Monday, 3 February 2014

A Little Late, But Here's the Story of the 2013 12x12

     I know it's a little late and I apologize, but when an extremely active toddler, a new employer, and life are your priorities, most other things take a bit of a back seat.

     So, this year I was one of the lucky ones to get an entry into the Vancouver 12x12 Photo Marathon.  You may remember from last year's marathon that I spent most of the day with Chilliwack's other two entrants Tracy and Kennedy.  Well, they got in as well, so again it was the three of us!  I was all ready to go and waiting for them the Saturday of the marathon, and they picked up a coffee for me on the way over (thanks again, ladies!).  When they came over I just jumped in the van, and off we went.

     This year the marathon was being held at JJ Bean, a coffee house on Commercial Drive.  A very diverse area of Vancouver, this neighbourhood was ripe with photo opportunities.  We arrived at about 9am, with the start occurring at 10am sharp.  When we got there - just like last year - we realized that again we weren't the first ones there.  It was great to see some familiar faces - Angela and Morten of course, as well as Shannon, Benjamin, Jackie, Tagh, Cara, Sam, Dwayne, Faith, etc.  We spent the waiting time drinking our coffee (essential for this kind of thing), catching up, checking out each others gear, and just relaxing before the storm that was about to occur.  We also got our mug shots taken.  Benjamin had me stand on a block or something and shot up at me.  Kind of an odd shooting angle considering I'm about 6 foot 3 - but hey, whatever works for him.

     So came the kick-off.  Morten drew the first theme at 10am, and it was...Drama + Your Entry Number (they always do + Your Entry Number for the first theme).  So we went out and hit the streets.  I had entry number 15, Kennedy had number 8, and Tracy had 5.  We went wandering down Commercial Drive, with Martin in tow.  Martin is a film maker, and he was doing a video of the marathon.  Lucky him - he got to hang out with us first. 

We eventually came across a homeless guy sleeping, with a tray out and a sign that said "Every $5 goes towards killing Justin Beiber".  Tracy took out a $5 bill, put it by the sign, and took a photo for her first theme.  We went wandering quite a bit further, and went down side streets, through back alleyways, and through some apartment complexes.  Kennedy found her shot in a driveway involving bees and a honeycomb (a decent shot, I have to say).  We went back up Commercial, and I came across my shot.  Here it is:

It almost worked.  I wish the window washer guy would have had a better pose, but I was happy with it. So we wandered back to JJ Bean to catch the reveal of the next theme.  A continuing pattern throughout the day seemed to be that we got there just before the announcements happened.  So we got to the coffee house, and the next theme is revealed to be "Never Gonna Give You Up".  So, they're making themes from bad 80's music?  This theme was drawn by John, a coworker and good friend, as well as a 12x12 competitor.  So, off we went in search of Theme 2 - this time we went north instead of south. 

     This time we all got our shots at the same park on Commercial Drive - but it was a long walk to get there.  Tracy took a shot of a dog sitting with it's owners, Kennedy took an award-winning shot of a old roll of film, and I took this one:

 So after that huge walk, we walked all the way back again for the announcement of Theme 3.  On the way back, we ran into Shannon who was just starting her Theme 2 shot.  Apparently she had issues with her K1000 jamming, but Morten sorted it out, so she was back up and running.  We got there just in the nick of time for the reveal.  Theme 3 was "Far Away, So Close".  Ok, now they're getting cryptic.  Nothing like a challenge.

     Tracy had her idea right away, so we hiked south again so we were overlooking the Skytrain tracks looking west.  Tracy wanted to wait for a train to go by at the perfect time.  So we waited, and waited, and finally a train came by.  I guess they were running a little slow that day, but she got her shot.  We walked around a little bit to where Kennedy had spotted a mural, and she got her theme.  We walked back up the Drive - where we again bumped into Shannon who was walking in the opposite direction, and we let her know what the theme was - to where I remembered seeing a travel agency, and Kennedy was kind enough to help me get this shot:

So we hiked it back to JJ Bean (we hiked a lot that day, more on this later), where the next theme was announced.  So Theme #4 was...Reject.  They definitely weren't going to make it easy, were they?

     So off we went in search of rejects.  We went searching side streets and back alleys.  I saw a great idea, but it was on somebody's property.  I saw the owner come out and I explained to him about the contest and what I wanted to photograph, and he said "no" and that was it.  So much for that idea.  Instead we went walking further down the alley and I found this:

Tracy had an idea for a photograph after we got back onto Commercial Drive involving a locked gate.  We wandered around for a bit, up and down the Drive, and Kennedy saw something that worked for her, so she got her shot.  We then walked back to the coffee house where they announced Theme 5:  I Bet.

     From what I remember, this is the point where we stopped for lunch.  It was 2pm and we were all getting hungry and thirsty.  When Kennedy went to sit at a stool, her skirt brushed a bee that was sitting there, so it went and stung her.  She got the stinger removed, and she got some ice on it to reduce the swelling, and she was fine.  I grabbed a muffin, downed some juice and hung out for a bit to recharge.  I started chatting with some other marathoners, and got to play with one of their Epson RD1S's (think of it as a very early digital Leica).  It was an unusually heavy camera, but it was fun to play with.  I could see the appeal.

     After we recharged, we hit the pavement again.  Tracy quickly found her shot - a "Medicinal Marijuana" shop on Commercial Drive.  We went over to a local park, and Kennedy was able to take a shot over at the playground.  It wasn't until we got back to JJ Bean that I got my shot.  I saw a couple women in a very animated conversation.  I politely asked them if I could photograph them conversing, and they said that was fine:

That's when they announced Theme 6:  Impress(ion).  Greaaaaaaaaat.  Another easy one (heavy on the sarcasm).

     Tracy got her idea pretty quickly.  There were numerous impressions in the pavement along Commercial Drive, so she photographed one of a cup of coffee (go figure).  Kennedy had a really cool idea involving her science text book and making her own diagram of ions - great idea focusing on the "ion" part.  That took a little bit of time for her to do, so Tracy and I just relaxed in the shade while Kennedy was working.  I was a little tired, so inspiration didn't hit me.  We wandered back to JJ Bean for Theme 7:  My Own Reality.  Tracy's idea came pretty quick involving a photo of her daughters.  Kennedy's idea came quick too, photographing her Mom.  I had a great idea, so I had to get my Theme 6 shot done first.  As it turns out, I had a similar idea to Tracy:  photograph an impression in the pavement.  It didn't turn out to well, but you can almost see the signatures in the blue tiles:

My Theme 7 shot came right after this one.  Special thanks to Translink for stalling a bus at the corner and blocking traffic so I could run across the street to catch up to this friendly family:

Being a relatively new Dad, this shot kind of hit home with me.  So after this we wandered back to JJ Bean for the announcement of Theme 8.  It was unbelievably almost 5pm.  There were only four more hours to go in this insanity.  So Theme 8 turned out to be "Metamorphosis".  Yay for easy themes - again with the heavy sarcasm.

     From what I recall we didn't go very far for this one.  Tracy was able to find a flower surrounded by some flower buds.  We ran into Shannon again (a recurring thing) and Kennedy had a great idea.  Shannon is kind of a tiny person, and I'm not.  So Kennedy had Shannon put one of her hands over one of my hands to show the difference in size between them.  My idea came from walking down to one of the local grocery markets, where I saw some bell peppers, and did a little rearranging to get this:

I actually liked this shot, it turned out just the way I planned.  So, off we went back to the coffee house for Theme number 9.  As it turns out, Theme 9 was "Before the Storm".  This should be an interesting one.  I had an idea right away.  I just had to find it.  In the meantime, we went off in search of Tracy's idea.  We got told no at the first bar, and yes at the second.  So, she photographed a stack of beer mugs that were ready to be used (6pm on a Saturday).  We found my idea, but it wasn't quite perfect.  I was kind of hoping a rider would be there, but it was close enough:

Kennedy struggled with this one a bit, in then end she didn't want to run too far behind so she got a photograph of the sky.  Then, back to JJ Bean for Theme 10.  It was almost 7pm.  The announcement came, and it was "Advantage".

     For this one, we wandered back to the local park.  Tracy had a great idea involving Kennedy, myself, and a set of jungle-gym bars (me having a distinct advantage in reaching for the bars).  I was running low on brain power, so the best I could do was a tennis game:

We had a nice walk back to the coffee shop, running into John and Martin, and seeing several other marathoners in the park.  Kennedy got her shot by photographing a coffee (a great advantage in this marathon).  This brings us to Theme 11:  Overachiever.  At this point it was 8pm, and we were hungry.  So off we went to a burger joint for some food.  It was great being able to sit down and just relax for a bit.  While we were sitting and eating, we spotted another marathoner across the street, photographing something in the parking lot of a local body shop.  After we were done, we wandered back to JJ Bean, but on full and happy stomachs.  We were one theme behind, but we were fine.  The last theme came at 9pm:  Favourite.  Just around this time something weird happened.  A BMW was carrying some stuff on it's roof and came to a quick stop at the red light on Commercial and 6th.  A very large framed mirror came shooting off it's roof and landed in the intersection.  Some marathoners went over to get it out of the way quickly, and once the mirror was pulled to the side of the road - the car left.  We were all like "what the hell was that?"

     This is where I split off from Tracy and Kennedy.  I had my ideas and they had theirs, but mine involved walking.  I hiked up the street to get my shot for "Overachiever", and came up with this:

Considering I hand-held this at about 1/15th of a second, I think it turned out pretty well.  I then crossed the street, to get my last shot.  This was Commercial Drive, and I knew what I wanted - I just had to find it.  As I was heading north, I was confronted by an angry individual who was questioning why there were so many photographers around, and was shouting about the privacy act.  I was trying to explain, and he was shouting about the privacy act.  I wasn't going to argue legalities, so I just let him spout off.  He demanded that I put my camera away, but I refused.  I just stared him down until he walked away.  When he was far enough way, I continued on my quest, camera in hand.  A few minutes later, I found my shot for "Favourite"

Obviously, this little one was a woman's favourite.  I encountered this guy with his owners outside a small cafe and explained what I was doing and what I wanted to do.  They were interested and flattered.  So, I crouched down and took my shot.  This was hand-held, wide open at f1.8, and 1/15th of a second.  I felt for sure that the dog moved when I took the shot, but it actually turned out fine.

     I walked back to the coffee shop and met up with Tracy and Kennedy.  I rewound my roll of film and handed it in, with Angela and another woman being cheerleaders to re-energize people after a very long day.

     At this point I checked my pedometer on my phone...We had walked 26.72 kms over the course of the day.  I later worked it out that we had burned about 2500 calories each.

     With the day being done, we packed up the cameras, loaded up the van, and went home.  It had been a great day, even though we hadn't been involved in a police takedown like the year before.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

As Marshall McLuhan Would Say - The Medium Is The Message - Or, Anyone Who Hasn't Used A Manual Film Camera Has Really Missed Out

With less than two weeks left, I thought I would write a little about the Vancouver 12 x 12 Photo Marathon, the camera I will be using, and my thoughts on film cameras in general.  Let me explain the title of this post a little more.  Digital cameras are great.  I have shot many beautiful images over the past few years on my digital Canons, and I enjoy using them.  I have a collection of seven lenses for my two bodies, ranging from pro-grade glass to consumer-grade plastic lenses.  In addition to that, I have a duffel bag full of off camera flash gear.  They all perform well and have never let me down.  But they seem to lack a certain character that the old manual and mechanical film cameras have.  If you pick up and shoot a picture with a digital camera, you press the shutter button, it clicks, and you see the preview image on the lcd screen.  They all do that, and all feel similar in their "click" to a certain degree - it seems a little impersonal.  However, if you pick up a mechanical film camera, it is an altogether different thing.  It is an experience. 

Each kind of manual or mechanical film camera had a different feeling - and I'm talking about the manual focus cameras here, not the autofocus ones.   Depending on the camera, the film wind lever could be a smooth throw, or a rough one, and occasionally it could require two throws to advance the film.  The viewfinders were all big and bright.  And firing the shutter could be a loud thunk - like a Nikon F3 or a Konica T series - or a nice quiet click - like an Olympus OM-1.  Like MY Olympus OM-1.  Like my Olympus OM-1 that I will be using in the Vancouver 12 x 12 Photo Marathon.  And don't call it an analog camera - that term came from digital photographers who don't know any better.  We never called them analog - we called them film cameras.  The term "analog" somehow removes the character from these old gems.

This camera came to me just by chance.  When I was working for Lens and Shutter, a customer came in one night and asked if we could help him dispose of his old camera.  He wasn't using it anymore, and it was just taking up space and worth probably nothing.  I said yes, he could bring it by and we could recycle it for him.  He said he would be back the following evening.  When he came back, he dropped off his camera, a couple lenses, and thanked us for helping him out.  When he left, I had a closer look.  The camera's never-ready case said "OLYMPUS", so it caught my interest.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the case and found an Olympus OM-1 in good working condition, with a 50mm 1.8 lens on it, as well as a 135mm 3.5 telephoto.  Really?  Was he kidding?  He just dropped off a classic!  I examined it more thoroughly, and it had a dirty viewfinder and a dead battery - that was it.  The shutter clicked beautifully with no "recoil" (Nikon F and Konica users will know what I mean).  The mechanics were fine, and the lenses were spotless.  I had just found my next 12 x 12 camera!

Now, this was an interesting camera.  It was released in 1972, so it is just as old as I am.  It has some scars and scratches, just like me.  And it still works.  Back in those days, cameras were built to last a long time.  And it will probably still be working long after my digital cameras.  It was completely mechanical with a battery just to power the light meter.  It is small, light, but feels tough.  It has great ergonomics and beautiful lenses.  The shutter is a simple click (which is quite something for an SLR). 

This is probably part of the reason why the Vancouver 12 x 12 Photo Marathon is popular.  It makes photographers pick up their old cameras that they enjoyed USING.  The complete experience of using an old Leica, or a Canon Ftb, or a Nikon FM, or an OM-1 is just fun.  It's a kind of fun that digital cameras just don't give you.  As hard as you try, shooting a Nikon D3200 doesn't even compare to using a Nikon F3.  A Canon 5Dmk3 is a cool camera, but not as cool as a shiny Canon Ftb with chrome highlights.  The Olympus E-M5 is styled after the OM-1, but that's as far as the comparison goes.  A digital "click" just can't match a mechanical "kerthunk".

I still shoot with film.  I have a Mamiya RB67 medium format camera that I love using, and the negatives are huge and really sharp.  I still have my old Canon EOS film cameras.  They served me well, and gave me great images.  The Elan 7 I used in last year's 12 x 12, and it worked well.  I will probably use them again sometime.  But in the meantime, I look forward to using this old, great Olympus at the Photo Marathon.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Vancouver 12x12 Photo Marathon - The Experience of a First - Timer

     I was up at the crack of 6:00am to participate in my first Vancouver 12x12 Photo Marathon.  I was picked up at 7:30 by Tracy Hunter and her daughter Kennedy, then off for a quick Starbucks run before we hit the highway for our one hour trip into Gastown.  To say we were excited was an understatement. We arrived in Gastown at about ten to nine, found parking, made sure we had all our food, drink and gear, and hiked to the Coffee Bar.  Even though we were early, I was quite surprised to see that we were by no means the first to arrive. 

     We got registered, got our mugshots taken, found a table, and met up with Sam Chua and Cara Grimshaw (who was doing a marathon of her own already, having literally just arrived back from the Olympics).  John Roberts and Chris McDonald came in from Victoria, and my friend Dwayne Girvan finally showed up.

     Anticipation was building as we got closer to the 10:00am go time.  After doing some announcements and introductions, Morten drew the first theme for the marathon:  Entry Number + Colour.  Wait, this is black and white film, right?  Wow, this is going to require some thinking (I had the number 37).

     Tracy, Kennedy an I hit the pavement and started walking, if for anything just to get our minds wrapped around this theme. We started hiking over to Army and Navy to get some accessories for Tracy's idea, when I looked across the street and saw my shot, almost perfect, just sitting there.  I crossed the street and set up my shot, struggling a little with the depth-of-field, but after a few minutes I nailed my settings and shot it (yay me!) - one down, eleven more to go.  We got to the store and Tracy picked up what she needed.  We went back to Gastown for some more textured sidewalks, and Tracy got her shot.  We then went over near a back alleyway by a restaurant, and Kennedy got her shot.  It was approaching 11:00, so we booted it back to the Coffee Bar for the next theme:  Through the Looking Glass.

     I think almost everyone had an idea in mind as soon as they heard it, kind of like a loud mental "click" that happened.  I knew that Canada Place would have some kind of lookout that I could use, so I hiked over there with Kennedy and Tracy in tow.  We got there and we were right in the middle of an Anime convention and two loads of cruise ship tourists - it was a little crowded.  I didn't find a lookout, but I found something similar and got my shot.  Tracy I think got hers too, Kennedy wasn't able to follow through on her idea because a certain building was locked.  We made it back to the Coffee Bar for the next theme:  Nude.

    Being a glamour photographer, I had an idea right away.  But Kennedy hadn't taken her shot for Theme 2 yet, so we went with her to go help her find her shot.  She had a cool concept, and got her shot - but it resulted in her getting her camera gear locked in an office building.  She had gone inside to set up a shot through a window, and came back outside to shoot it.  But the office door was auto-locking (I don't think it closed properly earlier, which is how Kennedy got in).  So we had to get a hold of security, and then wait.  While Kennedy and Tracy waited, I hiked it back to Canada Place to get my nude shot - the abundance of Anime/Cosplay girls making it an easy theme to do (don't worry, it wasn't actually a nude girl). I met up with the ladies again, and Tracy got her nude theme shot.  So back to the Bar we went to get Theme 4:  In 20 years.

     At this point we rested a bit before heading out again - rehydrated, snacking, socializing, etc.   I was trying to come up with ideas, and had a few good ones, but it just wasn't working out right away.  Kennedy and Tracy in the meantime helped out another photographer with his idea (which was a great one).  They both got their photographs done too, before the next Theme was announced:  Old School.

   This time out, we were joined by Cynthia who was going to document our Theme 5 outing.  She was snapping photos while we were hunting for ours.  On the way on Water Street I spotted something that may work for Theme 4, so I got Kennedy to pose for me, and I think it worked.  On the way back down I saw a street artist, who I asked if I could take his photo - Old School Theme done, now I'm all caught up.   
I forget what Tracy and Kennedy shot, but I know they took photos of something.  So back at the Coffee Bar for Theme 6:  Three Times.  It didn't sound too hard, so off to Timmy's for lunch we went!

     While walking up to the Timmy's, Kennedy spotted her shot for Theme 6 - it was kinda big and staring right at us.  She hopped across the street and got her shot, leaving Tracy and myself to ponder.  During my smoothie intake, I became inspired and let Kennedy and Tracy know that I needed to borrow a few of their items when we got back to the Coffee Bar, and they agreed.  We got back to the Coffee Bar and got the next theme:  Top.  Seemingly easy, but it comes down to interpretation.  Kennedy actually had some classic game pieces in her bag, and got her photo very quickly.  I borrowed some of Tracy and Kennedy's items and got my "Three Times" photo.  I told them I was going back up to Canada Place for my "Top" photo after seeing a Black Top Taxi go by, knowing that the taxis queued up at Canada Place.  When I got up there, I saw something better, grabbed my shot, and went back to the Bar for Theme 8:  Hide.

     I had actually spotted something earlier on Water Street that would work perfectly, so a-hiking I went, up to a local rug shop, and because of the way I was positioned in the doorway, I kept setting off the door's motion sensors.  I wandered back to the Coffee Bar for Theme 9:  Clever.  Nothing quite like a curveball this late in the marathon.  At his point we just decided to relax for a bit to try to think of ideas.  After a while, Theme 10 came around:  Float.  Tracy, Kennedy and I packed up and hit the streets to seek inspiration.

     After going to Save-On-Meats to go chat with Sam and Cara, we walked around a few blocks, and I spotted something clever in a doorway.  Tracy spotted something nice and floaty, but was worried that the reflection of a passing car may have ruined it.  We wandered down the street to a back alley so that Kennedy could photograph some pretty cool graffiti.  This next part is a bit of a blur.  We heard a car screeching, then a guy came running up the alley really fast.  He tossed a knife into an alcove, and then a police car came speeding up behind him.  I ducked out of the way, Kennedy backed against the wall, and Tracy went to try to cover Kennedy.  While I backed up, I nearly backed into a cop running up the street with his gun drawn.  This cop chased down the running man, and the cop car pulled up behind them on the street.  The cop in the car got out and pulled out his gun, the running cop grabbed the running man and took him down.  A few seconds later there were about half a dozen more officers there, looking for the knife and taking Tracy's info and statement.  Poor Kennedy was already dying to go to the washroom, so this didn't really help her in any way.  We went on our way down the street, and found a nice small courtyard, where we found our shots for the "Float" theme.  We made it back to the Coffee Bar to get the next Theme:  Background Story.

     At this point I was feeling dizzy, so I decided I was going to get food, so we went to Save-On-Meats for dinner.  I invited the server to our Raw Talent night, and while waiting for our dinners I spotted a perfect shot for Background Story and grabbed it.  Tracy got her idea and shot it during dinner.  Kennedy got her idea too, and shot it while we were on our way out.  We then booted it out the restaurant and to the Coffee Bar for the announcement of Theme 12:  (d)evolved.  Really?  With 60 exhausted, near brain-dead photographers they throw THAT at us?  I think the awesome image that was taken of Shannon at this point summed it up for everyone.

     So everyone seemed to fly outside in a bit of a daze.  Everyone looking for something that would remotely represent this last theme.   Kennedy decided on a subject for her theme just down the street from the Coffee Bar, as did several others.  I found mine a few blocks away in a window.  It wasn't the best representation, but with about 15 minutes left I shot it, it was the best I could come up with on zero brain power and sore feet and shoulders.

     We hiked it back and handed in our rolls of HP5 and then just sat, congratulating others on the completion of a fun-filled, rewarding, and exhausting day - even the stuffed bunny someone had brought looked tired.  I picked up my free coffee that I had apparently won earlier in the day, Kennedy, Tracy and I grabbed our gear, and went home.