Last month two of my girlfriends and I had a weekend of perfect summertime fun up in Pope Valley. Now, if you aren’t familiar with weather in San Francisco, particularly in the summer, you may not know that it’s cold. Average temps hover in the low 60’s. So to be able to spend a weekend somewhere 30 degrees warmer is quite an experience for me.
I’m not suited for hot-weather by any means, but give me shade and a place to swim with great company and I’m happy as a clam.
We stayed in yurts. So fun! I was in the lovely guest yurt while my friends shared the main one. So beautiful and simple, the theme of the entire weekend.
The 40 acre property was amazing. Vineyards, a large pond (depleted from the severe drought, but still must have been at least 8 feet deep), majestic oak trees, and a plethora of winged creatures (birds, insects, bats!).
That Saturday was also summer solstice, and we celebrated by spending the entire day outside. We didn’t retire until well past midnight. We saw many shooting stars, satellites, the Milky Way. We enjoyed delicious food, laughed ourselves silly, and bonded our friendship further. I love these ladies.
On my desk at work are a few of these prints, to remind me of these special times.
I recently came back from a fantastic 9-day vacation in New York. I’m usually fairly minimalist when I travel, but this time, not so much. The fact that I’m a California girl packing for a New York winter was an added challenge. How do I stay warm, dry and fashionable (because I’m vain like that) for over a week? It’s all about good shoes, a warm coat (or three in my case), and the appropriate accessories (hat, gloves, scarves). I need to go back so they don’t collect too much dust. I haven’t had to be immersed in cold like that since I lived in Portland, and even then it wasn’t that severe.
But enough about clothes. We’re here to talk about photography. Still not being minimalist here, I brought two cameras. I’ve been on somewhat of a film kick lately, so I decided to bring my uncle’s old Pentax Spotmatic. It’s a wonderful camera. I kept the 28mm lens on that baby the entire time, but I also brought a 50mm, just in case. I should have kept it at home though because the wide angle was perfect for my needs.
I experimented a bit. I used color negative film. Kodak Portra 800. It creates a deep saturation that’s really fun. The colors really pop.
My cousin and his wife scored a sweet 5th floor walkup for a steal in Chelsea, which they let me use as home base and let me come and go as I pleased. They live a skip away from the High Line, which is a mile-long, elevated park built on an old rail line.
Walking along the High Line provides a great vantage point of the neighborhoods.
The architecture is a great mix of old and new.
I wish that SF had some more variety and creativity with their buildings. I mean, come on, the shape of this condo building is so refreshing! You gotta love it.
In addition to walking everywhere, I spent a good amount of time learning about the subway, taking the train multiple times daily. It makes me realize how truly lacking in accessibility and connectivity the Bay Area’s public transit system is.
I rarely had to wait more than 5 minutes for any train. And while the underground wasn’t as encompassing as say, Japan’s underground, they still offer more than what SF’s MUNI offers.
My favorite thing about visiting a new place, is the chance to get immersed in everyday life. It provides an alternate perspective of how to live. I liked figuring out how to adjust my needs to a new locale – where to get coffee, where to get food, which park to visit, how to spend my free time.
I popped off a button on my coat (the disadvantages of wearing vintage, the thread had gotten quite weak), and usually I would have fixed it myself, but here I just took it to a tailor to have it fixed on the spot. The seamstress was really friendly. It’s nice to patron local businesses, the frameworks of a neighborhood.
The night life is truly great. Dinner at midnight, dancing until 4am, there are a plentitude of options for late night entertainment. And so many people out in the wee hours of night. I never felt unsafe because of the sheer amount of people walking about. I understand why this city never sleeps.
I met up with many friends, shopped the sample sales, hit the bars, ate so much delicious food, enjoyed museums, sights, a comedy show. It was nonstop. And to make this a true hedonistic trip, I had a vacation from my vacation. I retreated for a couple days in a sleek, minimalist hotel. It was difficult to leave when it was time.
When it was the day to return back to San Francisco, it started snowing (again). I finally found the motivation to use my digital SLR (the only time I used the camera). I brought out my Canon 5DM2 with my 24-105mm lens, and went on my cousin’s roof to capture the huge clumps of snow falling from the sky. This is still completely novel to me – soft, frozen water falling from the sky, especially in an urban setting.
I wished that I would have been snowed in, delaying my flight back to SF. But, I suppose, it’s good to get back to reality, lest I get trapped in this dream of a vacation and never want to climb back out.
Last month I spent a day riding my bike around SF, enjoying the gorgeous weather. I brought along my dad’s old Canon SLR. The camera’s metering system runs on a battery that’s no longer made, so I either have to use a separate light meter (I use an app on my phone) or guesstimate and hope for the best (which I do more often than not).
I used 400 speed film, which was probably too much for the full sun that shone brightly that day. Oh, the limitations of film. Luckily, unlike digital, it’s more forgiving.
When looking at my black and white film prints, I sometimes pretend that the photo was taken a long time ago, and try to imagine what it would be like if I were around in that day and age.
Here’s the Conservatory of Flowers, originally built in the late 1800’s. When I rode by it again that night, it was lit up green.
I ended my bike tour at the Sutro Baths. I sipped on a cappuccino from the new cafe and enjoyed the view before trekking down to explore the ruins. This was my view. Not bad.
It was as crowded as I’d ever seen that place. Everyone lingered for a beautiful sunset. I used those moments to breathe deeply and savor this incredible life I’m lucky enough to find myself experiencing.
I love Sunday Streets, which is when SF temporarily shuts down neighborhood streets to cars and opens them up to pedestrians, cyclists, tricyclists, rollerskaters, with a bunch of activities to promote fun, health, and the outdoors. And it’s free!
Local businesses pop up shops on the streets or sidewalks to offer their services and goods. Yoga and Zumba studios will have open classes you can stop by in. Musicians perform. Thousands of people come out. A real good time for adults and kids alike.
For the July 22nd Sunday Streets, Rickshaw Bags in the Dogpatch district had their doors open and I used my Pentax Spotmatic to snap this photo of an employee servicing a bike.
Izze sparkling juices gave out their refreshing drinks to passers by.
At the end of this Sunday Streets route, there was a performance by Circus Bella. I admit I was absolutely delighted by the quality of this little circus. The audience was captivated, adults and children alike. Here are the “Russian Bar Hoppers” performing their incredible feats.
As a kid, I had a few point-and-shoot film cameras and would take pictures of my stuffed animal collection. I’d pose them like they were waiting for the bus, sitting in a row together on a bench. I’d always take pictures of my friends when we went out to the amusement park in our town.
It was always exciting getting the prints back from the local drug store and going through them. There was a sense of dread thinking that there would be some embarrassing shot of me that my friend had taken. And sometimes I’d go through the roll and there would be some silly photo of me. But there would be equally silly photos of my friends. And it was all in good fun.
I never learned how to use a film SLR camera until my dad leant me his a few years ago. Despite him owning that camera my entire life, I never asked how to use it. As a kid, I’d be fascinated by it. All these leather pouches to hold lenses, film, the camera. It was heavy and cumbersome. It was mysterious. It was dorky because, hey, it was my dad’s hobby. And yet it was also cool.
And with his SLR, he also gave me his Yashica TLR that he received from a friend’s father decades ago. I had never seen it before that moment. I felt like it was my birthday that day.
One of my weaknesses is that I get overwhelmed by the possibility of failing, so it prevents me from doing stuff. I don’t want to mess up when shooting film. The cost of a roll of film plus prints and then scans (my scanner broke) really adds up, and I don’t want to waste a shot, so it takes me forever to go through a roll. I’m trying to get better at this.
There’s a general agreement among many photographers that there’s maybe one or two good shots per roll of film. While in this batch I wouldn’t say that any of them took my breath away, I’m happy with how a few of them came out. Many of them simply did not come out at all. The Canon temporarily broke (stuck mirror) and I accidentally exposed the roll and ruined a bunch of shots. And then I had problems winding the film on my TLR and ended up with some weird double exposures going on in some of the frames, but not in a cool/artsy looking way. And almost all the shots taken with the Canon had some weird flare issue going on in one particular spot. I don’t know what caused this (any guesses?).
For me, taking a break from snap-happy digital shooting and switching to these old-school film cameras help ground me. It’s meditative. Each shot is intentional. There’s an element of trust because you don’t know how it’s going to look until you get that print back in your hand. You just have to believe that it’s great. And at that moment it is.
And pushing the mechanical shutter button is so satisfying with its “cha-clink!”
So here are a few of my photos.
This is the Yashica.
You hold the camera at waist or chest level and look down into the viewfinder screen, which shows you what the lens on top sees. To compose the shot left or right, you have to move in the reverse direction (move left if you want to compose more to the right). You also have to adjust for the bottom lens that will take the picture, which is below what you see. It’s a little tricky.
This is Bandit Snoopy. He’s a favorite in our household. He likes chocolate chip cookies and jelly doughnuts.
Chinatown is vibrant and colorful. This was taken last year, not sure when exactly (see? The film had been in my camera for a while!).
And on the other side of the spectrum, I went on a hike near Woodside, CA earlier this month, which was peacefully quiet.
So there you have my most recent (and not so recent) adventures in film. I have so much to learn, but it’s a process I really enjoy.
I inherited this beauty last weekend, and it’s not even my birthday. My uncle was cleaning out his house and came upon his old Pentax SLR. He offered it to me, his “favorite niece, Denise.” He says this often.
“I’m your only niece,” I often retort back. This time was no exception.
Along with the camera and the 50mm, he gave me a 28mm, and an 85-205 zoom. And a tripod. Sweet! A complete kit!
I didn’t realize he was a camera buff back in the day, taking black and white photos. Perhaps one day he’ll show me his collection of photographs.