b&w museums and my failures with film

The first time I ever used black and white film, I was at the Portland Art Museum using my Olympus 30 RC point & shoot camera. This camera was the absolute bane of my existence. I got it for $15 at a garage sale, and I could not figure out how to focus the thing. Turns out, you can’t really focus point and shoot cameras, thus the name. Learning film is a process, folks, and I am only just beginning. (PS – if anyone knows something about how the focus works on this camera, I would love to hear about it!)

Fortunately, some of these pictures turned out, and I discovered a love for shooting black and white film at artistic locations. I tried doing a second roll on that camera and the film jammed and I accidentally ruined the entire roll trying to get it unjammed. Third time’s the charm, though, right? Wrong.

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There were a couple more failed attempts at capturing life on this camera. I got my film back from the Tulip Festival and cried when not one single shot came out focused.
 

I came very close to giving up entirely, and then I turned around within the hour and bought a Pentax K1000 off of Craigslist. Within the next hour I was downtown at the local university taking trial pictures.

After I got these shots back, I was relieved that I could actually figure out how to focus images. These pictures gave me hope that I could actually get better. The rest has been a learning experience with many patient friends and family as I tried out different shots at different locations with different people, many times in rivers or the rain (sorry Adriana). But one thing I never gave up on was taking black and white photos at museums. So when I got to go to The Getty with my family a few weeks ago, I saw an opportunity to redeem myself.

Not all of the pictures turned out perfect or even completely in focus, but it’s a step forward. There’s something unique about taking photos of art and removing the color. It forces you to look at the simple shape and construction of the works – how do the shadows work together to make up the figure? What is it that determines how a piece makes someone really feel? What shapes did the artist prioritize?

Fun fact, for a time in my life I wanted to be an art historian. I was also really into studying world religions. But my focus has always been on writing and book publishing, so I didn’t have time nor the resources to look into those subjects more. While I might not be able to justify taking college classes or paying money to study these things full time, I can combine these interests with other hobbies. It sometimes seems impossible to get started on any side project with limited schedules. We can only dedicate so much time to our hobbies before having to return to work (unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky ones who makes a living off your hobby). But if you go outside the box, you might be surprised at the paths you discover. Try combining some of your passions to save time – you never know what the outcome might be.

RAGBRAI 2018

Sometimes I forget I’m athletic. Even now, writing this, I don’t feel like calling myself athletic is accurate. And then people point out that about a month ago I rode my bike across a state.

Here’s the thing: RAGBRAI isn’t about being athletic. It’s a literal party, and people happen to be exerting more energy than usual.

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is in its 46th year and still going strong. Essentially, 15,000+ people get on their bikes and ride from the Missouri to the Mississippi River over the course of one week. This was my fifth year doing it, which I didn’t fully realize until I got home and looked at my bike map. I’ve had this map since I rode my bike across America when I was fourteen. It’s my record of every cross-state and cross-country bike route I’ve taken. When I went to trace out this year’s route, I was surprised to find four jagged lines already making their way across Iowa.

While it was my fifth year riding across, it was my first year going with a film camera. As I continue in my endeavors to learn film and capture the spontaneous nature of humanity, I discovered that RAGBRAI couldn’t have provided a better or more fun opportunity for capturing such moments.

Every day was full of small towns and places to hang out. Farmers and businesses alike come out, provide great food and drinks, and talk to riders. At any of these stops during the day, thousands of bikes would crowd every open space in the town—basically, bikers took over. I cannot express how grateful I am to these towns for not only their patience in letting us do this but also their eagerness to host us.

Often I hear that Iowa is just a giant cornfield, and that’s partially true, especially if you’re just driving down the freeway. But the whole truth is that Iowa is a farm state with thousands of farming and rural communities that come together in only the most Iowan of ways. The Midwestern charm and hospitality finds its home here. I have never met nicer people anywhere in America, hands down. I mean, who else would let fifteen thousand drunk bicyclists take over their state for a week?

The best part about this ride is the riders. I’ve never seen a group of people so footloose and energetic. It is most people’s one vacation of the year, and they really get into it. Not only this, but if someone crashes or has a problem, everyone stops to help, no question.

There’s so much to say about this bike ride. I couldn’t possible cover it all in one blog post. Over the next few years, I’m excited to keep going back and capturing the ride on film. If you know about this ride and have any ideas for shots you’d like to see, send me a message. I’d love to hear from fellow bike riders who are into photography.