Tilting At A Windmill

I have said before that I am most haunted by the photographs that I did not take. This photograph is a variation on that theme. I am reminded of a line from Orwell’s Animal Farm: “Windmill or no windmill, he said, life would go on as it had always gone on--that is, badly.”

This windmill has haunted me not because I failed to photograph it – because I did several years ago – but because the lab I was using at the time lost the negatives. Their offer to reimburse me for the cost of the film was not even close to repaying me for the lost images. At least as I imagined them.

This windmill stands near Ursa, Illinois. It’s quite close to a paved two-lane road. I knew I was going to pass it last weekend so I looked forward to reprising my attempt to photograph it. In the past I used a Holga and a Blackbird Fly. This time I had my Harman Titan 4x5. It was breezy, and I did not remember that the windmill actually still spins when the wind is strong enough.

I developed my own negatives this time, so I had no lab to blame if things went awry. They didn’t. I particularly like the dark halo effect that the pinhole provided when pointed into the bright sky. An unexpected bonus. I shall  rewrite Orwell, with the windmill, life went on as it had always gone on – that is, pretty okay. One less thing to haunt me.

Auto du Lac

Many years ago I interviewed the Finnish artist/metalsmith Heikki Seppa. For reasons lost to me now, I asked him to theorize what the world’s great artists would talk about if they were in a room together. Seppa replied, “They wouldn’t talk about art with a capital A. They would talk about the cheapest place to buy paint.”

This photograph reminds me of his comment because I have found photographers to be much more sharing and much less assholes compared to the only other artists with whom I have had significant interaction.  Here is where I connect the dots. I remember a photographer saying that you should always leave a shot or two at the end of a roll of fim,  or in today’s parlance, some space on your chip. The day when I took this shot, I had completed what I set out to shoot, but I left one 4x5 holder unexposed, “just in case.”

As I trudged home, I look over and saw the sun setting over this salvage yard. Fortunately, I still had two shots I could take. Regardless of its artistic merit, at least I had the opportunity to capture it.

When the Wheel Comes Off


Several years ago, when my oldest son was showing an interest in his old man's interest in photography, we were in the habit of crawling under fences, climbing gates, ignoring cautionary signs, and otherwise engaging in trespassing. He was all about color and digital and I was all about black and white and toy cameras. Yet, we were often drawn to the same subject matter. Sometimes, we even tried to out maneuver each other, as if jostling for the best angle at a press conference. We talked about shooting together and ultimately creating a book that we would call "Trespassing." Each spread would feature our individual photographs of the same subject.

Then the little bastard up and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

My son was the first person I really went shooting with. Previously, my approach to photography was the same as my approach to writing and masturbation: it's something best done alone. In the past year, I have enjoyed the pleasure of shooting, if not side-by-side then nearby, with a fellow photographer and artist, Jeff Sass. No masturbation has been involved

Mostly though, I still shoot alone. I found a place nearby that technically is private property, but I explore the property anyway because, hey, I don't see any no trespassing signs. I like trespassing. It gives the experience a heightened feel. Acquaintances who do Urb Ex get a similar rush. But I'm too big a pussy to go in those places alone. The open field where I took "Destination" is just fine by me.


St. Louis Vice

It is easy to become complacent. I have my go-to cameras. My go-to films. My go-to lab. I have been shooting since I was a teenager and I know where my comfort zone lies. It sounds good to preach about pushing one's self and identifying new challenges. It's another to actually do it.


I received a Harman Titan 4x5 pinhole camera for Christmas. This camera has been on my wish list for a while. But be careful what you ask for, the saying goes. I have never worked with large format cameras and films. I waited until last week to finally get out my changing bag and load the five film holders I bought used online. I am a nervous sort, and loading the holders with Direct Positive Paper caused me anxiety. However, I was elated when I completed the task.

The field of view of the Titan is almost half that of my other pinhole, a Zero 2000. But the process of lining up a shot was familiar to me. I had never shot Direct Positive Paper, and an ISO of approximately 3 made my brain smoke. My anxiety about numbers was one of the lesser reasons I became an English major.

After I shot the 10 images, I needed a place to develop them. My friend Jeff offered his home darkroom and I accepted. More anxiety ensued. I had not been in a wet darkroom since college. But the old magic of watching an image appear in the developing tray made it seem like it had been only yesterday since I was in a darkroom.

So, 10 images. I like maybe 3. And this one is the best. That's a 10 percent "success" rate. Not bad odds.

Tomorrow, I'm loading the film holders with Ilford Delta 100 and heading out to shoot. I'll worry about developing the sheets later...