Back in Black (and White)

Two years ago, at the same fateful BBQ where I won a gift certificate for a month of free jiu-jitsu lessons, my friend Juan gave me a roll of Tri-X 400.  I was so excited to use it, I rewound my Nikon F100 midway through a roll of Portra so I could give the Tri-X a whirl.  It goes without saying, but all the photographers I looked up to most when I was getting into photography shot black-and-white.  I couldn’t contain my excitement; now was my opportunity to try to capture decisive moments and try to see the world with a renewed sense of wonder! No more post-processing color photos as black-and-white in Lightroom 3, I was about to keep it real on the highest level!

And then when I was done shooting that roll I left it on my bookcase for like a year collecting dust. Aww.

But then a surge of inspiration came over with me!  I practically sprinted to the photography lab over at Mt. Whitney High School for the first time in over a decade to develop my film!  Juan walked me through all the steps… The smell of darkroom chemicals, the feeling of a cold stainless steel developing tank in my hands, the excitement of watching a second hand spin around a darkroom timer between agitations!  I was in heaven.  In that moment I knew I was going to be shooting and developing a lot of black-and-white from then on!

But I never went to Mt. Whitney to get my film back from Juan.  Awwwww.

Flash forward two years and I finally got together with Juan to take that roll of film off his hands.  He was actually cool enough to print a contact sheet for me, so I didn’t even have to wait to scan the film before I was able to see how some of the shots came out.  Maybe it’s some kind of photography mid-life crisis, or maybe I’m just inspired by some local savages, but I have a sudden inexplicable urge to shoot black-and-white again.  Now that I have more experience and way more cameras than I know what to do with, getting used to black-and-white seems like the next logical challenge for myself.  Be ready, homies!  Because once I get those black-and-white chemicals mixed it’s going to be on like Donkey Kong!

So in other words, I should be posting my next batch of black-and-white photos around the time the next President is elected. Awwwwwwwww.

Larry The Cable Guy Chips

Git’r done!

P.S. Sorry for the stupid title, it was either that or “Black and White (Like the Michael Jackson song!)” but then I remembered the song is actually called “Black OR White” so… that would have been extra stupid.  I mean, there’s no law that says I have to have pun blog titles in the first place, but whatever.  I’m a Virgo, I could have obsessed over it way longer than I did.

On an unrelated note, I’d like to get something that’s been bothering me for about 24 years off my chest.  In the famous part of that “Black or White” video where all the people from different races morph into each other, each person is on screen for four or five seconds. But the Mexican dude only gets two seconds!  COUNT IT! How am I the only person who’s ever noticed that!!!

Let’s all talk about that in the comments section!  I do have a comments section, you know.

Nothing Like a Bad Case of GAS!

G.A.S. stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome.  It’s when photographers (usually middle-aged, usually pony-tailed) spend ten times as much time buying gear than actually going out and making photos.  It’s essentially boys’ love for collecting toys manifesting itself in adulthood.  When my nephew goes to take a bath each night, he needs to take 50 toy cars of all shapes and sizes with him, even though he’s only going to play with a few.  Photographers who have dozens of camera bodies, lenses, flashes, filters, etc. are no different.

For reasons I’ll never understand, every milestone in my time spent as a photographer has triggered a severe case of G.A.S.  When I got my first point-and-shoot, I wanted to upgrade to a DSLR since they produced better technical image quality.  When I got my first DSLR, I wanted nicer lenses because I thought that alone would create better photos.  When I got bored snapping photos of my feet to test how good my various lenses were, I started looking in to shooting film.  Film has proven to be the deepest rabbit hole of them all. Because once you start messing with film gear, you start comparing formats, grain quality, different camera styles, and so on.

Rather than going into detail about the worst cases of G.A.S. I’ve ever had, and the wack cameras I purchased as a result, I’d like to talk about the methods I’ve learned to rid oneself of G.A.S.

  • Remember that new gear won’t make you a better photographer.  It might make you a tiny bit more knowledgeable about the technical aspects of taking photos, and it might teach you something about your preferences for certain types of gear.  Ultimately, you’re the one who needs to hit the streets and make photos to grow as a photographer.
  • For every great shot you see on Flickr attributed to a particular piece of gear, there are lots of mediocre ones, and more still that weren’t good enough to upload.  You might think that a great photo taken with an obscure 40-year-old camera means that camera is legit, but usually it’s posted by somebody who knows what they’re doing and can make a good photo with whatever gear you put in front of them.
  • Appreciate the gear you already have.  From time to time I get these unstoppable urges to browse eBay until all hours of the night looking for a camera just because it looked pretty in somebody’s #whatsinmybag photo on Instagram.  Recently, I got it into my brain that I wanted, no, needed a Nikon FE-2.  One thing I’ve taught myself to do in moments like this is pick up a piece of gear I acquired during a previous bout of G.A.S., some piece of equipment that I told myself at the time “This is the last camera/lens I’m ever going to need!”  Luckily, my all-time favorite camera is a pristine Nikon FE I affectionately refer to as Felina, and shooting with her for one afternoon reminds me of why I really don’t need any other cameras at my hip.

Still, every now and then the temptation to get a new camera hits.  If anybody has any methods for relieving G.A.S. I’d love to hear them.  Also, if anybody recognized the Tommy Lee Jones quote in the title before reading this, kudos.  Kudos.

National Hot Dog Day

To steal a line from O’Shea Jackson, today was a good day.  I woke up, had a kale smoothie, watched a few hours of jiu jitsu videos on YouTube, worked out…*cough* got a job… and then came home to finish Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (really cheery, fun summer reading).  Before getting around to finishing my book, however, I made the mistake of mindlessly flipping through a few apps on my phone.  Bing was cool enough to remind me today was National Hot Dog Day.  I had previously intended to write a post for this holiest of days, so I dropped what I was doing to visit Taylor’s Hot Dogs for a photo, and maybe one or two (or seven) chili dogs while I was there.

Hot Dog_0001

Aside from being a laughably obvious photo-op for budding photographers in Visalia, Taylor’s really is a nice landmark here in Visalia, and they do sell some tasty hot dogs.  The thing about Taylor’s is their hot dogs are kind of pricey these days.  I don’t remember how much they were when I first moved to Visalia, but they were definitely under a dollar.  If my memory serves me correctly, they were also significantly bigger than they are now.  I recently  joked to a friend of mine that “Taylor’s chili dogs have gotten so small, I need to eat seven before I’m sufficiently ashamed of myself.”  All joking aside, they are delicious, so once I got a photo of the stand, I did, in fact, order seven chili dogs with everything (which is two more than my usual, and three or four more than what any respectable adult should be eating).

I don’t mean to make fun of Taylor’s.  As a chili addict, I am happy to have them around whenever I need a fix.  Actually, there was a brief period several years ago when they used a different kind of chili, and in a controversy on par with the New Coke fiasco, they eventually brought back the original chili due to popular demand.  So… That’s cool.

Hot Dog_0002

Look, I ate seven chili dogs tonight to celebrate a made-up holiday. It cost me like $43 (give or take $31), and now I’m in somewhat of a food coma.

While we’re on the subject of hot dogs, I would just like to end with this: It’s 2015.  The president is black, and we all have super computers in our pockets. It’s a brave new world.  Shouldn’t all hot dogs be “bun length” by now?  Why does every hot dog made at home have to begin and end with a superfluous mouthful of white bread?  Am I the only person who’s not okay with this?

No seriously, am I?  There’s a comment section below, if you ain’t know.

Win or Learn

This week I competed in my first jiu jitsu tournament, Grappling X in Fresno.  There’s not really any delicate way to put it, I got wrecked.  I had more nerves than I realized, and I got choked silly twice.  One of my best friends reminded me that in jiu jitsu you either win or you learn.  And boy did I learn.

Until the day of the competition I never knew anything about sport jiu jitsu in the traditional sense.  I love to watch submission-only events like Metamoris and the Eddie Bravo Invitational.  Keeping track of points for passing, sweeping, mounting, taking the back, and so forth never really interested in me.  The joke I used to tell is that I only got into jiu jitsu so that I wouldn’t be that guy on World Star Hip-Hop waking up after being brutally attacked for accidentally stepping on somebody’s sneaker at a liquor store.  During my first match I heard the other guy’s coach tell him “you’re up nine points!”  Nine points!  That’s like almost eighteen-trillion points to my uneducated ears; this guy must be obliterating me.  Throughout the day, however, I watched dozens of matches and basically taught myself sports jiu jitsu scoring.  Homeboy got two points for taking me down, three for passing my guard, and four for mounting me.  That happens every day training at the gym, so I wouldn’t think anything of it, but with the tiniest bit of competition experience, I understand why some cats at the gym fight you off like they’re lives depend on it– they don’t want to give up those points.

I’ll briefly touch on the other big takeaways from my first competition, since this isn’t really a jiu jitsu blog:

  • My cardio could be better.  In training I like to relax and wait for openings to counter, especially when a bigger opponent is going full blast trying to murder me.  In competition, you’ve gotta move, there’s no time to relax if you want to score points or submit somebody.
  • My movement could be faster.  I was struggling in vain to bow-and-arrow sweep my first opponent when I realized I was not in position for that sweep.  When I realized the error I went to swing into position but he’d already shut me down.
  • Technique doesn’t matter the way you think it does.  In training if somebody is trying desperately to finish me with poor technique, my ego (which is not my amigo, according to a shirt I saw once) keeps me from visibly sweating it. In competition it doesn’t matter if their technique is all that great; you can’t assume somebody is going to abandon a choke because they’re not doing it right, they’re going to put all of their muscle into finishing it.  Proper or not, inefficiency can still be effective.
  • Losing more weight would be a good idea.  Since December I’ve lost around 30 or 40 lbs, and I weighed in for the competition at 212 lbs.  This placed me in the 220 lb weight class, where 220 lb dudes charged at me and my sexy 212 lb body like Bobby Boucher.  I should get myself down to at least 190 lbs so I can cut a little weight before a weigh-in and compete at 185.

The idea that you win or learn is something I learned from jiu jitsu.  It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day in training, because every roll is a learning experience.  It doesn’t matter if you feel embarrassed about your first competition performance, because you learned something.  This mindset that I’ve embraced thanks to jiu jitsu is completely transferable to other things in my life.  If I’m having trouble at work, in a relationship, or financially, I know better than to let it bring me down.  Case in point– today’s featured image is of my jiu jitsu coach, Tom Knox, and Muay Thai coach, Doug Marshall.

I took this photo a few months ago with a camera I’ve only recently dusted off and starting using, and was positive it would come out great.  While it came out sharp and properly exposed, I also managed to mess the film up when I was developing it.  Looking at the entire roll once it was dry, it was pretty obvious I kinked the film when I loaded it.  This led to these weird blotches running through the center of about eight of the twelve photos on the roll.  I was so eager to develop this film in my shiny new tank, with my shiny new reel, I ended up loading the film improperly in my haste.  It’s very possible I was distracted by the guy’s finger nails in the tutorial on YouTube, but mostly I didn’t take the time to familiarize myself with my equipment beforehand.

A few weeks later, I developed two rolls of film from two different 35mm cameras.  I was excited about one roll because it was my first roll with a 28mm lens, but I was excited about the other because it was a nicer (more expensive) brand of film, Kodak Portra 400. The cheap film came out perfectly, but the entire roll of Portra was unexposed!  I’d literally been shooting film with a camera that had a dead battery for months.  I mean, I knew the “check battery” light wasn’t lighting up, but the shutter speeds all sounded fine, and the flash was still triggered when shooting. In complete naivety I chalked it up to the “check battery” light being dead.  I felt like a moron when I finished developing that film, but it did drive home the concept of double checking your camera before starting a roll.

You either win or you learn.  Over a year ago I knew I wanted to start a blog.  This exact blog.  For a year I put it off because I wanted to read a dozen books about writing, blogging, social media, etc.  I wanted to obsess over, and be intimidated by, extremely impressive photography blogs or Instagram feeds.  I felt like I needed the world’s dopest cameras.  And more than anything I didn’t want to put any garbage out into the world.  I didn’t want to look bad.  But with the win-or-learn mentality, I started writing, and I don’t regret it. Flim Visalia might not be much to look at right now, but I look forward to the opportunity to learn something new running it.

My Favorite Selfie

I figured since I was starting a blog at three in the morning, the content of my first post wouldn’t be too terribly important.  So right now I’m sharing my all-time favorite selfie.  This was taken here in Visalia, CA in a shop window downtown.  I’m wearing a hoodie and a t-shirt for the band Xiu Xiu.  I strategically placed my reflection near the center of the photo when I took this, but I didn’t really consider this a selfie until a couple years later when selfies became an epidemic. I don’t know what it is about this photo I enjoy so much.  But I love looking at it.

Right now would probably be a good time to tell you what this blog is going to be about.  If I actually knew, I’d totally fill you in, but as it stands I only have three general rules for myself in creating content to share with you:

  1. Film photos only.
  2. Don’t be a cunt.
  3. Try not to swear. (Starting right now!)

Film only because it’s more challenging.  I shoot good film, bad film, film that climbs on rocks.  I take it out of whichever broken, misfit camera I shot it with (I just realized each one of my film cameras has some major defect! Neat!), develop it in my kitchen sink, and scan it to share with maybe six people the world (I almost broke rule #2 there).

DBAC (or DBAA for any Breaking Bad fans) because I’ve kind of defined myself my entire adult life by my generally sarcastic disposition.  I mean, seriously, my last blog was called “HateHateHateHateHate” (and when I’d tell people about it, I’d spread out the five digits of my right hand and say “That’s five hates”) and I ran a facebook page called “I Hate Photography”… and that was about my general love for photography.  So maybe… let’s chill out this time around.

And finally I’m going to try not to swear because Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records.  So, there’s that.

Other rules I considered were “only photos of Visalia” which would be pretty easy to stick to; I never really go anywhere.  But every now and then I visit other nearby towns or if I find myself on the outskirts of town, not knowing if I’m still technically in Visalia, I don’t want to get hung up on whether or not I can post whatever photos I take in that moment.

Anywho.  I hope you are sufficiently entertained while I’m in Strugglesville, clumsily navigating my way through my first real blog in years.  Even greater than that, I hope I can get better and better each week and eventually have a blog I’m proud to share.

Thanks for being here for my first post 🙂

It’s Only Trivia: Which famous professional wrestler had a penchant for holding up five digits, shouting “FIVE!” and why?