Tag Archives: Leica

Kiriko Made: The Post-Industrial Bespoke Movement

Kiriko One

In a world where consumer goods are meant to be opiate for the masses, and shopping is a sport to numb the pain of daily life, a new movement has risen from the ash and garbage that fill the streets: Oregon Industrial. Perhaps it would sound better as Bespoke Industrial or Artisanal Industrial Mercantile? Regardless, there is a higher end, post-hipster movement that seems to have originated in Portland, of all places. The premise is that Gen Y and those whose talents are no longer appreciated have abandoned the lure of tech internships that may eventually lead to a low salary in ten years. Citizens have walked away from the idea that New York, Toronto, Washington and Los Angeles are the only places on earth to purchase property (or, rather, rent at suicidal monthly rates). Comrades have chosen Portland as a place to come together, take back the heavy-duty sewing machine, wipe off the grease from abandoned motors, and start crafting authentic, low-production goods for people who appreciate materials that were de rigeur before plastic became our mantra.

My past few purchases have not been inexpensive, nor have they been simple. Toronto is far from the Pacific West, which means that USPS has become a pusher for my material needs. First it was a key fob and Leica-style camera strap from Tanner Goods. Then came a straight razor strop from horse hide arrived from Bison,  a suit bag from Seattle-based Filson, and a mint green, leather knife roll from Butcher and Baker. Before I knew it I found myself surrounded by beautiful materials that made me feel more connected to the items I used. They key idea is that I use all of these items in an almost religious manner. I appreciate the feel of the strop; the look of the simple key fob as it rests in my hand or dangles from the ignition of my Ducati Monster.  My desire to use an item often means that I must take the time to pack my clothes for a trip in lieu of rolling them into a ball, and I need to spend ten minutes sharpening my straight razor on the strop before I even get to the bathroom sink for shaving. I have become mindful and present. I am in the moment as the material serves as a catalyst for an intellectual slowing down of my time. Time has become precious.

Kiriko Two

Yesterday’s post brought me two scarfs and a pocket square from Portland-based Kiriko. I came across a few of their pieces in a small shop in Nashville’s 12 South area. The deep indigo colours and Japanese fabrics caught my attention immediately. Since travelling to Japan a few years ago, I realize the unique tension in fabric and foreign colour palette that are signature to Japan. A week ago I came across a Boro-style scarf online and fell in love with the contrasting indigo/floral pattern. I ordered the scarf which is made from Japanese heirloom fabrics, a Kimono striped scarf and a deep indigo pocket square. Within a few days all arrived in uniquely gorgeous packaging, and I now had items that I know will be with me through a great many made adventures, adding points of style to what can be a bleak world.

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There may have also been an impulse need to purchase a NATO-style watchband from Worn&Wound, a purveyor and reviewer of watch ephemera. You see, Old Sport, I inherited more than my fair share of beat up, broken down watches from my father upon his death this past summer. I never wear a watch. I hate having things on my wrists. I care little what the time is. But…this black strap sang a siren song: rebuild the watch the Chinese restaurant owner gave your father when he was a young boy. Mystery surrounds this watch, and it is a relic of my father’s imagination that I remember since my own birth.

It has no intrinsic value in the metals or craftsmanship. The watch must be hand-wound on a daily basis. I am still unsure whether it will even keep time. The point is that I have chosen to take a piece back from the landfill, ignore that my iPhone keeps perfect time, and live within a different reality as the Horween-produced leather strap hugs a piece of metal tightly to my wrist that once belonged to men I  should have known better. Perhaps it serves as a talisman to make sure I know those who follow me better than those who came before.

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My day starts, and will end, with an espresso and slice of molten chocolate cake inspired by our dinner at Montreal’s Joe Beef this past weekend.  My version uses up the wide variety of aging chocolate that filled my cupboard, blooming and losing its sheen. I would like to think that the French pan adds more beauty to the cake, than the skillet ours was served in at the restaurant. The flavours are dead on, the texture is perfect…now if I only had a soft serve ice cream machine that could spit out perfect peppermint-infused dollops of ice milk, then I would be king.

Who Loves Ya, Baby?: The Leica Hektor, My Salad and A Baby Portrait Session

I am not a baby photographer. I am sure that all photographers say that until the world tells them otherwise. Still, a friend from work has used my services twice in the last year to chronicle the first few months of her son, D. He is a cute, little guy, and my two dogs would love to slobber all over him, but for this recent session we set up a mini-studio for me to shoot him over my lunch break. For the portrait his mom wanted an image to match one she had done of his sister, so with digital snapshot in hand we went to work. I decided to use the Canon EOS Mk.III with a Canon 50mm f.1.2. L series lens. I needed to shoot quickly, without lights and on a black background that would soak up whatever light there was available. The images would have to be wide open and soft, but the eyes would become the focal point.

So how does one take a baby portrait? I do not know; I aim to have them look into the lens and smile before they become self-conscious. Fortunately for me, a family member [or V.] has always been more than willing to bounce a stuffed toy on my head while I focus and shoot. Is there any more degrading act for a photographer than to have a dinosaur or dog toy squeaked on his head: missing the shot, the moment and the point. My job is not to look cool, be cooler than the models on set, and talk about what Madonna said to Bieber at the club last night after our work together. I am the guy who takes a photograph that matters enough for a mom to drag her child across town and pays me in the hope that I am better than the kid at Wal-Mart. I am.

First shot was the best shot, but in the end we came away with a fun selection of faces that the little guy can enjoy when he takes home his first date to meet mom. While I am not ever going to branch out and photograph newborns dressed like flowers, pumpkins or fairies, I was happy with the quality of the work I did and felt it matched nicely with his newborn photograph.

Salads are key to winter survival. I am still working on improving my health – despite being out weight-lossed by the Mayor Who Ate Toronto – but it is a struggle in Febtober to do anything except hibernating from the dark and cold. My current strategy is to remain consistent in my exercise by doing short routines on a nightly basis. Twenty minutes after work is much easier to convince yourself into that a 2 hour yoga or P90X class. If I can survive the next month without gaining weight, then I will be happy with that, because weight gain in this climate is biologically designed to happen this time of year. The lettuce was kissed by a dijon vinagrette I made from scratch, and I topped it with a know of goat cheese and a few mignon artichoke hearts. On the artichoke hearts – I bought a bottle for $14.99 on the weekend and they have to be the nicest treat ever. Made by Jesse Tree, I think, they brought a wee bit o’spring into the week’s meals.

From Atlanta I received my latest shipment of photographic tools: a Leica Hektor f.4.5 lens, 6 Riteway film holders for the 4×5 Linhof camera, and two Really Right Stuff arca-style plates. For our March visit to Thunder Bay, V. wanted me to bring the Linhof 4×5 camera, and that meant I needed to track down a load of holders to make it worthwhile to haul the gear as my carry-on. Keh.com had a few holders in stock, so I bought them all because these are not the easiest thing to track down, especially if you want them all to be of the same manufacturing. In the dark I want to be confident loading the film without worrying about which holder I have in my hands.

The camera plates were a steal, and I needed one for the Linhof to be used on the Arca-Swiss ball head. These appear to be old-school plates that had seen use, but I am totally cool with that, as these are really just blocks of machined metal.

Lastly…the dark horse of the shipment: a Hektor lens in UG grade for $45. Yep, a Leica lens for $45. To be fair, this is reportedly Leica’s worst lens ever, and it is far from being a sexy 35mm Summilux f.1.4, but I just had to take a chance that it was UG because it was ugly and not it terrible shape. I am overjoyed at its condition, and am looking forward to trying it out tomorrow for fun. I think that at the end of the day the point of a lens purchase like this is to just get one out taking photographs when you might otherwise not bother.

Why buy a 135mm lens for a camera built to optimally use 21-50mm? Curiousity, queerness and continuity. The 135mm Hektor is soft, entry-level lens from the best lens manufacturer in the world. Cool. I just want to see what I can make it do, and with EVIL mirrorless cameras on the loose one can be just a lens adapter away from using such a lens for great artistic efforts in the digital realm. The lens is still an all-metal, precision tool that is just quirky enough to possibly take that unexpected great portrait. Cool. My Leica M3 was a gift. I love it dearly for how it makes me feel when I go out with it on the street. I feel like a real photographer who wears black, drinks coffee and captures people’s essences while no one watches: Herr Anton Khandler. My other two lenses are also chrome, vintage and have 39mm filters; the Hektor fits nicely into the aesthetic, and $45 is the best game in town. I bet you paid more for at least one lens you own that is plastic un-fantastic. Oh…and while it looks odd, the Hektor actually feels brilliant on the M3. Let’s roll…

When in New York…Mario Batali’s Babbo

But this is the other side of wonderful
And it’s not the side you want to be on.
I found myself here yesterday
And I, I can’t go on….
When I was walking the streets of New York.
When I was walking with the dead.

The last time I was in New York was the lowest point of my life. New York has never been an easy city for me to be in, but I keep returning as a test for the famous maxim that “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” I am here for a series of workshops on educational differentiation, but my first day was my own to rest, walk and reflect on the world we live in.

My day began with a smooth flight from Toronto through Porter airlines, a decent cab ride into the city, and then about three hours walking in the scorching heat of a Manhattan summer. On the taxi ride into Manhattan one frustrated New Yorker smashed at the window as we went around a turn; this city runs on anger and drive to get to the top. Taking V.’s advice, I decided to walk up the Avenue of the Americas to Central Park and to enjoy an afternoon exploring there.

Do not, I repeat, do not walk through Central Park in cowboy boots. I had my first New York hot dog in about 12 years. They still remind me of the hot dogs I used to cook for the other kids when I was in Grade Six…boiled with a bun and lots of mustard to make it edible. After sweating so much from the heat though I needed the salt.

 I did have a brief encounter with the nicest hustler. He was pretty impressive with the way he forced me to keep talking about nothing – the key to the hustle is to keep the grift talking until you have their trust. He was commenting on a photo I was trying to take in the park, then on my tattoo – hey, man I REALY like your style – much to his dismay I did not stay around for his actual con.

V. suggested that I hit Magnolia Bakery for a few select cupcakes. Last week I was in Chicago and went to Bliss; sorry, Magnolia, but you got nothing on Bliss. I found the buttercream icing to be too whippy and without substance. The cakes themselves were good, but not worth $3 each.

I slept for two hours and then hoofed it to Mario Batali’s flagship Babbo restaurant. A tough place to get a reservation for, but with a walk-in for one person to the bar it is about an thirty minute wait. I ended up being able to do a full tasting menu for the night and that meant getting a better sense of what Batali interprets Italy as being. Let me assure you that Italy is better; let me assure you that V. and I will kill that meal after one night in Madrid, but that it is probably the best meal on this continent for what it is. Batali understands what he does and his staff do the vision well.

My meal was flawless. I had multiple courses of perfect meals matched with wines until I went rogue from the Traditional Tasting Menu and asked for the octopus. It was super-salty, the kitchen over-seasoned it,  and I got comped it by the server. If you get a chance to blow $200 in NYC for food, then Babbo is the bomb. Kill it or go home.

The pappardelle with morels and thyme was my favourite dish; the butter, noodles and morels blended into a beautiful dish. The fava beans with the coppa was excellent, and the guinea hen was flavourful. The Tasting Menu was a good value for superb food, and Babbo is a restaurant that I do enjoy.

My initial thoughts on New York are that everyone is one the hustle and that the hustle is what makes the thin, hungry look appealing to a world where that edge is non-existent. People like how New Yorkers look, but I doubt they realize the look comes from burning life to the very end to get ahead. One night in NYC made me feel like Toronto is soft, and that what I have is so good. I watched a crew of ten nobodies work with a nobody model like she was god for thirty minutes today; my hot dog never tasted so good. New York misses the importance of reality but that is okay if you are just here for the illusion, Peter Pan.

New York forces me to evaluate how I am doing against the real world: I am not Dave LaChapelle, nor am I Uncle Louis. I feel infinitely better than I did three year ago and that makes all the difference. The Leica has been ruling supreme thus far. It gets me the shot no matter the light, and it is pretty non-imposing to most people. At Babbo, a Chinese patron went wacko because he recognized the actual camera, while an art student was just impressed that I was shooting film. In the end, I do feel like the Leica M3 is THE New York camera, and it has been pretty good for both the candid photographs tonight and the shots in Central Park.  I would have captured more shots with the MkIII, but this is my vacation and I need some rest. I do not care what I capture insofar as I care about what I experience.

If I have to admit one thing, then it is that I do not deserve to enjoy the great food and shelter that I do. The world is filled with better and worse people than me; I will take it because I can, but I get that it is a blessing that I can enjoy the life that I do. All of these photos were taken with my iPhone 4. Through New York and Chicago, it has been a great way to capture the basics snapshots of a trip – these are not killer foodie photos of Batali’s greatest, but the images give an impression of what I was able to enjoy over the three hour meal. I bought an iPhone 4 to keep me organized and let me keep in touch with the world when I am on the road. It has the added benefit of having a decent camera that lets me take okay snapshots. I would never say these are photographic shots, but rather they are okay captures to get a point across.

Alinea, Charlie Trotter and a few others beat out Batali, but what his apprentices do, they do better than anyone else. I had some amazing food tonight. Still, the streets of New York are filled with those who did not handle the stresses of what has to be the hardest city in the world. People look hard here. Small town people confuse it with sexy, but I know the New York look as being hard and lean.

The streets are filled with the broken bodies and minds of those New Yorkers for whom the hustle was just too much. I am going to sleep. I know I am not on the street in the toughest place on the planet, and I appreciate that.  A great day one…but in New York anything can happen and it will.

Calibration and Colour: Product Photography

I do not care what other photographers might say about light-meters being a thing of the past; the Sekonic L-758DR has  been one of the best purchases I have made thus far. The time it saves me in figuring out my exposure ratios has been critical as I balance a full-time job against a full-time shooting schedule at night. Professionalism is all about control, and a light meter has given me an invaluable tool to measure the light from all directions and in a way that my pro-dslr just cannot. Since my artistic work is primarily on film, I also need the meter for accurate readings when on the road or in the studio.

Calibration is a tricky business. I have calibration cards for my scanner software and software for my meter, then I have a a Spyder for the EIZO monitor I purchased last month [which is spectacular, and far beyond Apple’s current mirrorballs]. Am I fully calibrated and accurate? Nope. But I am about as close as I can be without the 24 hours it will take me to complete a fully referenced process. Frankly, I am so close to accurate and so far beyond what your average bear is that I am not ever concerned about sending my files to a client. Perhaps most important is that I am consistent within my own realm. In other words, my files are always consistent as a group, as a look, and as a style, which is critical for catalogue work.

The second tool that I am working with is the X-Rite Colorchecker. While I have not mastered the colour  profile process for this little monster yet, it is making a lot of sense as a white balance tool for my Hasselblad CFi lenses. On my Canon 24-70mm and my 135mm lenses I use the ExpoDisc for white balance, as it fits nicely on the front and provides an accurate reading to work from on subjects where movement might not make a card possible. On the Hassleblad optics, the ExpoDisc works, but given my ProShade and the need to hold the disc tightly for an exposure, it makes more sense to use the Colorchecker.

 The shots on today’s post are from last night’s session for Padinox. Before I begin composing the actual image my workflow has me test with the Sekonic to find my exposure range, then I shoot a file with the Colorchecker at three bracketed shutter speeds. Then, when I go to process my favourites from the session, I usually have a reference point to sync my white balance to after the shot has been perfectly moved into place.

The Linhof is still without film. Tracking down 4×5 sheet film is proving a longer process in Toronto that I imagined. Still, I have a box of 100 on order and the delivery time is about 2 weeks. Given the slow process of large format, I expect that to last a year of experimental studies, and by then I am hoping to have the means to procure a more permanent supply of film and studio space to store it in. All good plans have back-ups, so mine was to purchase a Linhof 4×5 Super Rollex roll film back for 120 film. If nothing else, this will allow V. and I to learn how to use the camera movements accurately without wasting sheet film and chemical to do so. 4×5 sheet film will need to be developed ourselves, whereas Northern Artists always does a great job on my 120 negatives. I am not holding my breath on the quality of the film back though. For $105, I expect it to be pretty beat up. These things list at $2300 new, so the ordered item will not be in collector’s condition.

Regardless, both V. and I are keen to start working with what has to be our crown jewel in the camera collection. If you had asked me three years ago whether the business would ever prove successful, then I would be wishy-washy. The current collection of gear that is fully paid for is admirable from a purist’s viewpoint: a Leica M3, Canon 1DmkIII, Canon EOS 3, Canon 40D, Hassleblad SWC/M, Hasselblad 501C/M, Diana+ with full kit, and a Linhof Kardan. We have a full range of lenses and mediums to cover pretty much any possible assignment; more importantly, we are using the full range for actual commissions versus staring at the collection through a safe window.

The summer cannot start soon enough. I start out with a trip to Chicago and Milwaukee with my mom. I just need to get out of Toronto, and Chicago seemed like the most cost-efficient option. Then it is a Differentiation Workshop in NYC for four days. I will be super busy with work during the daytime, but I am hoping to shoot some work at night and to have one or two nice meals while I am there. Finally, the piece de resistance will be the three week adventure with V. through Spain and Morocco. V. has already been through Spain, so I am hoping she will be able to show me the country through her eyes and experiences. Morocco will be a G.A.P. Tour, which should free up the planning on our end. This should prove to be a wild adventure that melds machismo with the desert with spas with food with heat with art and craftsmanship.

Camera plans:

Chicago = SWC/M and Canon 1DmkIII with a 50mm lens

NYC – Leica M3 and Hasselblad SWC/M

Spain and Morocco – Hasselblad 501 C/M with 50mm or 60mm lens

Curiosity Keeps the Cat

Restlessness is my tragic flaw. I have a tremendously difficult time to disengage from learning; lost ideas, undiscovered worlds, technical skills are all areas that my mind wanders to for the sake of keeping it occupied. As Febtober approaches I am reflecting tonight on what I want to achieve over the next few years and what I need to make a priority if I am to be successful. I should mention that if I do not have a clear plan, then I am apt to wander among the lotus eaters and lose my way. If I plan too rigorously, then I become a slave to the task(s) ahead, buckling under the insurmountable pressures of my own creation.

My recent camera acquisitions have left me in a state of scrambling to learn about tilt-focusing (LensBaby), hyper-focusing (Hasselblad SWC/M) and range-finder focusing (Leica M3). While this might overwhelm other people, it thrusts me into a bit of a learning spiral wherein I learn and learn and learn and forget to do. In other words, I get so wrapped up in learning how the camera works that I forget to use it. Even worse, as I learn more about the film cameras I become drawn towards learning how to develop my own black and white film and then towards a large format camera with its infinite adjustability and craftsmanship. I spent an hour or two just learning about large format lenses online. Maybe the difference between me and many other men who do the same meandering online is that I will put this knowledge (and often new equipment purchases) into immediate use to develop my artistic vision versus becoming an aficionado of gear I will never touch or use. It is a slippery slope, however, and any photographer needs to be aware that the best lenses and the best cameras are junk if they merely serve to add to a hoard. Never become the dragon who sits on his treasure in a basement.

The photographs in this blog entry were all taken with my Canon EOS 3 film camera. Egypt and Cambodia were two wondrous countries to visit, and I cannot help but wonder how my photographs would be different now that my photography has evolved. These days I travel with less equipment (maybe one camera, one lens) versus the heavy gear from before (one camera, four lenses). Would I have taken the same type of gear now? Would I have missed these shots because I only had a 38mm SWC or a 50mm on the Leica? Would my shots be more intimate or lost? I seldom use that EOS 3 these days, but it still is a superb camera that outperforms anything else for focusing due to its iris-controlled focus selection; this brilliant feature make the camera worth keeping for that time when I am heading into rough areas and need to “get the shot”, but do not want to risk my digital gear.

Upon reflection tonight, I think that the key to my success with photography has been that I am willing to lose some shots to gain others. I am willing to learn how to accept that the 50mm on the Hasselblad is the only perspective I can shoot in Berlin or Florence, that the 80mm on the Hasselblad becomes my Havana, that the 60mm was New Orleans this time around and that the 38mm will be Peru. The 150mm is for portraits, the 120 Makro is for products, the Canon 135mm is for the United States, and the 24-70mm is my bread n’ butter lens. Maybe the Leica will become my summer camera or the LensBaby will show me something darker in its blurry fashion. The key is to remain engaged, and if that means reading about Rodenstock lenses for an hour or watching Dan Winters talk about conspiracy theories instead of photography, then so be it. Amen.