I was 11 or 12 years old and looking for my first camera. My father told me, “Son, whatever type of camera you chose to be with is just fine with your mother and me just as long as it’s a Nikon.”
I had been perusing the centerfolds of camera magazines, ogling the Nikon bodies and yes, even the fine looking Olympus, Canon, Pentax, and Minoltas. When my father was once looking to buy a camera, his photographic mentor Gino Rossi told him to buy the one he really wanted, to not compromise. My dad told me the same thing and what I really did want was a Nikon. The others were pretty but they didn’t feel right for me. There was one caveat. I had read an article about Leicas and when I asked my dad about them he didn’t turn up his nose as he did at other brands. He said something about them being very good but too expensive — and for an 11-year-old about to spend his life savings of just over $100 that was the end of that. I ended up buying a well-used Nikon FM black body. My dad gave me a 50mm Nikon f/1.8 E Series lens, since my life savings wouldn’t cover any optics, and that camera carried me years into the future — to work at newspapers and on my first international documentary assignments in Central America. Along the way it was joined by a Nikon F3 and a few other lenses, most notably the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8. Finally, the old FM and the newer F3 were joined by a brand new Leica M6ttl. That my introduction to the M system and this is the story of that journey.
Travel in the 21stcentury doesn’t often feel much like exploring anymore. Just when you think you’ve had a real Indiana Jones type of experience hiking a wadi in central Oman, you run headfirst right into a Starbucks. A few years ago, my wife and I were living in and had explored much of India. We had just been to Everest Base Camp, had seen a lot of other parts of Asia, and were looking for new adventures. It was around that time that we heard of Bhutan, “the Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Everything about it called to us as travelers and explorers.
Regardless of whether you are a seasoned professional, an avid amateur, or you just got your first camera last week, an excellent way to become a better photographer is to take photo-walks. Walking, of and by itself: exploring a new city, a faraway island, a familiar old trail or a nearby neighborhood is one of life’s great pleasures with or without a camera. But this story is about photo walks and one walk in particular I took with my friend, the inimitable Sebastian John, one hot day over a year ago in Mumbai, India. It was my last long walk in that city I called home for two years and similar to the first long walk I took by myself in Mumbai during the monsoon not long after we arrived. It was not quite as long as that watery hike, because Sebastian and I took our foray into Mumbai’s mad streets in the sweltering days just before the monsoon broke. The heat in that time of year is very nearly hallucinatory. The temperature, combined with the crowds, humidity, smoke and noise, can only be completely appreciated by someone who has been there. Neither a thousand words nor a thousand photos can describe the reality of the streets of Mumbai.
Go wide! Go wider!! Go as wide as you can without going too wide!!! This is how I think about the 20mm lens and, to be specific, the classic 20mm f/2.8 Nikkor in both auto and manual focus. In my long experience with this lens — I have used it in its MF and AF versions as one of my primary working optics since around 2000 — I have found it to be a special lens in particular and generally as wide an angle as one can get without entering the realm of special effects. Lenses wider than 20mm can come in handy for unique perspectives and situations, but rarely for every day use.
MONTERREY — I have shot tightly framed portraits of people since I began taking photos at age ten or eleven. A certain style of naturalistic headshot, the subject fully aware and looking straight into the lens, has been a major element of my work for my entire photographic life. I still have almost every negative I ever shot and though I hope I have learned a thing or two along the way, I am still rather happy with many of the portraits I took of my classmates, teachers, and family back in Junior High and High School.
Sometimes you should listen to the voices in your head and sometimes you shouldn’t. Do not run with scissors in traffic. Do not befriend Nigerian royalty. Do not shave your head and climb that bell-tower. But if the voices are telling you to hang onto a particular lens, that someday you’ll figure out what it’s good for, and that someday you’ll figure out how to use it correctly, then listen. Continue reading “THE VOIGTLANDER 15MM F/4.5 SUPER-HELIAR V1”
There were times when our two years in Mumbai seemed an eternity. I knew the time would pass quickly, however, that every day, strange as it was, would crossfade into the next and that sooner, rather than later, we would be headed back to the airport, boarding a flight out, and that everything undone would most likely stay undone.
The phone rings and the front desk says, “Hitesh the tailor is here.”
“Yes, please send him up.”
A few minutes later I open the door. Hitesh Chhabria is standing in the foyer with two bags and a black and red garment cover bearing the logo of his shop, the Immediate Boutique. We shake hands and I invite him in. He takes off his shoes and we talk for a moment about our days and life in Mumbai. Continue reading “I KNOW A GOOD TAILOR IN BOMBAY…”
You know you’re getting a older when the first thing on your Christmas list is socks. Either that or they’re one heck of a good sock. I think I prefer the latter. Of course I also asked for a Cold Steel 1917 Boarding Cutlass… My wife got me the socks… Continue reading “WIGWAM SOCKS”