Central America Once Again

DEPARTAMENTO DE COPAN–While out in the backcountry of Copan Department, Honduras documenting medical brigades for a public health NGO in 2001, I found myself surrounded by a group of curious children. More and more kids gathered, wondering what the kinds inside the crowd were looking at. It was only me but I felt, just a little bit, like a camera-toting Elvis. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/2.8, Ilford HP5.

By Andrew J. Tonn

GUATEMALA CITY — There may be no place in the world more familiar to me than where I am now, here, back in Central America.  At this point I have lived abroad longer than in my hometown (at least in recent years) and anyway, my hometown isn’t my hometown.

A long time ago I wrote a story, which I will reprint here soon, called, “The Long Central American Goodbye.”  The title recalled a specific memory but in a broader sense how I was unable to say goodbye, how each trip to the region led to the next trip, each of them both expanding my explorations and revisiting places I had been before, getting to know them in a deeper, more complete way.  My experiences in Central America, centered around my work as a reporter and documentary photographer, led me directly to Sweden and Ukraine and in ways I consider those side journeys along the greater arc of my time in Central America.  As I write this I will clarify that by Central America I mean the three countries, so much in the news lately, referred to as “The Northern Triangle,”Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.  I hope to visit the other countries that make up the region: Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama but for the moment I am living in Guatemala and, with both Covid and work, more extensive travel is somewhere out in the future.

So it feels both strange and completely normal that I am here in Guatemala and writing about Central America.  It feels inevitable, to tell the truth, and only strange because this time I am here with my family, kids, dog, car, stuff, and a job that pays slightly better than itinerant documentary photographer.  So it is more than just me and a backpack, camera bag, and whatever organization I was working for but that feels pretty natural as well.  That was my life then and this is my life now, a life that has taken me to India and Nepal and Mexico and other places, unconnected to those previous adventures.  Those were not side trips from Central America as were Sweden and Ukraine because I had the rare grace in life to satisfactorily finish a thing.  I long had the idea that I wanted to do a photo exhibit of large format prints, a retrospective showing the best images from all my trips to Central America, not focusing on one country or one relief organization.  After I got married and was living in Columbus, Ohio I met Gina, an art agent who became a great friend and made that show happen.  I exhibited more than 40 images, blown up to 20 by 30 inches (or more) interspersed with textiles and carvings and other artifacts I acquired along the way.  I even made a last trip down, not long before the opening, to make a few images that had never been seen before.  It neatly tied the whole thing up, ended more than ten years of work and wandering.  As I said black then, that didn’t mean I will never come back here, but it meant that cycle of trips, that time in my life, was over and I could go forward to new things.  Which I did.  Not too many months later we were in India.  Two and a half years after that we were in Mexico, complete with a full Spanish language course.  Two and a half years after that and I am sitting here in Guatemala City writing these words.  Hello again and goodbye to all that.

HOW TO BE A BETTER PHOTOG: THE PHOTO WALK

Photo by Andrew Tonn

By Andrew J. Tonn

MUMBAI–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.

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TRAVELS WITH LEICAS (AND THEIR FRIENDS THE NIKONS)


Mental Institution, Transcarpathia, Ukraine. Leica M6ttl, 50mm f/2 Summicron, Kodak 400CN.

By Andrew J. Tonn

MONTERREY–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.

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THE PATH TO THE SUMMIT, AN EVEREST ADVENTURE

By Chris Urban

For years, going to Mount Everest was at the top of my bucket list.  I grew up reading my brother’s National Geographic magazines and watching the Discovery Channel, dreaming about exploring the Himalayas, going face to face against mother nature.  Since I didn’t have a spare $100,000 and a death wish, I knew I was going to have to settle for Everest Base Camp rather than the summit. While it’s not the top of The Mountain, going to Everest Base Camp is still no small feat, and required months of preparation.    Continue reading “THE PATH TO THE SUMMIT, AN EVEREST ADVENTURE”

THE WILDS or A JEEP AMONG LAND ROVERS

It may look like deepest Africa with fields stretching over rolling hills and wide open plains that resemble the Serengeti, but it is, in fact, The Wilds of Ohio. The Wilds is a nature preserve filled with African wildlife. Every so often, this wildlife refuge was home to an off-road event exclusive to those who owned a Land Rover. We brought a Jeep.

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THE NIKKOR 20mm ƒ/2.8

Maya Shaman conducts rituals in the cemetery in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Nikon D800, AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D

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.

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JEEP JAMBOREE AT BADLANDS OFFROAD PARK 2018 UPDATE: DAY 1 (Published 2018/06/01)

It’s been a great first day and I’m about to collapse into a coma for the next 6 hours, so forgive me for being brief! Continue reading “JEEP JAMBOREE AT BADLANDS OFFROAD PARK 2018 UPDATE: DAY 1 (Published 2018/06/01)”

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE NIKON Z7 & 24-70mm ƒ4 LENS (Published 2018/10/25)

Monday: I stopped by World of photography and saw for the first time in person, the Nikon Z7.

Tuesday: I walked in with a D5 and walked out with the Z7 system.

I’m standing here holding the new Nikon Z7, and it feels great! A camera that I had no plans to own. I wasn’t expecting even to be able to see the camera till after Christmas. It’s widely sold out, with a waiting list at most major retailers. But here I am at my friend Gary’s shop, using it for the first time. It feels wonderful, just like a mini Nikon DSLR, the EVF is big and bright, sharp as a tack and the color is outstanding. I found myself coming back the next day and walking out with a Z7. The D5 is an incredible camera, but it’s big bulky and ill-suited for 98% of the work I do. The Z7 is small, light, fast and frankly almost as good as the D5. I’m not going to bury the lead here; the Nikon Z7 is very possibly the best mirrorless camera I have ever used.

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NIKON LTM 50mm ƒF1.4

The 50mm is still and always has been a staple of mine. Over 20+ years, I’ve never been without a decently fast 50mm. To say I was excited getting my hands on a mint Nikon LTM 50mm f1.4 without any flaws or dust, fungus etc in the glass, well excited would be an understatement.  Continue reading “NIKON LTM 50mm ƒF1.4”