People often ask me what kind of cameras I shoot with.
Over the years, I have been through bazillions of different cameras in search of just the right je ne sais quoi. The right camera should feel like a partner in crime, a constant companion, and a trusty tool. Basically, it should successfully translate—or at least mimic—the way that you see the world.
Here are my typical weapons of choice, past and present.
I was fortunate enough to acquire one of these hardy little dudes at an estate sale in late 2007 for 150 bucks, though they typically go for about $400 on eBay these days. Six months into my adventures with it, it developed a battery issue, and I had to sent it off to be repaired by some specialty shop in Vermont for six months. But it came back working like a charm, and has been serving me since.
There are a number of reason why it’s my favorite camera; it’s got a metal shell that offers it tortoise-like protection, since it’s typically being thrown around at the bottom of my bag or backpack, always on-the-go and unafraid. Its settings are reliable and almost minimalist; the aperture is changed by gently rotating the peeking-out lens, and the flash is powerful and still yields sharp, light-flooded images. The widest aperture of 2.8 suffices better than one would expect. It is a camera that feels present with you, and thoughtful, almost like wearing a pair of glasses instead of staring through a small machine.
Its focusing and metering can be temperamental at times. But I always have the feeling like there’s a bit of soul in it, like its squinting and cocking its head to the side before I even look through the viewfinder or press the shutter, trying to see what’s in front of it. And the mistakes seem happy and purposeful.
Sharing a similar legacy and fan base to the T2, the T4 is typically a bit cheaper and grittier. For this reason, I prefer to use it for parties, and spontaneous road trips where it might get flung into a bog or a patch of quicksand. I brought it to riots in 2010 and ghost towns the following year. There’s something slightly vulgar about it when the flash is used; I believe that this is the reason why Terry Richardson is rumored to be so fond of it. Maybe it’s for someone a little more free-spirited than the typical T2 user, someone who wants more images of blood and nudity. But like a bad boyfriend, it also has surprising moments of tenderness that keep you coming back to it even when it has done you wrong many times over.
Ah, the Nikon N90. Though not particularly “cool” or well-known, it’s the first camera I really learned to take photos on; I got mine when I was 15, shortly before 9/11, and have a lot of weird feelings associated with the first few rolls I took on it. It’s bulky, and heavy, and requires more thought than a point-and-shoot. But it has continued to excite me over the years, especially when I tried it with different flashes and lenses, and eventually settled on using it in Automatic mode so that I could be more spontaneous with it as its value decreased in a digital world. Using it is like befriending an old, talented musician who never made it big. It also makes a loud, super-satisfying click.
Polaroid SLR 680
This ridiculous-looking thing was my one true love from about 2006 to late 2009, at which point Polaroid 600 film became incredibly difficult to obtain. I still have a decent stash, but it’s growing more deeply expired—and subsequently, reddish and faded—with each passing day. But the SLR 680, in spite of its totally weird form and bumbly lack of Apple-product elegance, is like the Rolls Royce of Polaroid cameras. Its large sonar panel produces incredibly crisp and beautiful images that are perfect imitations of the longing of memory and the bittersweetness of nostalgia. Pressing the shutter with the lightest touch possible, you can focus and unfocus on your subject over and over until you get just the right level of depth. It’s only fair, then, that I can’t continue to use one forever; it was always meant to be a librarian of the past, of things that we can’t have anymore, but were once so real, if only for a second.
I got hooked on shooting with a Spectra camera about 7 years ago because the film was cheaper, but I stuck around because it’s the perfect portrait camera. With slightly more technology and larger negatives than its 600 counterparts, the Spectra series (and their cousin, the Minolta Instant Pro) was Polaroid’s attempt to integrate more settings and customizability into its cameras, with features such as integrated double exposure and self timer options. Its yields are quiet and dream-like, with backgrounds fading into the horizon forever while what’s in the center feels so close you could touch it.
Honorable Mentions: Lomo LC-A, Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim, and Canon AE-1
Though all currently in retirement, I used the above for at least a few rolls apiece with (typically) great results.
The Lomo LC-A had its 15 minutes of fame in 2004-2006, when it experienced something of a cult revival and suddenly was everywhere and coveted. It was lauded for being “unpredictable” and saturated and clunky and made by Communists, all of which do factor into some pretty interesting photos that have strange green or yellow or red pallors, and a quintessentially “indie” feel if you are the type of person who insists on using that word. Mine insisted on breaking frequently and unapologetically, but I did become fond of its gusto and would employ it again if I was a little bit younger and if film was less expensive, or if I was shooting an album cover for a band that was brooding and ambient.
The Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim is hilariously cheap (I think I got mine for $5) and featherlight, weighing little more than the roll of film itself. You’re never quite sure if it’s working, or if your entire roll will suck, or if you’ll drop it on the ground and it will shatter into a hundred pieces of plastic. But considering its price and quality of production, it can do pretty amazing things:
The Canon AE-1 is the perfect starter rangefinder camera. They’re super-affordable (I got mine at Goodwill for $50) and very forgiving while you get the hang of the all-manual settings and old-school mechanical body. Even though I don’t use mine as often as I should, I feel like everyone should have one; it’s like the Rebel of analog cameras. If I ever have kids, I hope that I can give them each one when they turn 13 and set them loose on the world.
Remember 2002? Cool, me neither. So when I found this mixtape that I made when I was 16, I couldn’t resist popping it in and seeing what I was listening to 11 fateful years ago. It serves as a cultural relic of an adolescent girl with angst flying in one million directions, lured simultaneously by breakdowns and twinkly bits and gross greasy screaming dudes, bordering on the cultures of 2nd wave Midwest emo, post-punk, and the tail end of grunge and (the dreaded) nü-metal.
Put simply, I was of the emo/indie persuasion. I wore scarves when it was 72 degrees outside, had iron-on patches from Interpunk all over my Dickies messenger bag, and head-surfed at Saves the Day shows. Take it or leave it. If you are averse to this moment in history, you may not want to continue.
Grasping to commandeer the notion of coolness, teenagers like my 2002 self are predisposed to leave behind artifacts—snakeskins—of their ever-shedding tastes. Let’s have a listen.
1. Rainer Maria – Ears Ring
You know, this band is not bad. The singer has the swagger of Karen O., albeit less shiny and more likely to be found at a barbecue in Wisconsin. I feel like if this came out today, people would still be fairly receptive to it—it holds up well in the post-iPhone era. I also love the diner vibes in this video—so trademark of this era. People were just sitting in diners until 3am on the regs, sweating in cardigans studded with 1″ buttons. I think I spent about 40% of 2001-2005 sitting in a fucking Denny’s.
2. Coldplay – Clocks
I know, the word Coldplay strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of hip people. But hear me out. This album had just come out. The only previous impression that we had of Coldplay at this point was garnered from the tepid, somewhat adorable “Yellow.” So cut me some slack. How was I to know about Gwyneth, or Apple, or GOOP? How was I to know about Viva La Vida? I repent, but in all truth, in 2002 this song was considered tolerable at worst. Side note: I’m in a café right now and they’ve played a flamenco version of this song twice since I got here 45 minutes ago.
3. Braid – Do You Love Coffee
Like several of their contemporaries (Joan of Arc being the clearest example), Braid were secretly a math-rock band. Weird time signatures galore coming from these fools. However, this isn’t even close to being their best track. Should’ve picked “A Dozen Roses” or “Forever Got Shorter.” I was just flailing my way through the Polyvinyl discography.
4. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – A Perfect Teenhood
I was about to remark that this band was super-underrated since they seem to have disappeared into obscurity, never to be mentioned again in the American Apparel era, but then I did some research-Googling and discovered that Source Tags and Codes got a 10/10 on Pitchfork, and actually, they were probably overrated at the time. Whatever drugs they were on in the early 2000s were doing incredible things for them, although on second thought it would be hard to imagine them turning out well-adjusted after a decade or so of their habits (the refrain at the end of this song: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” etc.)
5. Pedro The Lion—Let Down (live Radiohead cover)
In high school, I was one of those Radiohead freaks who drew the Amnesiac minotaur all over my binders and bought bootlegs of TV interviews with them and stuff. And also, Pedro the Lion was at the peak of their folky sadcore baritone Christian indie act, and this cover is decent. The patience to listen to shaky live tracks of your favorite bands seems to wear thin after age 22.
If you were waiting for the other shoe to drop and the cultural hysteria of the early 2000s to show through somewhere in this post, this would be the place. Remember Orgy? Yes, that Marilyn-Manson-covering-Depeche-Mode-sounding act from the Family Values 98 tour, better known for their asinine cover of “Blue Monday”? Anyways, this was their original hit, and the hook should probably be reworked into a Skrillex song or something. Unsurprisingly, the video involves “technology” and the lead singer wears all white and plenty of liquid eyeliner.
7. Deftones—Knife Party at the Niko
Wild horses (or white ponies) couldn’t drag me away from liking this song, even as a Certified Adult who schedules her own dental appointments and saves money and mails things the day I intend to. Yes, the vocals are pretty quintessentially nü-metal (aside from the shrieks and wails of Rodleen Getsic toward the end, which fall somewhere between orgasmic and terrifying) but the chorus is colossal, and on a note of pure nostalgia, my friends Draper, Greer, and Victor and I used to buh-LAST this song out of my Ford Explorer every time we drove home from a hardcore show at The Pound (RIP). I remember once reading a critic calling Deftones “the Radiohead of metal.” Metal as a whole genre, maybe not. But this is like, shoegaze metal.
This mix was made when Elliott was still alive and seemed so promising—it’s strange to think that it’s been 10 years since his death (as of only a few days ago). I don’t care how much of a cliché he is at this point; I loved his music with every hair on my forlorn little head and still do. I could listen to Either/Or at any time of any day and still be just as charmed by and heartbroken over it as I was the first time I heard it.
I’ve been around downtown LA a bit lately and thought about what a weird, seedy place it was—and continues to be, but not nearly as bad these days with all of those galleries and fancy lofts and whatnot—and how that was where Elliott used to hang out, strung out, looking to cop dope, feeling shitty. I really don’t think that anyone in music has filled the void he left. These days, popular “indie rock” is all of this safe, blasé, Starbucks-friendly crap, Arctic Monkeys and the Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, and not to say that those bands have zero merits or that I wish that indie rock was still filled with self-loathing junkies but for Christ’s sake, where’s the edge? And I don’t mean like “Black Lips edge” where it’s like, “wooo, we puke and get naked on stage and we’re so shocking!” I mean representing the human condition in all of its beautiful, ugly, jagged little facets. I’m going to stop now and move on to the next song. RIP Elliott, when I lived in LA I would drive by the wall from the Figure 8 cover every day.
10. At the Drive-In—Hourglass
I feel like if At the Drive-In were invented now, I might find them incredibly annoying, but it wouldn’t be possible for them to be invented in 2013 because that would be like going back in time and killing your parents, or something. What I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty sure their influence extends much further than the direct reach of their music. This ~*~sLoW JaM~*~ from In/Casino/Out is poetic in the cubist, haphazard way that only Cedric Bixler et. al. can be.
11. Joy Division—Love Will Tear Us Apart
Perhaps the most puzzling part of this mixtape is how the hell I was listening to Joy Division, The Used, and Orgy all at the same time without any sense of one being significantly better than the others. You’d think that after hearing a post-punk masterpiece like this I would have considered abandoning everything on Victory Records. But admittedly, I think I just discovered Joy Division from Trainspotting and Donnie Darko, both of which I was watching on a bi-weekly basis between 2002 and 2004.
12. The Ramones—Blitzkrieg Bop
Teenagers gonna listen to The Ramones. They will start with this song or maybe “I Wanna Be Sedated.” In the words of Sully from Degrassi: The Next Generation …
No surprises here.
Drive-Thru Records. Drive-Thru Records. More Drive-Thru Records. Everything on that label was a shaken-and-poured cocktail of pop punk, emo, and radio rock. Also, my college roommate told me recently that he pseudo-interned there when he was 15 and felt like maybe the married, 40-something guy who ran the label was sexually interested in young men. I guess that this makes Drive-Thru the Penn State of late 90s/early 2000s pop punk labels—widely popular, but with a dark underbelly. Finch is actually doing a multi-leg reunion tour for this album (What It Is To Burn) this very moment … which I will definitely not be attending.
14. Bright Eyes—Sunrise, Sunset
This year was the peak of BRIGHT EYES HYSTERIA. Every alt/indie/emo girl was in love with Conor Oberst, carving his name into their forearms with ballpoint pens; every alt/indie/emo dude was getting that Oberst-pioneered Kate Gosselin prototype haircut with the devilock and the short spiky back.
The following is an image that I actually used on my Livejournal during this era. Why I keep these things, I don’t know.
Okay though, at umphundredth listen 10+ years later, Oberst is a decent (if melodramatic) lyricist and the only thing that has aged really poorly about Bright Eyes is his warbling, tears-in-eyes voice, which is simply too much to pipe into headphones or car stereos on our morning commute. Like, cool, we get it, you’re affected.
15. Cursive—The Night I Lost the Will to Fight
But on the other side of the Saddle Creek coin, we have Cursive, who seemed to have achieved poignancy without preciousness. Domestica, the band’s concept album about a dyfunctional relationship/possibly the Brook Shields child prostitution movie Pretty Baby, is rugged, ugly, whispery, grating, scabby, tender, throbbing, and still really good. It harnesses the Nirvana/Pixies methodology of alternating loud-quiet-loud-quiet to keep you waiting, wanting, and exploding. Is it for teenagers? Maybe. But a lot of good music is/was. Plus, they were pretty great live.
16. The Movielife—10 Seconds Too Late
“THE SMILE JUST MELTED OFF YOUR FACE AND STAINED YOUR SHIRT.”
It’s hard to say whether punk is dead. At the time, I certainly felt “punk” listening to this snotty, snare-heavy ode to love-hating someone and yourself. But what is this? It’s not quite the bojangly, gang-vocally fun-time carousel of pop punk, nor the loathful cries of emo. This is the pterodactyl that came out of the cultural-genetic soup of the early 2000s—kind of like a bird, kind of like a dinosaur, but really just a weird-looking accidental hybrid.
17. Smashing Pumpkins—Set the Ray to Jerry
Still just one of the best songs ever, in this girl’s opinion. Wrote a longer essay about my ongoing, shameless love for this band on Deaf Forever, my old rock ‘n’ roll blog with Laura—”Slackers with a Vision,” if you care to read it. In that post (from a coupla years ago) I describe this song thusly:
Mostly driven by bass and some purring drums, this is a sexy, quiet one. … Definitely an end-of-the-night, about-to-make-out, low-lighting jam. Also definitely seeing the Cure’s huge influence on the band here.
Le sigh. Still hits me.
18. Bedroom Heroes—Second Hand
This must have been a Napster find, because these days this band cannot even be Shazaam’d. Perhaps a rare OOP hybrid of post-rock and emo? Think Dredg. Vocals are so very soft, so so soft, softer than Aubrey Drake Graham. It’s hard to know what I was ~*~so emotional~*~ about during this time that made this kind of stuff sound good, especially considering that at the time I was mostly just drinking Smirnoff Ice and smoking Marlboro menthols with my friends in 7-11 parking lots, making out with the junior boys, eating Caesar salads at California Pizza Kitchen, and trying to build liquid eyeliner finesse. Hormones!
19. Engine Down—Pantomime
Highly forgettable but not terrible post-hardcore band from Richmond, VA. Basically Sparta, but without the cred of having members from At the Drive-In. Got a 7.5 on Pitchfork—my, how tastes have changed. Zero emphasis placed on having decent vocals during this era.
20. System of a Down—Aerials
Oh, hell yeah. Why does everyone nut so hard over Rage Against the Machine and forget about the mania of this band? Is it because they fear the nü metal? Perhaps. No music genre got stuck with a worse rep than nü metal, mostly because it was home to the consistently reviled Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Like Deftones, SOAD was lumped into this category because they were pissed off and had deviant facial hair and proggy bass lines, but their political commentary was legitimate and nuanced, and they weren’t privileged white boys bitching about getting dumped a la Fred Durst.
21. Radiohead—Lift (live)
Moar Radiohead. Always with the Radiohead. From the days when they were still guitar-driven, this one wouldn’t have been out of place on The King of Limbs or even In Rainbows if it had had a little rearrangement.
22. Thursday—I Am the Killer
Oh, Thursday. Every emo owned and ruminated on Full Collapse, whether they would care to admit it or not. Though not a bad album, it was the lowest-common-denominator record for every teenager in 2002 who listened to punk, indie, emo, alt-rock, post-rock, you name it—basically any kid who was dying their hair black. Does it hold up? I wouldn’t be the one to tell you, because the nostalgia it conjures in me is too strong to be able to identify whether its shrieks, screams, cries, murmurs are relatable to post-Arcade Fire teens and Gen-Y-ers. What will become of this music? Is it doomed to ridicule, or will Geoff Rickly and Tim Kasher be living (hopefully) legends to our own spawn?
Tough to say. But if you were there, you were there.
Please pretend that this entire post was in the official font of 2002:
It is well-known that mothers are prone to being fond of sales and the acquisition of tchotchkes. For my mother, this urge is enacted at the book outlet at the Menlo Park Library, a formidable golden trash heap of endlessly varied tomes for $1.
Recently, she brought home Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The Guide. Although I was no wearer of perfume (but neither is she; sensitive Irish skin), she insisted that I flip through it.
I expected to be bored, because after all, how much could there possibly be to say about floral notes and white musk and Indian jasmine? Surely not an entire book’s worth?
But I was wrong. This book is one of the most entertaining and eye-opening reads I’ve set eyes on in years. To Turin and Sanchez, scent is as complex and nuanced as music or visual art, conveying fully sculpted concepts that can be executed masterfully or terribly. In fact, the analyses of fragrances that they find disgusting are often more entertaining than the ones they find ingenious. Mostly, I’m impressed by the authors’ ability to ignite sentiment and curiosity for something I previously regarded as garish and grandmotherly. (Please disregard highlighting below, I had to search through Amazon’s “Look Inside!” feature to find certain passages.)
I ended up becoming so enchanted by this elevated concept of perfumery that I purchased a couple for myself—Hanae Mori’s Butterfly and Lolita Lempicka. As described below:
I’m quite happy smelling like a “terrifically trashy cotton-candy idea”—but I do go light on the spray. To me, this book is a shining example of how engaging, humanistic writing can transform virtually any topic from mundane to magical. As a rambler, I find that idea comforting. And for the record, I like Tommy Girl.
My office is very into holiday music. We’ve been steadily rotating through the “Indie Holiday” “Joey Ramone Holiday” “Bruce Springsteen Holiday” and “Hanukkah” Pandora stations for the past two weeks (I do not recommend the Hanukkah station) (I’m half-Jewish, it just irrefutably sucks, believe me). In the interest of remaining spirited while coping with the fact that I was BORN TO ROCK, I have downloaded the MONSTER BALLADS XMAS and will henceforth review it track by track as I listen through my headphones.
1) Skid Row – Jingle Bells
This is an unimaginably bad way to start this album, or any album for that matter. Sebastian Bach sounds like Mike Ness from Social Distortion (not in a good way) and the production is bottom-of-the-barrel. In spite of the fact that this issue of Rolling Stone:
is a fixture in our bathroom reading pile, I truly despise this.
2. Winger – Happy Christmas (War Is Over)
This track is actually not that bad, being approximately what I would expect from a compilation called “Monster Ballads Xmas”. It is a ballad, it qualifies as “monster” due to an ongoing chorus of wailing guitars, and it repeats the word “Christmas” many times over. Also, Google.com—maybe you’ve heard of it—taught me that this is a John Lennon cover! I like John Lennon. Bravo, Winger. Also love their look, especially the denim shirt knotted just sub-navel:
3. Jani Lane – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
4. Twisted Sister with Lita Ford – I’ll Be Home for Christmas
This ditty really delivers. Lita Ford lends her pipes with enthusiasm and there’s a solid 1-minute guitar solo that really evokes snow peacefully falling on conifers while you gather round the fire with loved ones. I tried to put on the Twisted Sister holiday Pandora station after playing this but my coworkers made me turn it off after less than 30 seconds.
5. Queensryche – White Christmas
Opens with a sick little riff that sounds nothing like White Christmas as you know it. The vocals are disgusting, like your drunk uncle looking for attention towards the end of your cousin’s wedding as everyone solemnly tries to convince him to cab it home.
6. LA Guns – Run Rudolph Run
Lemmy from Motorhead does a way better version of this song, so I don’t feel I’m able to judge it fairly. It’s okay, but it’s not Lemmy. No one else could ever be Lemmy.
7. Firehouse – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Some nice guitar effects in the intro, adding a sort of “stadium rock” vibe. Some tickly little guitar pickage between verses. I commend their efforts to rock. Fucking boring, though.
8. Danger Danger – Naughty Naughty Christmas
I am familiar with neither this band nor this song. Opening lyrics “I’ve been a naughty boy / I didn’t get a toy.” This is literally unlistenable, I had to change it before it even got to the chorus to avoid throwing the poinsettia on my desk against the wall.
9. Tom Keifer – Blue Christmas
In case you were wondering, Tom Keifer is the dude from Cinderella. He’s very pretty.
I wish that my makeup could look as nice as his, but his fake vibrato is pretty awful. Kind of like Steven Tyler but with the musical aesthetic of like 1992. I’m not convinced that he’s having a blue Christmas.
10. Nelson – Jingle Bell Rock
Jingle hell rock.
11. Faster Pussycat – Silent Night
HAHAHAHA! For some reason FP decided to interpret Silent Night through a Marilyn Manson-esque industrial wasteland filter. This sounds like Nine Inch Nails playing in a children’s choir! I love it! A+++
12. Dokken – Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Starts off with a sweet little piano melody, but don’t be fooled! Dokken is here to show you that the holidays are as hard as the frozen lake that you skate on until you accidentally wander onto some thin ice and die a miserable flailing death while your internal organs shut down from hypothermia. Oopsy!
13. Enuff Znuff – Happy Holiday
I appreciate the audacity that they adopted when naming their musical project. Truly self-flagellating. Love this track—definitely needs a video of some babes in Santa bikinis cruising in a Lamborghini and then making out underneath some mistletoe in front of a roaring fireplace. HOW HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS BAND? I LOVE THIS.
14. Stryper – Winter Wonderland
I think this was recorded live, which rules because that means that hundreds or possibly thousands of people somewhere chose to see Stryper on Christmas. It sounds about a thousand times better than many of the previous tracks on this godforsaken compilation, so kudos for that. Surprisingly rollicking and warm fuzzies-inducing.
15. Billy Idol – Christmas Love
Acoustic. Eww. And I love Billy Idol, but Billy Idol should not be acoustic. And he sounds all warbly, like a bad version of how Johnny Cash sounded when he got really old and was all about to die and stuff. But you know what? In the spirit of Christmas, I forgive Billy Idol, because this:
Peace on Earth, man. Whatever.
Download here to fill your home with Christmas cheer—until your roommates scream at you to turn it off.