Cameras, Photography

My first book! Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME

Exceptional images can be made with even the most ordinary 35mm SLR. The Pentax ME certainly qualifies as ordinary, with its middling specifications and features. Yet I’ve done some of my best work with this camera and the great Pentax lenses that mount on it, and I want to share some of that work with you.

That’s why I’ve assembled 30 images I made with this camera, images I like best, into a book — Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME.

BookPromo

It’s easy to forget that for most of photography’s history, a photograph was a physical, tangible object. Even now that film photography appears to be finding a new niche after years of decline, so many of us film photographers scan our negatives and work with the resulting digital images.

I wanted both to hold prints of my photographs in my hands and to share them with you. That’s why I collected them into a book. And in the book I described each photo with the same kind of words you’re used to finding here on my blog. Click here to see a preview. Click my book’s cover below to buy one (either paper or PDF) on Blurb.com.

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Happy Saturday, Roadies, and enjoy this roundup of good blog posts from around the Net this week.

Matt Lambros takes wonderful photographs of decrepit old theaters. This week he shared photos from inside the Pantheon Theatre in Vincennes, a very old town in southwest Indiana. Below: my photo of its exterior from my US 50 tour several years ago. Read Pantheon Theatre — Vincennes, Indiana

Pantheon Theatre

It’s been a rough time for bricks-and-mortar retail as chain after chain shutters stores. The latest, Payless Shoe Source, got Nick Gerlich to thinking that this year might mark the end of traditional retail as we knew it. Read Broken Record

Dilbert creator Scott Adams writes a smart blog. The post I’m sharing is actually about something not truly related to why I found it interesting: he points out slant among the major news organizations being a matter of what they cover and how, and calls it a form of manipulation. Is anybody else saying this? If so I haven’t encountered it. Read How a Hypnotist Sees a Verbal Slip

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Photography, Road trips, Stories told

A visit to Headstone’s

Every time I go back to Terre Haute I try to at least drive by Headstone Friends. It’s a record store in the late-60s head-shop tradition. I spent a lot of money here in the late 80s when I was in college. Pretty much every dollar I earned at my part-time job, less whatever it cost me to eat Saturday and Sunday nights when campus food service was shut down, was traded here for music.

Headstone's in Terre Haute

Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor, Fujicolor 200

I was sad to find the shop’s exterior mural and sign to have deteriorated so. Contrast it to this photo I made in 2008, when I first wrote about this place. But inside everything was as it ever was: used records in the back in boxes perched on stacks of cinder blocks, cases full of CDs lining the walls up front, music blaring, dimly lit. The water fountain still doesn’t work and the room of black-light posters is still black-lit.

Headstone Friends

Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom

Hey, check it out, there’s my lamented, lost red Matrix. I was driving the blue Matrix this time; you can see its tail in the first photo. Or, rather, my youngest son was driving. We’re practicing driving toward his license and this day we burned down a solid three hours driving to, around, and from Terre Haute. It was a nice day together. And I was thrilled to share Headstone’s with him. I know he didn’t get it, but I tried to explain it to him anyway: how important music was (and is) to me, how most used records were $2 (indeed, many of them are still), and how I amassed a fabulous music collection on the cheap here. As long as Headstone’s keeps going, I’ll make occasional pilgrimages.

Incense burns constantly at Headstone’s. And they still carry the hard-to-find stuff. That stuff isn’t as hard to find today thanks to the Internet, but I still found a CD I’ve been looking for: a four-song live set Paul McCartney did in 2007, called Amoeba’s Secret. And even now, weeks later, the CD’s cardboard sleeve smells like Headstone’s. And so did we, all the way home.

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Sleeping angel

Sleeping angel
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80
Kodak Tri-X 400
2017

Another frequent photographic haunt is the cemetery at Bethel United Methodist Church, which was founded in the 1830s in Pike Township, Indianapolis.

Photography

Photo: Sleeping angel in Bethel Cemetery

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Stories told

Wanted by the FBI

On my flight to Germany in the summer of 1984, engine trouble forced us to land in Düsseldorf rather than in Frankfurt as planned. Because Düsseldorf expected no international flights that day, nobody was working in customs. My passport went unstamped, and I waltzed into Germany uncounted. How very un-German.

Several weeks later, my group visited Berlin. The Wall would not fall for five more years. At Checkpoint Alpha on the East German border, grave, armed border police in fitted olive uniforms boarded our bus and, without looking at or speaking to anyone, collected all of our passports and exited. They made us wait more than an hour, our anxiety growing, before they returned with our passports (all tossed into a box) and waved us through. Each passport had received an East German stamp. The road from there to Berlin was bounded by walls so tall that we couldn’t see over them even from our bus seats way up high. I guess the communists didn’t want you to see the glorious living conditions on the inside, or everybody would want to move there. Several hours later down that road we were easily waved through the checkpoint at the West Berlin border.

Checkpoint Charlie

A few days later we crossed into East Berlin to see the sights. At the famous Checkpoint Charlie, stone-faced border police once again boarded our bus, collected our passports, and made us wait for a long time before they returned them all stamped.

Checkpoint Charlie

In East Berlin I walked in the Alexanderplatz, stood in line to buy a communist propaganda rag, er, newspaper (the top story that day was essentially how President Reagan was an idiot), drank beer and laughed with teenaged East Berliners, and tried to use a fetid underground open-pit public restroom. Shudder. I held it until we got back to the west.

At Checkpoint Charlie

In West Berlin, I bought a book called Durchschaut die Uniform, or See Through the Uniform, telling stories of border guards — not only about the distasteful jobs they did, but about the people they were. The last page showed two pictures of four border guards, the first with their stony faces and the second with wide smiles. The second photo seemed so strange! But I got the book’s point, which was to have a heart because these guards were real people. So I decided to put on a pleasant face for them on the way home. As we left, we passed back through Checkpoint Alpha. Dour border police boarded our bus and collected passports. When they took mine, I looked them in the eye and smiled. It was met with indifference. They just took our passports and inspected our bus for things we were not allowed to take out. Inspection successful, they left and we were free to pass through. We made our way back across free Germany.

A few years later I renewed my passport when it expired. I wondered if anybody at the passport agency noticed that my old passport contained stamps only from communist East Germany.

Then Iraq invaded Kuwait and the United States rode in on its white horse ostensibly to save the day. It was war, and I was draftable, so I was nervous about what might come.

At work the next day my co-workers were subdued and serious. I worked as best I could while I listened to news reports on the radio. Midafternoon, the receptionist called from the main building. “Uh, Jim?” she said. I could hear concern in her voice. She paused. “Uh… Jim, there’s a man from the FBI here to see you.”

My mind reeled for several seconds. My passport! They must have a file with my name on it! They think I’m red! They’ve come to carry away the commies!

“Jim?”

“Um. Yes. Tell him to drive across the street to this building.”

I stepped outside to await my doom. I paced under the gray sky, wondering what the internment camp would be like. Before long, a gray sedan turned in and parked. Out stepped a doughy man in a gray suit. He approached, showed me his ID, identified himself, and asked, “Are you James Grey?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Is there a place where we can talk privately?”

My brain screamed, “Talk privately? Aren’t you here to purge the land of communists in the name of national security?” I was growing dizzy. I managed to mumble, “Sure, come inside.” I led him to an empty room and we sat down.

“Mr. Grey, do you know a man named Robert Woolf?”

I’ve heard stories about what happens to cars that are accidentally shifted into reverse while going 40 miles per hour. Namely, the car’s transmission suddenly disintegrates, distributing its pieces along the road. This is what happened to my brain at that moment.

In shock, I managed to say, “Yes, I know Bobby.” Where the heck was this going?

“I need to ask you some questions about Mr. Woolf.”

Bobby, a college friend and roommate, was a sharp, smart guy who majored in computer science and is now well-respected in his field. His senior year, as he looked for his first job, he applied at the National Security Agency. He was pretty jazzed about the job, but he never heard back from them. He applied for other jobs and eventually accepted one in Silicon Valley.

“Is this about the NSA job? Don’t you know that Bobby accepted another position?”

The agent paused. He may have swallowed. He said, deliberately, “Yes, every person I talk to tells me that. But I have to do these interviews anyway.”

So for twenty dull minutes he asked me questions about Bobby’s associations and character. I told him what I knew and he went on his way. I felt sorry for the guy having to drive all over the place talking with Bobby’s friends and family, needlessly looking for skeletons to qualify Bobby for a job he no longer wanted. I tried to empathize with the guy, but he’d have none of it. He stuck to his questions until he had no more to ask, and then he got back into his gray sedan and drove away.

I learned that it’s fruitless to try to connect with a government official doing a distasteful or useless job. They just want to get it over with.

But at least there was no internment camp for me!


This is this post’s fourth appearance: May, 2007; January, 2012; July, 2014, and today. I’m re-running it in response to the WordPress.com daily prompt, “Passport.”

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One Way Alley

One Way Alley
Apple iPhone 6s
2017

I went to visit Damion at Purdue and found that the campus was socked in because of some sporting event. Neither of us care about sports or like large crowds, so to get some peace we drove across the river into Lafayette and walked Main Street. Before we stopped for dinner, I noticed this old embossed sign in an alley. I processed the photo in Lightroom on my phone.

Photography

Photo: One way alley, Lafayette, IN

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