Becoming arsed

To explain, there is an English expression meaning “I can’t be bothered”, which is to say “I can’t be arsed”. Just to avoid the confusions arising from a common language. This is about getting arsed again.

After two years of lockdown, isolation and working from home it can be difficult to even get interested in life again. Apparently this condition now has a name: languishing. I find myself flipping between sparky and dull, so I guess I’ve caught a bit of languish.

Part of it is that many of the activities I used to enjoy and take pictures of have closed down. I could still go for walks all through the lockdowns, as long as I stayed away from other people, but where’s the (photographic) fun in that? I did join a photo club, which meant that even if my active photography was restricted, I was still thinking about pictures and how to do things differently or better. This kept me cheerful and mostly sane. I also did a long exercise of scanning all my old colour slides. It’s something to do while vegetating through online meetings. I would really like to get out more though, to get over the slump of lockdown and to rekindle some enthusiasm.

Anyway, enough of me, let’s talk about you. Are you too wondering how to get some interest back or find that mojo? Well, the components of fun, according to Prof Laurie Santos, are playfulness, connection and flow. Playfulness means not taking the thing seriously: it’s not a competition. Connection means other people, so lonely treks in the woods are out. And flow means being absorbed in the moment. And it doesn’t even have to be about photography either. Why not do something daft but fun, for no other reason than you can have fun with some other people? Try learning something new and flow will come, as you concentrate on how to do it. If the activity is not photography, then it might create opportunities for pictures. At the very least it will stop you worrying about the price of film or whether you should upgrade your camera again.

My distraction was beer making. I’ve always pottered around in the shed making brews, but I took up with a local brewing group when I moved house recently. They are all far more experienced and skilled than me, but it has made me raise my game and study the science and methods behind the process. It’s also ridiculous fun to stand in a barn, freezing and wearing wooly hats and gloves, discussing the subtleties of the beers we are tasting. Imagine an Inuit party where everyone stood far enough apart you would think they must be family.

The other remedy is to take delight in the small and everyday. Ross Gay wrote a book about a year’s worth of noticing the delightful. We were out walking and noticed that the low-angled winter sun revealed that the field was covered in a complete layer of fine spiders’ webs that sparkled in the light. We also had a chat with some twitchers who had come to see a rare bird, of which there were around six sightings a year in the UK. They let us have a squint through their telescope. I can’t tell one bird from another, but it was a lovely gesture of friendliness.

So I guess the summary is to try something new if you can, especially if it involves other people, and to take delight in your surroundings and experiences. I may not be taking any more pictures, but I’m not anxious about it and the ones I do take mean more to me.

Sea & Sea Motor Marine II

I started out with one of these when I was first learning how to take pictures underwater. It served its purpose, as I quickly learned what I really needed (and sold it). So why did I buy another one? Because it was cheaper than a roll of film and came with a flashgun, so it was worth a punt to see if the flashgun could work with my Nikonos (it doesn’t). But it could make sense if you needed to take pictures in really bad conditions.

What you get is a big camera that is resistant to sand, mud and rain (and any sense of style). Unlike its smaller brother the MX-10 this camera has a zone-focusing lens and retains the basic light metering. The main restriction for land use is the slow fixed shutter speed of 1/100. If you buy the Motormarine II EX model you get range of speeds covering 1/15 to 1/125. No real gain and it points to how this camera was intended to be used: with flash. But if I was using this thing it would probably be in poor light and bad weather, so I would be using the built-in flash or the (huge) external one. The external flash is more sophisticated, as it meters off the film. If you were going to use this for flash photography in grim conditions you should definitely get the external flashgun with the camera. The internal flash has a guide number of 10 and turning it on sets the lens wide open to f3.5. So on a sunny day you are likely to overexpose the background by around four stops. The big external flash allows for some adjustment, so it is possible to juggle the aperture and distance for effect. But that’s really not what this camera is for. It works best underwater with the external flash, it works on the surface without flash, or it will survive horrid conditions on the surface. If I had to shoot on film in wind-blown sand or salt spray, this would be an ideal tool.

The camera runs off two AA cells and the external flash takes another four. The camera’s batteries power the wind-on, meter and the internal flash. It uses DX coding for film speed but only recognises 100 or 400 ISO. So far, pretty basic.

Aperture and distance are set on dials on the front of the camera, so the ergonomics are pretty poor. There is a built-in close-up or macro option of 0.5m, but framing could be a problem.

In use, and without the flash, you tend to set the distance and then look through the viewfinder while you twiddle the aperture dial until the red exposure light turns green. With the internal flash on you’re basically confined to 2-3m distance. You wouldn’t use the built-in flash underwater as it is close to the lens so will cause loads of backscatter. The external flash has a big extending arm and tilting head, so it can be aimed to give the best lighting.

The camera takes a range of wide-angle supplementary lenses made by Sea & Sea. They use a standard bayonet fitting and can be found quite cheap. The main reason for these is to bring back the narrowing of field of view you get underwater due to refraction, where a 35mm lens narrows to about the same angle of view as a 50mm lens. They can be fitted and removed underwater, but you tend to fit one and leave it to avoid dropping it. They also work on the surface so are useful if you can find them. Mine has a wide-angle adapter that gives me the equivalent of a 20mm lens. I’ve also got an underwater-use 16mm adapter. This is not as good as the legendary Nikonos 15mm underwater lens, but can at least be removed underwater to give you a narrower field of view if you need it. Coupled with the external flash the 16mm adapter actually works pretty well underwater. The depth of field is such that you really don’t need to fiddle with the focusing.

So what is this large lump of yellow plastic good for? It’s too much of a handful for scuba diving but is a cheap starter for something like snorkelling or other water sports. It works best with flash, either the built-in one for close work or the big external one. The zone focusing makes it a good candidate for a card rangefinder. I made one and laminated it, then attached it to the camera. For beach/ surf/ surface use I’d drop the external flash. For underwater use, the ideal setup would use the external flash and a wide or 16mm lens adapter.

The lens has square aperture blades. This is not a problem – Olympus did the same with their compacts. It can mean though that backscatter-lit silt underwater appears square. On the surface you’ll probably not notice it.

Why would you want one of these? If you wanted to shoot on film in the surf, on a beach or in foul weather and were happy using flash. But they are quite limited and outside of their narrow use-case will frustrate you. Indeed, most underwater film cameras were rapidly replaced with digital as the benefits of autofocus, autoexposure, a preview screen and after-shot review far outweigh any supposed quality difference. But, as a rufty-tufty camera it works well, and with the correct adapters and flash it can work well underwater.

So if you get down and dirty and you can find one of these at the right price, have a go.

Gear Addiction Syndrome

So I was reading Unwinding anxiety by Judson Brewer, as one does, and came across a definition of addiction: “continued use despite adverse consequences”. A chill ran through my heart (not really, but a wrinkle of worry wormed across my brow) – does he mean Gear Acquisition Syndrome?

If I have more camera or lenses than I can carry and I am still looking at the results of my saved searches from eBay, I must be addicted.

There was a time, a few years ago, when film equipment was cheap because it was old and analogue. I would have sold all my kit at the time but the return was so low that I kept it for occasional use. Then I bought a few lenses to make up what felt like a full set. Then I am afraid that I bought things to play with. And I think that is the basis of my GAS and addiction. “I am Fup Duck and I have too many cameras and lenses”.

But I like variety. I don’t need to have a collection of every model of a certain camera, as my addiction is not ownership or completeness: I want different things to try. I have analysed my set of cameras and lenses for functionality in what I felt was a rational approach to building a full suite of capability. What I didn’t think about was what caused me to have so much stuff to choose from.

One of the drivers is curiosity – I am a very curious person (probably in both senses of the word). I love to find out how things work and to solve problems. So something like a half-frame camera with a rotary shutter is catnip to me, as is a camera that you twist the lens to work. What is telling is that I borrowed one of these and sold the other one. I think I would own less kit if I could borrow more.

I think there is also a desire to be equipped and ready. It’s probably like carrying some multi-function survival tool around to give me the assurance that, come the zombie apocalypse, I could cope. And is a penknife with ten blades better than one with three? I went down that rabbit hole with underwater cameras and came to the conclusion that the best camera was one that was good enough, but easy to use. But this sense of having the special thing in case I ever need it has driven some lens purchases. My only defence is that I only ever bought cheap – when I spotted a 300mm lens in a charity shop one time, I bought it. I now have a long lens, if I need one, that cost much less than buying one in the future when I do need it. Of course, if I never use the lens it was a waste of money and storage. And that’s the very definition of addiction.

Now, what Mr Brewer talks about is the link between the trigger, the behaviour and the reward. So one of these loops for me is the trigger of curiosity: I wonder what a thing is like. The behaviour is then to acquire one of those things to find out. The reward is the pleasure of investigating and learning. This is fairly well controlled, as I tend to then sell the thing once I have played with it. So this little addiction varies from cost-neutral to making a small profit.

The other loop is more of an addiction, and this is the one where I buy things to fill a perceived gap. Do I have an underwater digital camera? Yes, but what about an analogue one? Do I have a 400mm lens? What about a 200? And shouldn’t everyone have a 70-210mm zoom? This is more pernicious as I accumulate these things and rarely sell them on. The saving grace is that the adverse effects are small: I do not spend much money on this stuff. I tend instead to take opportunities: I will buy something if it turns up at the right price (low) and fills a perceived gap. I’d love a macro lens, for example. Not because I shoot loads of macro stuff, but I would use it for scanning negatives. But I am not willing to pay what they sell for and I already have other means of doing the same job (bellows and an enlarger lens). So I would only buy a macro lens if it was cheap, which isn’t going to happen. But this particular form of my addiction has resulted in me owning more cameras and lenses than I need. And I think the resolution would be to rationalise what I actually use and need and find a way to hire or borrow things that I might use only once or never. What I will also need to do is to refocus the feelings of reward from having all the tools I could need into having the perfect “capsule wardrobe” of essential and multifunctional equipment.

The first step, of course, is to decide if GAS is actually a problem. I think it is, as I have more stuff than I can use. There is no point hoarding cameras for the future: if film does continue to grow then someone may start making cameras again. And if not, they won’t. In which case we may be left with large format film, as there won’t be any 35mm cameras left to shoot the smaller formats. So don’t worry, be happy. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The thing that’s going to help me though is to recognise that I don’t need a huge reserve of every type of camera and lens, plus an extra of each camera in case the first one breaks. It’s only recently (in relative terms – I’ve been around since the last ice age) that I’ve had anything more than a basic camera setup. That never seemed to stop me. So perhaps the simplicity of a capsule camera bag is what I need? That and the recognition that I don’t need to feed this hoarding behaviour.

What we potential members of Analogues Anonymous need is a camera and lens library so the we can scratch the curiosity itch without incurring ownership. Or get the use of something exotic for only the time we actually need it. I’ve got a range of odd kit that I don’t use all the time, but wouldn’t have the use of otherwise. If this charged enough to cover the costs of repairs and CLA, it could help keep some useful skills in business too.

What do you think? Would you give up hoarding kit if you could borrow it?

Talking about photography

Talking about photography may be as sensible as dancing about geometry, but do you fancy a rhombus?

I love my podcasts, but that love has changed during the covid lockdown and working from home. Like 35hunter I no longer have a commute to work (or I didn’t, that’s changing). I was spending 40 minutes each morning and evening trapped in a car with nothing to do but be entertained. Perfect for podcasts. These days, if I commute at all, it’s 20 minutes or less. Some of the longer podcasts could take me three days to listen to.

Many of the podcasts I listen to are about photography (or I wouldn’t be writing about them). The good thing about this is that it’s almost impossible to describe pictures, so the discussion should be about photography itself. The bad thing is that it is easy to talk about cameras, so there are lots of podcasts that are audiobook versions of the manual. There are also a lot of photography-related podcasts, so there’s a lot of camera manuals out there.

One reason may be that talking is easier than writing, so if you have something you want to say, saying it wins over writing it. There is also convenience – I can listed to a podcast when I’m driving but I can’t read a blog (though I still like my blogs too). Although I did once work with someone who told me how they held a book on the steering wheel so they could read when they were driving the boring stretches on a motorway (eek!).

The written word is sometimes open to misinterpretation.

We are programmed to converse – we have evolved so that language is innate: a baby can learn to speak just by listening to the noises the big people make. We have to be taught to read. Together these are the most powerful tools we have – talking gives us collaboration and cohesion, writing gives us cultural memory so that we can learn from others without having met them. But to be able to read we actually have to rewire our brains. More Homo Flexibilis than Homo Sapiens, but it’s put us at the top of the tree (if only we were also sapiens…).

You want a subject for discussion? How about the amount of dogfruit you see when you are out walking?

Anyhow – what’s that got to do with podcasts? It was a bit of a diversion really, into things I find interesting, but it may explain why there are more podcasts on photography than blogs. There is also a huge number of books on photography, but writing and publishing are difficult and have a high barrier to entry. A spoken podcast has a much lower entry cost and uses a skill you’ve had since you could walk.

I should be clear though – I am not criticising podcasts or saying that they are less clever than writing – I love my podcasts. I’m just thinking out loud about the different media.

Podcasts are also a larger commitment than writing: the participants have to turn up on time, every time, and spend at least the length of the podcast talking. I expect most blog writers, like me, can have several ideas in development and only need to post them on time. I can spread my input over weeks if need be, and I don’t need to commit a set amount of time at fixed intervals. So all kudos to the podcasters for their commitment.

So which podcasts do I rate? Given the bias I have expressed for photography and against cameras, it’s these:

UNP – Grant Scott talks about the business of commissioned photography and art, and has photographers describe what it means to them.

A small voice – Ben Smith interviews photographers about their work.

Sunny 16 – it feels like a family gathering, with everything from drunk uncles to wise aunts. Always entertaining.

Negative Positives – the American family gathering with sufficient mutual sarcasm that they could almost be British.

Shutters Inc – Bruce and Glynn on photography, life and everything. They have done the best criticism and feedback of each other’s pictures and are the role model for how this could be done.

I dream of cameras – Jeff and Gabe talk about cameras, but I listen because they are funny and entertaining. This is an offshoot of the Sunny 16 podcast and can be found in the same place.

Photography Daily by Neale James. Interviews, thoughts and a shaggy dog.

My list has changed over time, with some dropping off and some added. There are others, obviously, but these are the ones that I listen to each episode. How about you? Any recommendations?

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