small fall 2014 update
some things I’ve written recently:
some things I like recently:
the new whirr album
new york city
wagonmaster.com, the official online home of wood-paneled jeep wagoneers
small fall 2014 update
some things I’ve written recently:
some things I like recently:
the new whirr album
new york city
wagonmaster.com, the official online home of wood-paneled jeep wagoneers
People often ask me what kind of cameras I shoot with.
Over the years, I have been through bazillions of different cameras in search of just the right je ne sais quoi. The right camera should feel like a partner in crime, a constant companion, and a trusty tool. Basically, it should successfully translate—or at least mimic—the way that you see the world.
Here are my typical weapons of choice, past and present.
I was fortunate enough to acquire one of these hardy little dudes at an estate sale in late 2007 for 150 bucks, though they typically go for about $400 on eBay these days. Six months into my adventures with it, it developed a battery issue, and I had to sent it off to be repaired by some specialty shop in Vermont for six months. But it came back working like a charm, and has been serving me since.
There are a number of reason why it’s my favorite camera; it’s got a metal shell that offers it tortoise-like protection, since it’s typically being thrown around at the bottom of my bag or backpack, always on-the-go and unafraid. Its settings are reliable and almost minimalist; the aperture is changed by gently rotating the peeking-out lens, and the flash is powerful and still yields sharp, light-flooded images. The widest aperture of 2.8 suffices better than one would expect. It is a camera that feels present with you, and thoughtful, almost like wearing a pair of glasses instead of staring through a small machine.
Its focusing and metering can be temperamental at times. But I always have the feeling like there’s a bit of soul in it, like its squinting and cocking its head to the side before I even look through the viewfinder or press the shutter, trying to see what’s in front of it. And the mistakes seem happy and purposeful.
more Contax T2 photos here
Sharing a similar legacy and fan base to the T2, the T4 is typically a bit cheaper and grittier. For this reason, I prefer to use it for parties, and spontaneous road trips where it might get flung into a bog or a patch of quicksand. I brought it to riots in 2010 and ghost towns the following year. There’s something slightly vulgar about it when the flash is used; I believe that this is the reason why Terry Richardson is rumored to be so fond of it. Maybe it’s for someone a little more free-spirited than the typical T2 user, someone who wants more images of blood and nudity. But like a bad boyfriend, it also has surprising moments of tenderness that keep you coming back to it even when it has done you wrong many times over.
more Yashica T4 photos here
Ah, the Nikon N90. Though not particularly “cool” or well-known, it’s the first camera I really learned to take photos on; I got mine when I was 15, shortly before 9/11, and have a lot of weird feelings associated with the first few rolls I took on it. It’s bulky, and heavy, and requires more thought than a point-and-shoot. But it has continued to excite me over the years, especially when I tried it with different flashes and lenses, and eventually settled on using it in Automatic mode so that I could be more spontaneous with it as its value decreased in a digital world. Using it is like befriending an old, talented musician who never made it big. It also makes a loud, super-satisfying click.
Polaroid SLR 680
This ridiculous-looking thing was my one true love from about 2006 to late 2009, at which point Polaroid 600 film became incredibly difficult to obtain. I still have a decent stash, but it’s growing more deeply expired—and subsequently, reddish and faded—with each passing day. But the SLR 680, in spite of its totally weird form and bumbly lack of Apple-product elegance, is like the Rolls Royce of Polaroid cameras. Its large sonar panel produces incredibly crisp and beautiful images that are perfect imitations of the longing of memory and the bittersweetness of nostalgia. Pressing the shutter with the lightest touch possible, you can focus and unfocus on your subject over and over until you get just the right level of depth. It’s only fair, then, that I can’t continue to use one forever; it was always meant to be a librarian of the past, of things that we can’t have anymore, but were once so real, if only for a second.
more Polaroid SLR 680 photos here
Polaroid Spectra / Minolta Instant Pro
I got hooked on shooting with a Spectra camera about 7 years ago because the film was cheaper, but I stuck around because it’s the perfect portrait camera. With slightly more technology and larger negatives than its 600 counterparts, the Spectra series (and their cousin, the Minolta Instant Pro) was Polaroid’s attempt to integrate more settings and customizability into its cameras, with features such as integrated double exposure and self timer options. Its yields are quiet and dream-like, with backgrounds fading into the horizon forever while what’s in the center feels so close you could touch it.
more Spectra and Instant Pro photos here
Honorable Mentions: Lomo LC-A, Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim, and Canon AE-1
Though all currently in retirement, I used the above for at least a few rolls apiece with (typically) great results.
The Lomo LC-A had its 15 minutes of fame in 2004-2006, when it experienced something of a cult revival and suddenly was everywhere and coveted. It was lauded for being “unpredictable” and saturated and clunky and made by Communists, all of which do factor into some pretty interesting photos that have strange green or yellow or red pallors, and a quintessentially “indie” feel if you are the type of person who insists on using that word. Mine insisted on breaking frequently and unapologetically, but I did become fond of its gusto and would employ it again if I was a little bit younger and if film was less expensive, or if I was shooting an album cover for a band that was brooding and ambient.
The Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim is hilariously cheap (I think I got mine for $5) and featherlight, weighing little more than the roll of film itself. You’re never quite sure if it’s working, or if your entire roll will suck, or if you’ll drop it on the ground and it will shatter into a hundred pieces of plastic. But considering its price and quality of production, it can do pretty amazing things:
The Canon AE-1 is the perfect starter rangefinder camera. They’re super-affordable (I got mine at Goodwill for $50) and very forgiving while you get the hang of the all-manual settings and old-school mechanical body. Even though I don’t use mine as often as I should, I feel like everyone should have one; it’s like the Rebel of analog cameras. If I ever have kids, I hope that I can give them each one when they turn 13 and set them loose on the world.
I need a new dream because I fulfilled a long-standing one, right at the top of ye olde bucket list. To go to Iceland, stand on its moss, rub the noses of its ponies, gaze at its glaciers, be wine-drunk somewhere where 4am looks like late-afternoon. I guess it all started somewhere in my teens, with Hyperballad or maybe Flugufrelsarrin; it seemed like these songs from the great glaciered island had a certain quality of cavernousness, oldness, paleness, sparkle of crystalline, like you could imagine that maybe they were really adapted from the chants of vikings mixed with the harmonies of weird little elves who live in piles of rocks. Then came the actual imagery of it, all of that lava and those gentle little sheep and those massive and desolate fields of green or gray that seemed to go on truly forever. And no billboards—how can a place in this space-time point have no billboards? And can I go there, can I really? And I did.
And it was cold, and so empty, and when it’s summer in New York and you’ve tired of brunches with three Bloody Marys and rooftop parties with bored graphic designers, well, that’s just the kind of place I’d like to be.
I was also blessed to be with wonderful friends from the UK, and to meet their wonderful friends, and to all drink whiskey together out of a flask that I bought at a geyser and to laugh at the austerity of our barely-manned, minimalist airport hotel. And the grocery stores were so confusing, Christ, they were confusing, with sheeps’ heads and what felt like 300 different flavors of yogurt, and way too much salted licorice. And then at some point, I’m back at my desk in New York, in Times Square, sorting spreadsheets and writing Tweets and listening to Bruce Springsteen on Spotify but still being able to hear honking through my headphones. That ache of having been alien and going back to just being a busy little person in a big noisy city.
So, where will it be next? Or should I forfeit Starbucks and subways and just become a shepherd?
This last photo is of Dolly, a 90-year-old woman that Emily and I met on the sidewalk in Breezy Point. She invited us into her home for two hours, gave us fruit cups, and told us all about growing up in New York in the 40s, 50s, 60s. She told Emily to trim her split ends and me to get a tan and “marry a nice man.” It was an important and magical Sunday.
It’s slightly ironic that the past two weekends—arguably the nicest, weather-wise, the entire time I’ve lived here—I’ve been out of town, considering my past personal dredges of Seasonal Affective Disorder that begged for 78 degree days. But it was worth it, because I got to stuff the above creation into my face (a salted caramel hot chocolate cream puff… heavens to Betsy) and gaze upon the Washington Monument in a 10-mimosas-deep state of mind.
You can find the link to the Bonnaroo rundown in the post below (or on munchies.vice.com ). One thing I didn’t adequately elaborate on was the absolutely fantastic burger made for me by Jeremiah Bullfrog, aka Rick Ross’s personal chef. I’ve only had one other “real-meat” burger in the past 11 years, so it’s true that I may be biased (and I’m not planning on having any more in the near future.) But lord, this thing… if anything was worth betrayal of my personal ethics… A salty, juicy handheld from heaven, I’ll tell ya. One every six years is okay, right?
As for DC, here’s a rundown:
Took Amtrak for the first time in my life. I applied for their incredible writing residency program but it doesn’t seem like I’m going to be granted that dream of dreams, so I’ll have to settle for the occasional self-funded journey. Everyone told me that I would love it—I’m partial to old-world modes of transportation—and they weren’t wrong. Penn Station is not romantic, make no mistake, but the long and sunset-backdropped weave through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland was spectacular.
Stayed with Ms. Shaelyn Dawson, one of my literal best-friends-forever (since we were 14 and counting) and went on a worthy rampage around the city. Started Saturday with a bottomless brunch of about 10 million Mexican breakfast tapas and google-plex mimosas, ran around the touristy stuff in a heightened state (the Jefferson Memorial, the Potomac, the Washington Monument from a safe distance to avoid the grumpy families and swaths of teenagers), followed by a cartwheels contest on its accompanying lawn.
Regained composure and watched the World Cup at this nookish bar tucked on the second floor of an apartment building called Ivy & Coney, which felt like a moderately dilapidated Victorian living room with ice-cold beer. Fantastic. After a nap and some time with Shaelyn’s ridiculously photogenic miniature Australian Shepherds, it was off to Show Time to eat pizza and listen to all of the Shangri-Las and Smoky Robinson songs I could manage from the free jukebox before pissing off fellow patrons. Unnamed members of our parties vomited from the building extravagance of the day and I almost tried a potion made from “every leftover bottle of weird promotional liquor that we get sent, mixed together” but thought better of it.
Walking to my friend Brett’s house later on, we were apprehended via shouts from an upstairs window by some artists partying in a loft who saw us walking by. They invited us in and we passed through a ground-floor studio of impressive neon sculptures and plaster busts and up into a high-ceilinged converted firehouse, where a gaggle of creative types were playing pool and dancing to Pusha T. They equipped us with beers and brought us up to the roof, but eventually we parted to hit a different roof (that of my much-missed friend from college, Brett).
Maybe I just had no idea that DC was such a friendly place? Admittedly I had stereotyped it as a collared-shirt kind of town where no one schmoozes unless they have something to gain from it (politically or career-wise), but this conception was totally shattered. Maybe it’s no longer the land of Dischord, but it’s pretty cool.
Trains, planes, and automobiles seem to be the theme of my summer. And that’s more than fine with me. Take me to a Ruby Tuesday’s in rural Tennessee or a fjord in Iceland. I’ll take it all.
I interviewed some incredibly charming bartenders about their love of Campari to unearth the reasons why it’s so beloved, even through it’s crazy bitter and used to be made with crushed up beetles. Read the story on VICE here.
I also got sent to Bonnaroo to eat as much as I could physically muster, and I made it pretty far! Click the link to follow me on my insane caloric journey as I dodge teenage breasts, watch Lionel Richie drink Gatorade out of a wine glass, and down approximately 300 margaritas.
Here’s what I’ve been letting myself feel to, while standing up straight and walking down the street like a girl who’s back.
1. The Replacements – They’re Blind
I never listened much to Don’t Tell a Soul until I found it on cassette a few weeks ago and thought to give it a whirl in spite of the fact that it’s the least-discussed Replacements album. But when this song wafted out of my pink Panasonic, I loved it’s doo-woppy sound and soaring chorus. It could be sung by the Zombies or the Miracles in a different era, but it’s with Paul Westerburg’s throaty, warbly voice that it really turns to magic.
‘Cause they’re blind
They hold you too close to the light
and I see what they only might if they’d learn
but they’re letting you burn, ’cause they’re blind
2. American Football – Never Meant
The special part about this song is its perfect encapsulation of bittersweetness. It’s as pretty as it is sad, as musically complex as it is melodically simple. I think that this one will stick with me forever; it has for 14 years and counting.
3. Underworld – Born Slippy Nuxx
Dirty numb angel boy
In the doorway boy
She was a lipstick boy
She was a beautiful boy
And tears, boy
And all in your inner space boy
He had hand girls, boy
And steel, boy
He had chemicals, boy
I’ve grown so close to you, boy
And you just groan, boy
She said come over come over
She smiled at you, boy
This song is difficult to dissociate from Trainspotting, so let’s not dissociate it. Let’s suppose that it comes in tandem with the last scene, when Renton has decided to turn his back on his junkie criminal tendencies with a final act of selfishness; stealing the bag of money from his miserable friends and running off to better himself because he know that they won’t. Now I don’t want to say that this is an admirable act—even he agrees that it’s deeply messed up. But this is the song of empowerment, of doing what’s best for yourself even when to others it may seem wrong. And that, well, that feels really good.
4. Washed Out – Paracosm
Not sure which stage of grief this is for, but it’s like getting a massage on a raft that’s floating down a secluded river lined with flowers. It’s the warm wool that wraps around you when you most need it. And the fadeout is an homage to Slowdive’s “Shine,” which is another perfect anthem for unfurrowing your brow.
5. Cocteau Twins – Sea, Swallow Me
Pure, glassy, sparkling beauty. Nothing more, and nothing less. It reaches inside of you and touches your skin from the inside out. But unlike Paracosm, which is incandescent and embracing, this one is a cold mist. That’s all you need.
6. John Maus – Cop Killer
Turn to this weird darkwave cop-killing anthem for a dose of sinister camaraderie with a fellow renegade. It’s as though John Maus knows just the absurdity of being the professor-turned-electronic musician who is advocating one of the most frowned-upon crimes possible. We all get some dark thoughts sometimes, don’t we?
7. The Cairo Gang – Shivers
The Cairo Gang have a lo-fi, smoky noise that turns croons of hurt into spirals of psychedelia. Through a stained glass window, after all, everything is fragmented into gentle, glowing color. This track is a cover of young Nick Cave’s band Boys Next Door, and through their simple interpretation it is made lusher, more rural and rugged. It’s hard to believe that the original is 35 years old, but it fits in just as well here as long as there’s still a corner to lean up against, a place to narrow your eyes like you’ve got a bad one coming.
In-N-Out Burger Might Be Too Good to Be True … (but spoiler alert: it’s not).
Even though I haven’t actually had one of their “real” burgers in 11 years, they’ve still got a special spot in my California heart. Check out the rundown at the link above on Munchies.
I also infiltrated the online world of adult picky eaters for VICE/Munchies, and it was thought-provoking in ways I didn’t discuss in the piece. The thing is, even as a food writer who is almost completely fearless in terms of flavors and cuisines, I related to a group of people who only eat French fries. But not for the reasons you might think.
What resonated with me was the convergence of their individual, personal quests to find kindred spirits in a vast sea of outward normies. There are certain things we can deduce about others are first sight; their level of objective and subjective attractiveness, their sense of individuality, their sartorial choices. But the stuff inside isn’t so obvious. On the subway, we’re crammed into the tiniest, most intimate confines with other humans whose thoughts are a complete mystery to us. And for people who feel like they don’t fit in—for whatever reason—sometimes you need more.
Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of solace in the internet’s music communities; blogs, band message boards, file sharing groups. Even as a fairly extroverted person, I still find something comforting in reading the words of others, hearing their experiences and struggles and the fodder that they don’t say out loud. What I’m writing right now I might not say aloud. It’s just different to keep things in the written word. Safer. But I realize that this is a double-edged sword, because these peeks into each other’s minds only go so far. They’re no replacement for sitting at a diner at 2am with your best friend in the world, or exchanging a knowing glance across a room.
And I’m not talking about social media; that’s something else. That’s a platform, a janky soapbox. I’m talking about the opposite; the corner booth, the quieter outskirts of this strange, sticky hub that we’re all using for ten thousand different things every day. I’m talking about the seven other people in the world who want to talk about your favorite Claymation rendition of The Little Prince from 1979. More than that, I’m talking about not being alone. Somehow, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram can make us feel left out. But for shy record enthusiasts and Picky Eating Adults, there’s somewhere to go where everybody knows your name.