The Civil War photographer Mathew Brady had to travel with a mobile darkroom in a wagon. The wet plate process with which he worked produced amazing negatives and an irreplaceable record of that bloody conflict. But the process was so slow, so fragile, and the cameras so large, that actual combat pictures were impossible. It is fascinating to read about the lengths that early wildlife, documentary, and expedition photographers Martin and Osa Johnson went to in order to bring back never-before-seen images and films from the South Seas, Africa, Borneo, and elsewhere. That Frank Hurley’s sublime images of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1915 Antarctic expedition were even made, let alone survived, is nearly unbelievable. John Noel ‘s footage and photographs from the 1924 Everest attempt where Mallory and Irving lost their lives took a nearly inhuman effort to shoot and then develop in a high-altitude field darkroom. Taking photos with early cameras in what are still the most unforgiving, deadly, and difficult mountains, jungles, and ice fields of the world is scarcely believable. But the images exist to prove it was done and the more you learn about these feats of bravery, endurance, technical skill, and artistic genius the more you realize that as photographers and explorers we truly rest on the shoulders of giants.
MONTERREY — Most photographers have favorite subjects and preferred themes. Some are obvious and others less so. One person shoots flowers and selfies. Another also photographs flowers and themselves but, as with any art, the subject is not always just the subject. Robert Mapplethorpe’s beautiful black and white studies of calla lilies and tulips are far from ordinary photos of pretty flowers and Graciela Iturbide’s self-portraits are far more than another reflexive selfie.
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.
In the third week of the new year, I have crossed the Mississippi River from my home state of Arkansas and am passing slowly through little Mississippi towns like Rolling Fork and Cary under winter sunlight so pretty I wish it would never end. The Sunday streets are deserted, and the closer I get to the Louisiana border, it dawns on me that everyone is inside, glued to the Saint’s playoff game. Though not apt to follow sports closely, I appreciate high stakes and will always root for all things New Orleans, the great American city that she is. I am listening to the nail-biter on the radio and thinking of everyone I love in the Crescent City. On my approach into darkening Vicksburg: the crushing last-minute defeat just down river, a soon-to-be full moon emerging from a field in my rearview mirror. Evening is falling, and every direction I turn looks the way a Lucinda Williams song sounds.
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.
Recently I was given unprecedented access to the Roseville Prison. The prison is now privately owned and is closed off to the public, photographers, documenters, urban explorers, journalists or anyone else who wants to see this historical and supposedly haunted location up close.
When I set off to any event, I bring a camera I can trust, one that I’ve extensively used in the field and know is reliable. I’ve never used the Fuji X100F in the field as a primary, actually I’ve never done anything more than shoot a few photos and toss it back in my bag. It’s the only digital camera I took with me to cover the Muddy Buddy Jeep Jam 2018.
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.
The oddly and charmingly named (but what Voigtlander is not oddly and charmingly named) 35mm Color Skopar is among the smallest and lightest 35mm lenses you can get in Leica M mount. At around $500 new, it is also one of the least expensive. It is an excellent choice for your 35mm lens whether or not price is a consideration.