s welcome. It is deliberate, I’ll give it that. That’s what makes it a great movie to watch on a day when you’d be better off staying home.

Looking forward

So that was my “me time” recharging for this week. I also bought my ticket to C2E2, the highlight of my early convention season. I’m still hoping to go to some more, and I’m debating which ones I want to attend/how much driving I feel capable of doing.

I’ve also got a couple of rolls of film that are nearing completion so I should have more film shots to share soon.

New Toy

While “GAS” (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) can be a real drain on your pocket, sometimes a new camera can be something of a solution to feeling like you’re in a rut. The important thing is not to overpay and stretch your budget too thin.

The solution, for me, was a Holga. Holga’s are rather notorious cameras, famous for being incredibly cheap and also a bit “stereotypical” when it comes to Lomography aesthetics. However, I feel that analog photography has moved beyond Lomography for the most part.

Quick tangent: I think Lomography is fine as an aesthetic, but where I take great issue is the cost associated with their very cheap cameras. There is no reason that a plastic camera that doesn’t have a meter should cost over $20. And Lomography branded film is not worth it, flat out.

So yeah, why a Holga in 2018? Why add that to my collection? I’ve already got a pretty good walkaround medium format camera in the form of my Mamiya M645.

Well, again the answer was that I felt like even the M645 was “too much camera" for what I’m feeling at the moment. The Holga (and plastic cameras in general) are about what they don’t have as much as what they do have. This particular camera is as basic as one can get before stepping into the realm of pinhole photography. It’s a plastic box that holds film and has a really crummy lens and shutter. That’s it. The shutter moves via a hilariously simple spring mechanism, it moves at about 1/125s but it’s a goofy spring so who knows depending on how hard to trip the shutter. This one feels fairly ‘springy’ so I’m guessing that’s about as accurate as it’ll ever be.


So yeah, it’s a plastic box that holds film. And that’s all I want it to be at the moment. I just wanted to have something to run some rolls of HP5 through that didn’t feel like I had to coordinate or calibrate anything. When I take a shot with the Mamiya, it’s a pretty slow process. Get the meter reading, adjust the settings. Focus up… and focus up some some more. Adjust the framing just right. Make sure the shutter lock is off, possibly flip the mirror up manually to avoid any extraneous shake from the mirror slap, then take the picture. It can be fun. You feel like you’re really doing something when you photograph that way.

But it’s all just extras. All cameras are just specially designed boxes. And the Holga is among the least special, and that’s what makes it so great. I think I needed a little reminder of that. The Holga is kind of like the Coelacanth of cameras. It’s a fossil from a bygone time. It’s kind of hideous. It bares some resemblance to more advanced cameras we have now, but it just doesn’t give a shit about that new stuff.

(It’s so blue)

(It’s so blue)

Also mine is blue.

Business decisions

I’ve made more changes to this site in the past month than I think I made in the first couple years of having a Squarespace account. I’ve delved into more features, and signed up for more services than I ever anticipated needing to run a website. And hopefully it’s all better because of it.

Since this is my home on the internet, I’m allowed to change it up as I see fit. It’s great! Everyone should have this kind of space to play.

Here’s kind of a breakdown of the thought process and evolution of the site (as best as I can remember it):

  • I started with the idea of a technology blog: “Black Rectangle” - so named because it seemed like technology was always about looking at various black rectangles.

  • It was also, for a time, a professional site for me to share my expertise in technology support. I fancied myself something of a Leo Laporte (albeit less creepy and passive-aggressive).

  • I tried to turn it into something of a more literary site. I loved science fiction and speculative fiction, so there used to be a fiction section here. For a while I fancied splitting the site into two main directories: non-fiction, aka “black” and fiction, aka “rectangles” (I thought I was so clever). That’s why this blog is still ~/black in the site’s directory structure. NEAT

    • Part of the literary shift led to my fascination with Nanowrimo and the creation of the podcast Nanowripod. It did well and got a good amount of attention. It still pulls in listeners who apparently are perpetually discovering that I’m more interested in creating a podcast than writing anything decent. However, there was a lot of learning on that show and I have no intention of taking it down. I think that creators should keep something of a record available of the internet at times and spaces since we’re otherwise really bad at archiving at the internet (no offense to Archive.org).

  • Then came the dark ages. The site lay dormant, basically. Every so often I would post something, this is where the “dispatches” start to appear for at least a few months. They were infrequent but were mainly a distillation of all of the Youtube videos I’d been watching

  • And then, I decided to make this more of a business. I’ve been working on my photography and just doing that for a few years now and it was time to make that more of what I want to be known for. Which is what lead to the changes that you see today. Less junk cluttering up the sidebar. More of a clear name and purpose… stuff that I think a casual stranger would more easily understand.

I think my online identity is still a bit cluttered. I love aliases, so here’s kind of a breakdown:

This site now resides at mrbenalexander.com - a “vanity” domain I’ve had for a long time. blackrectangle.net will still work- but I can’t say for how long as i’m debating no longer paying for that domain.

You can also get to the store section as verygood.photography. It’s kind of a spin on Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation’s business called “Very Good Building” contractor company.

I also have the handle @30ghosts on twitter, which is my “professional” spot there. It may be a bit too cool for me but I like that it’s short, rolls off the tongue, and doesn’t feel as clunky as every other “soandsophoto”. I’ve tried to keep it consistent with some of my other photo services like Ello.

Why a store?

Because I think people should fill their lives with art they like and I know at least a couple people that have bought my stuff and liked it. The overhead is manageable at this point in my life and it pushes me to have a finished product to share with others.

I also have goals of building my photo business for portraits and other candid/lifestyle shoots and I would like to upgrade my equipment before the end of the decade. (Did you see that little Ko-fi button up near the top of this page? hint hint.)

Also, I know it’s kind of silly to say this from behind a Squarespace page, but it’s easier to have this setup than it is to mess around with a Patreon and a redbubble and have them suck some ridiculous percentage from each transaction. Who owns and manages your “stuff” (all the combined outwork, not just your primary media) can seriously affect your bottom line.

So that’s why this space is the way it is now. For anyone who has followed, subscribed for these years, thank you thank you thank you.

Austin trip post

I’m fortunate enough to be able to travel a couple times a year. On these trips, I find myself wanting to go on some kind of “epic photo walk.” The epitome of those videos I watch on Youtube. Mixed with Daniel Arnold, of course.

The reality is usually a bit less thrilling. More than anything, I found myself simply wandering. There were some amazing restaurants and stores (Waterloo records!) to be sure, but it turns out that downtown on a rainy day is not the most bustling hive of activity.

That being said, enjoy this primarily “un-peopled” view of Austin.

Technical notes:

Color photos shot using a Nikon D3200 and Tamron 17-55 f/2.8

Black and white shot using a Nikon FE2 and Nikkon 28mm or 50mm lenses, Ilford HP5 film.

CuddleXpo experience

As promised in my last update, here’s a bit of a breakdown of the experience of doing headshots/portraits at a professional conference.

My primary concern leading up to the event was how much interest there actually was in the service I would be offering. On the one hand, I knew that plenty of people in the cuddling world have small businesses and therefore probably needed professional shots to use in their branding and marketing. So having something easy to offer while they were at an event like this, would make them primed to buy.

On the other hand, this kind of quick service might put people off. Maybe they hadn’t really thought too much in advance and they would want photos but didn’t feel camera-ready… As it turned out, when I was barely halfway set up on the first day people were queuing up for the signup sheet. I wound up getting 12 sessions over the course of the 2 days.

Because this is a “business” post I’ll run the numbers. I think photographers - especially those starting out - are way too afraid of showing our work and I don’t want to be another one of “those people.”


  • A two light setup with basic off-white backdrop

  • Lights were constant (florescent), definitely would love to go with flashes next time around

  • My Nikon D3200 with 35mm f/1.8 (which is like a 55mm equivalent, so ideal for portraits)

I was situated in the main hall where there were presentations going on all day, right along side vendors selling various products. I believe I was one of the only service-based vendors. I didn’t have any proper signage, the lights and my little “pricing sheet” did the talking.

I planned for about 15 minutes per shoot and the pricing breakdown was as follows:

  • $15 - 5 RAW photos (1 outfit/look), no edits

  • $25 - 5 edited photos

  • $30 - 10 photos, including 2 outfits/looks

  • $50 - 10 photo edited

In case you can’t tell, those prices are SUPER cheap! And I was told so by my clients that day. I’m sure that it was a good reason I got as many signups as I did, but on the other hand I feel like I could have/should have charged a bit more. It’s so funny how much I’ve found myself falling into the same “traps” (i.e. not valuing my work enough) as I’ve read from other people and I still didn’t learn! So the takeaway here is don’t under-price yourself!

While I probably went too cheap, I believe that I delivered a professional service in a fairly high volume setting. I’ve gotten back good feedback from my clients from that day. But I also know going forward I’m going to do a better job of representing my value on paper.

Learning experiences:

  1. Bring a mirror! Letting someone quickly check themselves was the number one issue that I wound up having to deal with in editing. I could have made my life easier and made my clients feel just that much more comfortable if they had a simple mirror there to do their hair or double check their makeup.

  2. “Measure twice, cut once” - Kind of like with the first point but I realized that most of my sessions were not taking anywhere near 15 minutes. It’s fine to have the energy and get right down to shooting, but that moment to double check things can save you from some dud shots and, again, trying to fix things in post.

  3. Lighting! I’m greatly appreciative of the lighting setup that we had, but I know I can get even better results in the future if I plan that part of it even more. The one thing I will have to seriously consider is the value/capability of constant or strobe setup. I think having a constant lighting setup was less of a distraction. If flashes were going off every few minutes that might be a distraction.

Without further ado, here are some of the shots I was most pleased with:

Things That Worked

  1. Being a calm, welcoming presence. It’s easy to see the list of people and go “okay, I have to get through this, which can really undercut the interaction with the person who is right in front of you. I was able to “turn on the charm” in a natural way, which helps relax others.

  2. Letting them review the photos. Even though this was a fairly quick service, giving the customer a level of control/input that shows them that you know what you’re doing is important. I didn’t have a tether cable so I just poppped the SD card out of the camera and plugged it into my laptop.

Doing the Math

Afterwards, I did the math on things that I directly spent money or time on to make this happen. I cannot emphasize how low my overhead was on this: I had most of the equipment on hand, and I was able to borrow the lights for the event. The fact that I did not have to pay for my placement at the event also helped.

Figuring in time to edit on the day after (which I believe around 5 hours), I was making a reasonable $25/hour.

By the way, I tracked my time editing using the app Toggl. It made tracking very simple and even the free version was enough to keep clear track of time. If I took a break, it automatically would stop the clock after going idle in case I forgot to manually do it.

$25 is nothing to sneeze at, it felt good to get paid and have a deadline to work with. But there is definitely room to grow. I would like to thank all the wonderful people who hired me to take their pictures, as well as Keeley for putting on the CuddleXpo and inviting me.

Site Redesign

I’ve had this site for a long time, and over that time it has undergone many redesigns and changes. It’s always been a blog, of sorts, but it’s also been some form of portfolio as well.

I could own this place exclusively and make my own things and share my own thoughts. It’s the one reason I haven’t made the jump to Medium and, despite being fairly active, remain rather suspicious of image hosting sites like Instagram and Flickr (even though I like instagram!)

So here now is the “Wells” (Wells is the template name) design of my personal homepage on the internet. The prior existence was nice but it felt jagged. Too much… i don’t know, flabby. I still love the term zibaldone, and I think it still rings true as part of the aim of this site. I may still put together a newsletter/dispatch style post, but I think those discoveries fly by so quickly that you may as well follow me on twitter for that sort of thing.

As far as something getting close to a professional update, I recently had a grand time taking portrait commissions at the first annual Cuddle Expo. It was a great space full of caring, compassionate folks, and some of them needed updated headshots and that’s where I came in.

I realized something in that moment. I actually liked shooting portraits. I now have an answer for what I take pictures of (at least in part.) And in addition to the ongoing dream of selling prints I am one step closer to an actual business model.

I may post soon about the portrait sessions at a conference, which as far as I know is a fairly uncommon and unique offering… but that will be a dedicated post in the coming weeks.

With that, I am happy to say that I’m enjoying my online presence now more than I have… possibly ever? Is that even possible?

The Sunk Cost Fallacy and Film

I feel like I've seen a number of posts in photo forums recently about "how to shoot X"

These are not questions about people using odd and rare film, or doing cool hacks like trying to shoot 35mm film in a medium format camera. These are people talking about an old roll of Tri-X or Kodak Gold. Film that, mercifully, is still being made today.

So... to those people I say... shoot the damn roll. Just put it in your camera and find out what happens.

The difference between the cost of a frame of 35mm and the bits in digital photo is like comparing Jupiter to the Moon. I get it, that is kind of a weird thing to think about, the notion that it cost real money to make something. And while I also tend to believe that therein lies some of its value as a form of expression, there is an intermediary stage in this creative process where the film is worth nothing.


Film is worth nothing.

Just remember that. It's not worth anything until you've shot it. You have contributed nothing of value until you click that shutter button and forever altered the chemical structure of that piece of film.

I know it's sad that Fuji discontinued Acros.

Shoot the roll.

That pack of Polaroid film cost $20? Shoot it. Put some love on it, dammit. a snapshot, a beautiful tree, your friend wearing a hat. All more valuable than blank nothing.

Polaroid Onestep 2 viewfinder review

When I learned that Polaroid Originals was going to be releasing a slightly updated version of their Onestep 2 camera, I was intrigued enough to take the plunge. 

A few of the pros of buying a new Onestep 2 camera: 

  1. Reliable. You know it's going to work out of the box, and if not, there is a warranty behind it. 

  2. Slightly cheaper in the long run. The price of 600 film compared to i-type film may be enough to justify purchasing if you buy packs of film frequently. 

  3. Features. This isn't a fully manual Polaroid experience like you'd get with an SX-70 or SLR-680, but it has just about everything else: self-timer, flash disable, multiple exposure*, and exposure compensation switch. 

  4. You can blow people's minds that they "still make Polaroids"

The cons: 

  1. Price. I purchased my JobPro 600 camera on ebay for about $30, it still works really well and has most of the features of the OneStep 2. The only things it can't do are take iType film and it doesn't have a self-timer.

    1. It will take you about 23 packs of i-type film until you start realizing the savings in difference in cost between buying a used Polaroid camera and shooting exclusively 600 film.*

    2. If you're really cost-conscious and like the idea of instant film more "in theory" than in practice, you may be happier with a Fuji Instax mini. You can find them for much less and the film is quite affordable, even if the images are very small.



When you open the Polaroid OneStep2 box, you are greeted with the front of the camera facing you. Almost like it's going to take your picture right away. I opted for the subdued black model, but the white model clearly wears is vintage inspiration. In black it appears a bit more "business."

It feels solidly built. It's not noticeably heavy, like a lot of cameras. It certainly feels less-dense than a digital camera. Because it doesn't have a flip up flash, the OneStep 2 looks much smaller when it's sitting on a table. The form factor still probably won't save you much room in a bag or case,  as its maximum height, length and width are still very close to the boxier JobPro/Sun600 models in the "closed" position. 

The film closure on the OneStep 2 feels weaker than the JobPro. That old Polaroid "CLUNKS" shut nicely, you feel like you've loaded your camera for some serious business. Whereas this new one feels a bit more fragile. It's also interesting to note the slight differences between the roller and frog tongue configurations. Whereas the frog tongue is easily removable on the old 600s, the Onestep's design appears to make any kind of repair or replacement more difficult. 

 The viewfinder 

One of the biggest complaints about the original OneStep 2 (the OneStep 2.0, if you will) was the viewfinder. It was simply a window between the front and back of the camera. It was very easy for users to place their eye in such a way as to exacerbate the parallax view and miss-frame their shots. This model resolves this issue  with a  proper viewfinder. It makes the OneStep 2 even more like the original Polaroid cameras. Now there is no question as to how to look through the viewfinder, and while it cannot resolve the inherent parallax issue of having a separate viewing lens from the taking lens, it at least reduces the instances of user error. 

One of the best reasons to get a Onestep:

You can blow people's minds that they "still make Polaroids"


 After you've gone through a few packs and start to understand the ticks of the thing, the general functionality seems to be about the same between the JobPro and the Onestep 2. The camera meters for the whole image. It doesn't do any fancy "matrix metering" or anything like that, it just a reading from the entire frame and exposes for whatever the middle of that is. If you're in weird lighting, you'll have to think about how you want to compensate. 

In bright light, while it still recommends the flash you probably don't need the flash. It does  a nice job of filling against harsh shadows at midday at a reasonable distance, but otherwise it's not going to make or break things. 

 Indoors, you will probably want to use the flash. The camera has a fixed aperture that is fairly small. While Polaroid doesn't say on their site, the consensus seems to be that it's about f/11. If you disable the flash, you can hear the shutter click slightly slower, so it's probably compensating for the light difference with this. This is part of why camera shake can be a serious issue when shooting indoors.

If you know what you're doing (i.e. can read light and have a tripod or other steady surface) you will get excellent pictures in natural light under many conditions.

The only issue with the flash is its placement on the camera. It is almost in line, horizontally with the lens. I believe this leads to all kinds of flash "blooming" and what almost appears as blur. A good example of this can be seen between the two photos below(Left, without flash. Right, with flash):

Power is closely related to the flash. In one of the biggest departures from the legacy of Polaroid cameras and film, the OneStep2 has a built-in rechargable battery. It is powered through USB, so it can draw power from a USB outlet adapter or charge from a laptop or battery pack. The battery will get you through about 18 packs of film before it dies... which is like ~$270 in film** before a recharge.

One quirk of the new power supply is that the camera can take a few seconds to fully charge up and be ready to shoot. I started shooting with the idea that I could flick the switch to "on" and just shoot, but you have to let the camera charge up the flash before it'll take a picture. If it has been off for a while, this can lead to a noticeable "pause" of about 5 or 6 seconds which I found to be slightly awkward when you hit the shutter button and nothing happens.

I did accidentally leave the camera on for a full weekend and it was dead when I checked it before a shoot (had plenty of time to charge it, though), so while there is very little power draw it does not have any other kind of "sleep" feature. Charging from completely flat using a wall charger takes under two hours.

Unlike on older Polaroid cameras, the film only ejects from the camera after the shutter is released which means that there is a slightly longer delay from when the camera takes the picture. It does interrupt the classic Polaroid sound of the camera in operation, but it is overall an improvement as you can keep the button held and move the camera into a shade or shadow to eject the film if you're particularly cautious. You can also turn the camera off with the shutter pressed, then release the button while the camera is off and create a multiple exposure. This can work with the flash off or on.

It took me about halfway through my first pack on the Onestep 2 to be converted. I really liked my JobPro. I also liked my Impulse AF... each of these cameras had features that the other ones didn't. In the Impulse AF, there was real autofocus- which allowed for neat shots with shallower depth of field- and it could focus fairly close. But you can't disable the flash. The JobPro can disable the flash, but you can't do multiple exposures, and it has a fixed-focus lens.

The Onestep 2 can do most of the things of both older cameras, but it does not autofocus. I'm willing to accept the quirk of fixed focus if it means I have everything else available to me. Overall I'm very happy with the OneStep 2. I think Polaroid Originals did a great job with the design of the product, and I think that for real photo nuts the Polaroid format has some compelling benefits over the Fuji's offerings.

Creating this review took time and film. If this helped you make a buying decision or otherwise taught you something about the new generation of Polaroid cameras, you can thank me in a couple different ways.

*calculations based on standard retail prices of i-Type and 600 Polaroid Originals film.

**18 packs at $16 (baseline i-Type price) per pack.

"I don't know what this is about"

On June 30th went to the "Keep families together" rally at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. While I was waiting on the train, I overheard two young women next to me who were clearly on their way to the protest as well. I knew they were on the way because they were talking about the protest, but they were talking about it as though they were going a school assembly.

"So like, what does keep families together mean? Like it sounds nice, but I don't get what is supposed to happen."

And then, "... I wonder what actually happens after these things. Like just because you protested doesn't mean anything is going to change."


I can't recall everything they said, exactly, but I remember the feeling behind the words: apathy. And specifically I recall them recoiling from "politics"… while they were on their way to walk in a protest march. They really didn't want it to get "political."

When something gets political, that usually means it makes someone uncomfortable, and that usually happens to someone with privilege. They're having a nice time and they don't want someone else to ruin it with their feelings to the contrary.


I was troubled by this thought. That politics is something one does only if one must. Like changing your own oil… The direct participation and analysis of the choices your elected representatives make was foreign to them. And I admit that I fall far short of the mark for direct engagement with my political process but I have at least thought about my place in it.

I could understand why they were asking these questions. A protest is a galvanizing experience (or it should be) and unfortunately, a lot of folks go to a protest the same way they go to a concert: they go there to be entertained. On a very basic level they may feel politically engaged, but ultimately they are there for spectacle. To have gone to a protest. This is a big reason why I find most "funny" protest signs incredibly dull.


At the end of the march, when many people had gone home, I watched as a black woman was trying to cross the street near the plaza and the police were blocking her way. She was not in the mood to endure the police telling her where she was going to go. It wound up getting fairly intense.

A white woman started recording/streaming the interaction… and narrating to her cloud-based audience "this is not what we came here for"- she was upset that someone was yelling at the police. I remembered having those kinds of thoughts. The idea that yelling at police who were "just doing their job" and "trying to keep us safe" was rude. The reality was I knew that the police could revoke your rights on the spot, at will, and I dared not consider the painful repercussions that power has had on thousands of people.

At protests, I don't feel all that interested in engaging with people. They're (hopefully) so amped up that a meaningful dialogue isn't going to happen there. That's fine. It's about emotion, will, and expression.

In that moment of tension between the police, the woman and the watcher, I realized there were at least 3 events happening simultaneously.

  • There was a protest of the moment, the one pressing issue that sparked this event: illegal separation and detention of migrant families.
  • There was the ongoing monopoly of state violence that manifests itself in so many injustices: most commonly against those that do not fit into an established white normality.
  • And there was the spectacle. The funny posters, the sale of merchandise, the performative "good guy cops" shaking hands with protesters.

I believe that the three need to exist together, otherwise you do not have a coherent response to the "what is this about" question asked by the newcomer. It is hard, almost impossible, to put into words. They have to be shown, and they have to see the three sides of the protest. It may not come into relief at first, usually the spectacle wins out as it asks the most of our senses and the least of our hearts.

When the protest ends, hopefully something has changed or shifted in you as a witness and participant. And then you move forward with greater knowledge and an increased will to see something made better.


My Mind Salon

Around November of last year, I built a little workspace for myself. It didn't cost me anything and took me very little time. I barely even realized what I had when I created it but it feels really good that I have it now, and I feel like it's something that a lot of creative people might have but don't even realize it.

I call it a mind salon. I'm still working on the name, but it's a nice companion to things like a zibaldone. Whereas the zibaldone is your collection of thoughts and things and discoveries, the mind salon is where you put them to work.

The fact that "mind" is in the name also tells you that this is not a physical space- though I would love if it were. It's just a place I go to in my own mind that is quiet and calm and full of light and art. Some of it may be photos I've taken. Some of it may be work from other photographers. Some of it might not even be photographs: it's music and paintings and drawings and all of those other pieces of human expression.

To be honest, this is daydreaming but it's daydreaming with an element of intentionality to it. While I could conceivably access this room at any time, I find that it's best to visit it in the evening or during some other idle time, usually on the weekend.

Physically, I'm reclined, looking at the ceiling. But mentally, I'm in another place entirely. Thinking and reviewing and imagining. It's a nice place to review the large amounts of input I take in from simply existing, and it's also secluded from other things. I don't bring my dayjob into that space. I don't generally even bring other people into it.

Instead, it's a place to be alone and creative and appreciative. It's also got an element of fantasy because I can create without consuming any film or spending any money. It breaks me away from thinking about those physical expenses. And I can hang the art in my mind salon right alongside my favorite Eggleston images.

If you haven't taken time out of your more grounded living to sit back and play with a creative talent in your own mind salon. This weekend may be a good opportunity to give it a try.

Does it matter how it's made?

I've been spending a ton of time on "Photography Youtube," that weird section of the site that is devoted to photography as art and business. There's a lot of good information: product reviews, techniques, lightroom tutorials, etc.

Then there are the opinion posts where some guy (it's 90% guys) is arguing about how something "in photography" is dumb or whatever. I've seen videos bashing other photographers, bashing cameras, bashing trends, etc. Which is also fine, though it's pretty tiring to watch more than two of them.

One thing I noticed, ironically, in all of this complaining and arguing was that "no one cares how you get the shot" which has to be patently untrue. Or maybe it is true, but it's true in a way that the producers of those videos aren't anticipating.

In this example, since it's kind of dear to my heart, we'll talk about shooting on film. Do most people care that you shot on film? No. And I think it will actually be a  hindrance to certain forms of photography. It's very difficult to shoot analog and cover newsworthy things, the turnaround time is abysmal. I'm sure you're getting really good shots, but news is digital and immediate. I know that when it comes down to it, I better pack my DSLR for things that are "live."

By "live" I mean things that have a known (and time sensitive) interest level. When I go to shoot protests, I'll bring my DSLR. When I go to comic conventions, as much as I hate being a part of that herd of shooters, I bring my DSLR. I still bring the film cameras too, but I know I will need the flexibility and immediacy. That's just how it is, and I want to be a part of that stream.

Now, that also gives you a lot of leeway for times when analog photography is perfectly adequate. When you're shooting portraits and you're working on a looser time table you can get the shots one day, develop them that night, scan them the next morning. It's nice. It's a longer flow of production with some natural breaks thrown in. By the time you're sitting down to edit, you've removed yourself from the photo session itself and you can be a better judge of the images as they stand. As an added benefit, you don't have someone potentially pixel peeping over your shoulder.

Quick aside: One of the things that I believe will make you a better photographer is to turn off instant review on your DSLR. When that LCD screen lights up after the shot, I'm far more tempted to look at it. Know your settings before you shoot and you're 50% there.

So, to the degree that your workflow dictates your turnaround time, people DO care about how you produce images.

I also think that there is a level of care in that people value the creative process more than they often let on. It doesn't "matter" whether an artist works in one medium or another, but that choice in itself informs the work. So yes, when you choose to shoot on film or digital it does matter. In as much as it matters whether you travel by train or by plane. The experiences are totally different and important.

Dispatch 9: I Don't Do Requests

Us and Them

I don't normally do product recommendations in Dispatches, but since it's had a tight grip on my brain, I want to tell others about this amazing photo book I received as a Christmas present.

If you have ever followed fashion photography, you've heard of Helmut Newton. He was absolutely prolific in the 70s and 80s and defined a fairly specific couteur look that became synonymous with French Vogue. His wife of many years, Alice Springs, was also a photographer and artist in her own right and the couple documented their lives and careers. Those photos of their life together were collected in the book "Us and Them."

Even if you're not the biggest fan of Newton's work (I respect his skill, but editorial fashion photography doesn't really "do it" for me), you'll come away with an appreciation for both of Helmut and Alice. They are clearly a powerful duo. The images collected over their lives are remarkable for the breadth. I came away feeling like I knew these people.

I highly recommend this and for the price, you'll be glad you bought it for yourself or some other shutterbug in your life.

The most expensive media

Techmoan posted a video detailing the most expensive home audio format: reel to reel tapes.

As usual the video gets into the fascinating details of the technology. Reel to reel was always an enthusiast format. It was more cumbersome than vinyl albums or enclosed tape formats like cassettes and 8-tracks. But the up side was that, if properly mastered, the tapes wound sound far better than just about any other format. There are some additional caveats to that, but it is still pretty interesting to see that tapes are still being produced (albeit at exorbitant prices.)

Play it again

There are no shortage of piano covers on youtube, but I happened to have this particular video recommended to me and it is probably the end-all-be-all of piano cover videos.


I didn't bother to even count how many songs Lara6638 plays, but it's an astounding amount only made more remarkable by the fact that she was taking requests live. Since it was originally streamed on Twitch there are a lot of videogame covers (Legend of Zelda makes multiple appearances), but there are a lot of other pop songs in the mix as well.

That'll do it for this dispatch.