POINT AND SHOOT

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.

Contax T2

Look at this friendly little thing.

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.

more Contax T2 photos here

Yashica T4

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.

more Yashica T4 photos here

Nikon N90s

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.

more Polaroid SLR 680 photos here

Polaroid Spectra / Minolta Instant Pro

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.

more Spectra and Instant Pro photos here

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.

Tacoma, 2004, taken with a Lomo LC-A
Marcel, 2004, taken with a Lomo LC-A

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:

Bombay Beach, 2008, taken with a Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim

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.

Cakes, 2011, taken with a Canon AE-1
Lisa, Palm Springs, 2011, taken with a Canon AE-1

I NEED A NEW DREAM

I need a new dream because I fulfilled a long-standing one, right at the top of ye olde bucket list. To go to Iceland, stand on its moss, rub the noses of its ponies, gaze at its glaciers, be wine-drunk somewhere where 4am looks like late-afternoon. I guess it all started somewhere in my teens, with Hyperballad or maybe Flugufrelsarrin; it seemed like these songs from the great glaciered island had a certain quality of cavernousness, oldness, paleness, sparkle of crystalline, like you could imagine that maybe they were really adapted from the chants of vikings mixed with the harmonies of weird little elves who live in piles of rocks. Then came the actual imagery of it, all of that lava and those gentle little sheep and those massive and desolate fields of green or gray that seemed to go on truly forever. And no billboards—how can a place in this space-time point have no billboards? And can I go there, can I really? And I did.

And it was cold, and so empty, and when it’s summer in New York and you’ve tired of brunches with three Bloody Marys and rooftop parties with bored graphic designers, well, that’s just the kind of place I’d like to be. 

I was also blessed to be with wonderful friends from the UK, and to meet their wonderful friends, and to all drink whiskey together out of a flask that I bought at a geyser and to laugh at the austerity of our barely-manned, minimalist airport hotel. And the grocery stores were so confusing, Christ, they were confusing, with sheeps’ heads and what felt like 300 different flavors of yogurt, and way too much salted licorice. And then at some point, I’m back at my desk in New York, in Times Square, sorting spreadsheets and writing Tweets and listening to Bruce Springsteen on Spotify but still being able to hear honking through my headphones. That ache of having been alien and going back to just being a busy little person in a big noisy city.

So, where will it be next? Or should I forfeit Starbucks and subways and just become a shepherd?

LATE SPRING / EARLY SUMMER 2014

This last photo is of Dolly, a 90-year-old woman that Emily and I met on the sidewalk in Breezy Point. She invited us into her home for two hours, gave us fruit cups, and told us all about growing up in New York in the 40s, 50s, 60s. She told Emily to trim her split ends and me to get a tan and “marry a nice man.” It was an important and magical Sunday.

IT AIN’T ALL BAD

Do I really hate cats? Probably not. But I can tell you one thing; I don’t fit in with serious cat people. I went to New York’s first cat café for VICE and interviewed happy kitty lovers who stood in the rain for 5 hours so that they could pet cats … but never visit animal shelters.

me, looking at the cat people

Public service announcement: every major city has tons of animal shelters with dogs and cats that would LOVE for you to visit and kick it with them. They’re chilling in their kennels all day, gazing longingly through the chicken wire, praying that you’ll take them for a walk or scratch behind their ears or even talk to them in that high-pitched voice that makes your significant other cringe. You don’t need to get drenched in a lemming line for half your day just to say what’s up to some animals.

This is completely unrelated, but I cannot iterate strongly enough how good the new Afghan Whigs album is and how much pleasure it is bringing to my workday.

So many of my friends of the rock ‘n’ roll persuasion dangle on either side of what the Whigs do, either opting for something a little more grungy and mainstream or snottier and less accessible. But for God’s sake there should be a fantastic band playing heavy soul music right now and this is it, even after all those years. Emote a little.

More writing when I’ve recovered from turning 28.

*********************************************************************************************************************

Why do people make New Year’s resolutions? They’re conceived in a state of undoubted drunkenness, when one is feeling ultimately miserable from holiday indulgence and begging for some sort of self-affirmation that you will lose 10 lbs or “date better guys” or whatever. What people should really be making are birthday resolutions. Birthday resolutions strike when you’re already in a state of hyper-awareness about getting older, can look back with better accuracy at all of the stupid things you’ve done in the past 365 days, and hopefully capitalize on the idea of “wisdom” with “age.”

Here are my BIRTHDAY RESOLUTIONS (28TH YEAR OF LIFE)

1. IT IS MANDATORY THAT I END MY ADDICTION TO SUGAR

This one is the most serious. My friend’s 90-something Korean grandmother told me that when you eat sugar, parasites grow inside of you and munch happily on all of the candies and cookies and lovely treats that you stuff into your face. Even though I believe this to be … false, to put it lightly, the very concept of it has disturbed me for some time. I am absolutely, unequivocally, physically addicted to sugar. I find ways to sneak it into everything and for my birthday two of my friends made me the most delectable s’mores ice cream cake that my lips have ever beheld, so I will have to begin as soon as the cake is gone (which will likely be in 24 more hours). There is no other way.

2. LEARN HOW TO USE TWITTER

The other day some obnoxious troll commented on a post that my boyfriend had written for a relatively popular music website, and went on some ridiculous rant about how writers should be ignored if they have less than 1000 followers on Twitter. Obviously, I disagree with this strongly and wanted to vomit all over my keyboard at the site of his comments. But, like the Korean grandma sugar-parasite legend, it still stuck with me in spite of its obvious lack of factuality. Working in media, one needs to, at the very least, try to be less averse to all things Twitter, since there seems to be a collective idea that it’s “integral” to “modern culture.”

3. BE LESS SARCASTIC

I just realized this one while typing out why I should learn how to use Twitter. But honestly, as someone who vouches for earnestness so earnestly, I should be better about practicing it.

4. STOP BEING A WUSS

My former roommate was reading a self-help book titled The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. One day, I was leafing through it and read a considerable portion about what can be learned from Stoics, a formal philosophical practice that entails placing less emphasis on the demand for “true happiness” and more on developing tactics for managing uncertainty, regret, and insecurity. It mirrored what another friend told me he learned from Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking; accept times of mild to moderate discomfort and unpleasantry. Welcome them, and recognize that you can survive them. Understand that all experiences are finite and that the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen, and, even if it does, it likely isn’t something you can’t withstand. And even if you die—well, we all do. This is actually a very liberating thought, and one that I am trying to integrate more into my daily experiences rather than leaning on complaining and avoidance.

5. START DRESSING MORE LIKE AN ADULT FEMALE AND LESS LIKE A TEENAGE BOY FROM 1994

Just kidding. I’m going to wear overalls and band t-shirts all summer.

*********************************************************************************************************************

A few new photos over on my Flickr page.

BACKS OF HEADS

assorted photos taken between 2007 and the present in the following places: Austin, TX; Niland, CA; Bombay Beach, CA; Shaver Lake, CA; San Francisco, CA; El Centro, CA; Alamogordo, NM; Los Angeles, CA; Half Moon Bay, CA; Grand Canyon, AZ; Monticello, NY; Bakersfield, CA; and London, UK.

 

 

SO QUIET AND SO HOT

One day, when I was 11, I got into my mother’s minivan at the train station—at the time, I made the 15 mile journey to and from school via Caltrain—and saw that she was straight-faced and solemn. My brother and sister and I paused, remained silent, and awaited Very Serious News.

“Grandpa passed away this morning.”

I spotted a newspaper on the floor of the car and read the headline.

“Look!,” I pointed, “Joe DiMaggio died, too!”

I had been obsessed with the Forrest Gump soundtrack, particularly of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” and often dwelled on that line:

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.

As far as I was concerned, he was a mystical overseer of America, a god, though I knew little about his baseball career or relationship with that era’s gilded Lindsay Lohan—Ms. Monroe.

My sister turned to me. “What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you hear Mom? Grandpa died.”

He was my third grandparent to die, but even on the starting line of puberty I couldn’t really fathom what that meant. I couldn’t grasp that he was my father’s father, one of the four fountains from which my blood was poured.

Unsure of why I felt embarrassed, I looked down. “You’re messed up,” my sister sneered. “Grandpa died, and you’re talking about Joe DiMaggio. Who cares?”

The next few weeks were tense.  Father was quiet and dark, and started smoking again after a two-year hiatus. There was suspicion that Grandpa’s sinister girlfriend had poisoned him (she had apparently lied to him about her age and about the existence of her three adult children, so there were red flags) but it eventually cleared. I was accustomed to the Irish funerals on my mother’s side, which were about as upbeat as death can be, but my father’s Jewish sensibilities were far more morose. But eventually, the gloomy dust cleared and we were left with one thing: Grandpa’s condo in Palm Springs.

July 4, 2010

We had never had a vacation home. The condo served as both a silver lining and a constant reminder of the absence of our grandfather. I felt a bit like a ‘tween graverobber, sunning myself on Grandpa’s dead dime.

At first, I detested Palm Springs. The snail-slow pace of life, the old-people smell, the quietness. I begged my parents not to make us go, but to no avail. Time passed quickly and with an unstoppable stream of family escapes to the white-carpeted bungalow.

After three years, I shifted from hating it to tolerating it after finding a punk rock combination boutique and tattoo parlor not far from our condo, and after three more, I found it almost likable after glamorous Uncle Henry began taking winters off from New York to tan there in a minimalist mid-century house in an adjoining neighborhood. I converted further when I appropriated Grandpa’s place as a hub to post up and bake pot brownies for Coachella when I was a high school senior.

Now even that was nearly ten years ago, and the closets are still filled with his clothing, the cabinets contain bottles of whiskey that are older than I am, and the towels are strangely stiff from lack of use. When the house lies dormant and empty, it can be 80 degrees, 90 degrees inside, a giant Easy Bake oven preserving desert-toned pastel bedspreads and half-empty bottles of Vidal Sassoon from a pre-internet Earth.

July 5, 2010

Palm Springs—although it has become hipper and younger due to arrival of the Ace Hotel and the aforementioned music festival’s annual takeover of the valley—is where I would go if nuclear war or zombie apocalypse dawned on society. It feels as though no one there takes notice of the outside world—only of the Jewish delis, antique stores, Mexican cantinas, and hair parlors lining each of the blacktop streets. There are abandoned malls that no one is concerned with renovating. When I awake and step outside of the condo at 10am, I can walk onto our street in my underwear and see no one, hear nothing except the buzz of cicadas clinging to the palms and the occasional Cadillac passing two blocks over.

Cakes at Sherman's Deli, April 2011.
Cakes at Sherman’s Deli, April 2011.

Maybe I’m getting old, but having spent the past five years staring into computer screens, toggling apps and virtual windows, circling city blocks looking for parking, and concerning myself with the silly intricacies of 20-something relationships, I am glad to have access to this small and strange corner of the world and embarrassed that I ever took that for granted.

Thank you, Grandpa, and I’m sorry that I said that thing about Joe DiMaggio. I was 11 years-old and knew no better.

It is so quiet and so hot here.