Photographs

The Circle of Lights

On this Christmas Day, I’m taking a break from my weekly Recommended Reading feature and am instead sharing some Christmastime photos I made recently.

Every year since 1962, the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers strings lights from the top of the Indianapolis Soldiers and Sailors Monument to the ground. The Circle of Lights is visible for a good long way from Monument Circle, which stands at the heart of Downtown Indianapolis.

Here’s the lit monument from a block south, on the old National Road.

The Circle of Lights

Margaret and I walked over to the monument so we could photograph the lights, and the monument, up close.

The Circle of Lights
The Circle of Lights
The Circle of Lights
The Circle of Lights

I shot my Nikon Df with a 28-80 f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens attached. I set the camera to choose ISO automatically so I could get fast enough shutter speeds, but it wasn’t perfect and about two thirds of my images were blurry. But these that turned out look pretty good.

As we walked around the outside of the monument, we noticed the patterns and pictures being projected on the Circle’s buildings. My favorite was Circle Tower, which reminded me of sticks of Fruit Stripe gum.

Circle Tower
Circle Tower

Happy Christmas to you and yours!

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Personal

How often do we not know when we are doing something for the last time?

I didn’t know on Christmas Eve in 2019, when I delivered the Christmas Eve message at my church, that it would be my last Christmas Eve there.

The pandemic kept us away in 2020, and then in 2021 it was clear that the church needed to wrap up operations, and find a new church to plant itself in our building. As the year progressed it became clear to me that my time there needed to end. I resigned and relinquished my membership in October.

And now Margaret and I are attending a little Christian church called New Hope just five minutes from our home. We’re attending Christmas Eve services there tonight.

Happy Christmas to you, wherever you are tonight!

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Christmas dishes

Christmas dishes for sale
Nikon Df, 28-80mm f/3/5-5.6D AF Nikkor
2021

Margaret and I couldn’t make it to Chicago this year to visit their excellent Christkindlmarkt, so we visited the one in nearby Carmel instead. It’s a lot smaller, but it was still fun. We had Belgian hot chocolate with European-style (not sweetened) heavy whipped cream as we wandered and shopped. I brought the Nikon Df along for its first cold-weather duty. It handled it fine.

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Photographs

single frame: Christmas dishes for sale

German-made Christmas dishes.

Image
Film Photography, Photography

Family Christmas photographs

I shot my family’s 2020 Christmas celebration on film. I decided to do it when I stumbled across a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 I forgot I had. I shot it in my Nikon N90s with the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens attached. I developed it in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, but I misread the Massive Dev Chart and developed it for a few minutes less time than specified. The negatives looked plenty dense, but when I scanned them on my flatbed, the grain was pronounced.

I decided to print them. I don’t have a darkroom; I just sent the scans to my nearby CVS pharmacy’s photo department. The paper they use in their machines is thin, nowhere near as sturdy as the stuff they used as recently as 10 years ago. But the prints looked all right. I laid them on the dining table with the Christmas tablecloth still on and photographed a few of them with my Canon PowerShot S95. Even rendered this way, you can see the huge, ugly grain in these photos.

These scans are straight off the scanner. No amount of Photoshopping made them look any better, so I quickly gave up. I did tweak VueScan’s settings to bring out shadow detail, however.

When that roll was done I wanted to keep going, but I was out of P3200. Then it hit me: I develop my own film now and can easily push process it. I had some Ilford Delta 400 in the freezer, so I thawed a roll, loaded it into the N90s, mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens, and set the camera to ISO 1600. I knew this stuff would push well because fellow photoblogger Alyssa Chiarello did it recently and got great results.

Ilford still prints developing instructions inside their film boxes. They listed a developing time in Ilfotec HC (their HC-110 equivalent, also equivalent to the L110 I use) for the film at 1600! I followed their instructions and got gorgeous negatives and the best scans my flatbed can deliver (which still aren’t great). They look better than the P3200 photos — the grain is smaller and much more pleasing. Delta 400 is a darn sight less expensive than T-Max P3200, too. I think I need never buy P3200 again — I’ll push an ISO 400 black-and-white film to 1600 instead. I had CVS print these scans, too.

This was fun, but I don’t see this experience leading me to print my work more often. I get it that a photograph is meant to be printed, a physical object. But I’m an online kind of guy and that’s the way I show 99% of my work. My wife prints family photographs all the time, and I figured she’d like to add these to her collection, so I gave them to her.

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Faith, Personal

The real value of Christmas

I first posted this in 2010. May this Christmas Day truly bless you and those you love.

Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year.

The home in which I was raised followed no particular faith. My parents acknowledged the God the Bible described, but their devotion went no further. For us, Christmas was a big family holiday where we got to see all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I have loads of warm memories from those gatherings. Many of my friends talked of the baby Jesus (after, of course, talking excitedly of the presents they anticipated). Many of my classmates were Jews and several were Serbs; they had their own celebrations at different times. And so I have always has this sense that the holidays are what you make of them.

Lit Up at Night

My mother said more than once that Christ couldn’t possibly have been born in December — his birth was more likely sometime in autumn. She also said that the whole reason the Christian church celebrated Christ’s birth on December 25th was because in the church’s early days, non-believers already celebrated a winter festival at about that time, and it was easier to convert them if the church had a celebration then, too. Christianity should be a faith of truth, she reasoned, and she couldn’t reconcile how Christmas was predicated on a falsehood. It sounded good to me, and when I grew up I looked into it and found that there was plenty of evidence to support Mom’s claims. That didn’t stop her from playing her records of traditional Christmas hymns every December, though!

None of this was enough to deter me from seeking God as an adult. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I got serious about God I did it in the Church of Christ, a branch of Christianity that celebrates Christmas only as a secular holiday. Most Church of Christ congregations hold a restrictive view of Biblical authority that leads them to celebrate in the name of Christ only the celebrations God commands in the Bible. The Bible tells us to celebrate Christ’s death, but never once to celebrate his birth. So they take communion (the Lord’s Supper, they call it) every week, but during December their mostly a cappella congregations sing no Christmas songs and their preachers avoid talking about Christ’s birth.

Eventually I left the Church of Christ’s narrow interpretations in search of greater love from God. Of course, I landed in a church that celebrates Christ’s birth all December; it was nearly impossible to avoid it. Until we fell on hard times, we always held a big Christmas production with a chorus singing traditional Christmas songs and a telling of the nativity story.

What's the Reason for the Season?

I never said this to anyone at church, but this was very hard for me to accept for a long time.

I’m unlikely ever to fully personally embrace Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Not only were the wrong seeds planted in me as a boy, they were well cultivated when I became an adult.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I love the Lord deeply and don’t feel like I’m missing out on one iota of his love for me. But let me tell you why I have come to think that celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas is not just all right, but just wonderful:

Because his birth is so openly and joyfully celebrated each December 25, who in the western world has not heard of Jesus Christ?

I know, I know, the holiday has been tainted with commercialism, and because of political correctness we now say “Happy Holidays” to each other rather than “Merry Christmas.” Still, I don’t think the holiday’s connections to Christ and his promise for us have been lost. And when I consider all that celebrating Christmas has done to introduce people to Jesus, my mind boggles. Who cares about the celebration’s origins? God has certainly used it for good.

May God use this Christmas season for good in your life.

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Stories Told

It’s a wonderful Christmas tradition

I first told this story in 2013. I tell many more stories like this one in my book, A Place to Start. It’s not too late to make it your Christmas present to yourself — you can buy and download the e-book right now. Click here to see all the places you can get my book.

What’s your favorite personal Christmas tradition?

itsawonderfullife-email

Mine is to watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life. It is my favorite movie – and has been for so long that I’ve watched it pass from obscurity to being discovered and well loved. Now I’m seeing it start to be considered cliché and passé. But that won’t deter me from watching it.

I first saw It’s a Wonderful Life when I was 11 or 12. I was spending Christmas with my grandparents at their home in rural southwestern Michigan. Grandpa’s big antenna picked up stations all over Michigan, and I liked to watch the late shows after everyone else had gone to bed. I came upon this film while flipping channels. I was quickly drawn into the story of George Bailey, a well-known and -loved little guy of modest means who plays the hero against a wealthy and patently evil man named Potter. It’s simplistic and sentimental, but I’m a sentimental man. I fell in love with the film.

TV made It’s a Wonderful Life popular. Even though the film was nominated for several Academy Awards after its 1946 release, it did poorly at the box office and lost money. But after a 1974 copyright snafu put the film in the public domain, television stations everywhere began airing it each Christmas and the film caught on. By the late 1980s it had become an enduring classic.

Through the 1980s I searched for it on TV every Christmas season. Some years I came upon it, and some years I didn’t. Then I received a VHS copy as a gift, and later I bought a DVD copy, and now I never miss it. Meanwhile, a court decision placed the film back under copyright, and now the only place you can see it on TV is NBC every Christmas Eve.

My most bittersweet memory of watching this film was at Christmas in 1987. A beautiful old theater in my hometown was showing the film one night. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the film in such a wonderful environment on a big screen and share it with an audience. But then my grandmother died suddenly and unexpectedly. I had been very close to her, and her death tore me up something fierce. I wanted to be alone, but I went to see the film anyway. I found a seat near the back and tried to put away my grief for a little while. It worked right up until the end, when George Bailey is rescued by all of this friends. I always tear up a little, but that night I sobbed openly.

I love how watching the film puts me in touch with my memories of my grandparents, who have been gone for more than 30 years now. They were of the same era as fictional George Bailey; when this film was released, they has been married ten years and their third child, a daughter, my mother, was still in diapers.

If you have a Christmas tradition that holds special meaning for you or that is something you do just for yourself, please tell about it in the comments.

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