Mums 2

Dusky mums
Nikon F2AS, 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor
Kodak Ektar 100

These are more of a muted purple in real life, but I like how this photo turned out anyway.

Film Photography

An elders’ retreat

I’m an elder in my church. All that means is that I and a few other elders try to care for the people in our congregation and lead the doing of things that try to make our church a light in its neighborhood. It’s all straight uphill, as we serve a blighted, impoverished part of Indianapolis, and we have limited resources.

While a few of our elders have been part of West Park Christian Church for decades, a few of us are relative newcomers. I’ve been a part of the church for only about four years now, and an elder since last year. Our monthly elder’s meetings and our fly-by discussions on Sunday mornings hadn’t let us bind together as a team. So our pastor arranged for us to spend a weekend away. We all piled into the church van on a recent Friday night for the drive down to Camp Allendale near tiny Trafalgar.


We spent our weekend in this lodge getting to know each other better, coming together as a team, studying and discussing, praying and dreaming about the future.

Lakeview Lodge

Gray skies and light rain couldn’t cover the land’s beauty. I took my camera out on short walks when we took our infrequent breaks. But we had work to do; the weather outside mattered little to that.


Sometimes I’m amazed our church gets anything done. We’re mighty disorganized, and only a tiny handful of us are doing most of the heavy lifting. And the overwhelming majority of our members have deep need and little to give. Our task is to help them find resources to meet their needs, to stand firmly on their own with God’s help — and then help them find a life of service to God in which they begin to give back. This creates such value and meaning in these individual lives, but also makes the whole congregation more able to serve in our neighborhood, to let the light of love shine brighter and brighter.


But there is real crisis among our congregation. I’m seeing how complex and intertwined the problems of poverty are: poor life skills, addictions to drugs and alcohol, undereducation and limited employment opportunities, psychological and emotional damage from abuse and neglect. For many, it’s a long road to reaching life stability, let alone being able to give and serve.

Lake view

We recently opened an infant and toddler daycare. The idea is to have a very low-cost place for the single moms to leave their kids so they can work. Without it, they end up stuck on assistance and never get off. But assistance doesn’t really cover expenses, and so the moms end up living with a parade of boyfriends and roommates to share the financial load. They end up moving constantly as one situation falls through and they find or make another. But because addiction is a pervasive problem in our neighborhood, even a mom who’s clean is likely to end up involved with a user, which creates chaos in the family. So we hope to provide a safe place for the children, allowing the moms to find jobs and hopefully make more money, helping them avoid the desperate living situations. Our hope is to create a generation of children in our neighborhood that knows basic stability.

Getting it off the ground has been shockingly difficult. We thought we’d be overrun with children immediately, but six months in we care for just three babies.

Sometimes the problem is that the mother lacks the life skills to get CCDF, a program in which government pays the bulk of child care expenses. Another problem is that our neighborhood has a large and growing Hispanic population, and they steer clear of churches that don’t speak Spanish.

But the biggest hurdle, we are starting to think, is a catch 22: moms need a job to get money to pay the portion of our fee that CCDF doesn’t cover, but can’t get that job until they put their kids with us. We are talking about letting moms place their kids with us for free for 3 or 4 months while they wait for CCDF to take hold and while they look for work. It will spike our cash burn rate, but we are starting to think we have no choice if we want this to happen.


But practical matters aside, we elders still needed to come closer together as people, to form a strong and solid team. I think we began to accomplish that over this weekend. We saw each other’s hearts and our practical strengths and weaknesses. The more we work together in harmony, the stronger our church will be in the programs it takes on, and the stronger the church will be spiritually.

We’re all busy people. (For example, the woman at the end of the photo above is also the president of the Indianapolis Public Schools board, and runs the local community center.) It was hard to take a full weekend away. But this critical time investment feels like it will pay off.

Film Photography

The dying and the dead: a military cemetery on Kodak Ektar 100

It happens that I follow some photobloggers in the UK. They’ve been sharing rainy autumn photos lately, while here in the great Midwest it’s been mostly sunny, as usual. So consider this post a counterpoint: autumn in brilliant sunshine.

I like to give my Nikon F2AS regular exercise, so a few weeks ago I filled it with Kodak Ektar 100 and mounted my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens. That film is great for bold color, and that lens would let me get super close if I wanted to. It turns out I didn’t want to get super close, but no matter: that lens is a fine prime.

I drove down to Crown Hill Cemetery, the largest non-government cemetery in the United States. It’s just a few miles from my home, right on the old Michigan Road.

Autumn at Crown Hill

Fall colors were becoming established, but plenty of trees had not yet begun to turn. I would have liked to wait for that brief sweet spot when all trees were showing their colors, but few of them had yet gone bare. That day doesn’t come every autumn, and when it does, I can’t count on being able to get out that day. Maybe I have to work; maybe it rains. Yes, it does rain. It’s not all sunny days. But it’s not all rain, which the English bloggers I read suggest is the norm where they live. At any rate, it was a sunny day off and I had to capitalize on it.

Autumn at Crown Hill

An extensive, overlapping road network snakes through Crown Hill, making it easy to see by car. For several of these photos, I drove until I saw an interesting scene, and exited the car just long enough to frame, focus, set exposure, and press the shutter button.

Autumn at Crown Hill

For other photos, I shut off the car and walked a little. I love how the gravestones in this photo look like they come from a black-and-white photograph, in sharp juxtaposition to the trees’ colors and the blue sky.

Autumn at Crown Hill

I’m not sure why I enjoy cemeteries so much. I don’t want to be buried in one. What a waste of land! Cremate my body after I’m gone. Let the ashes fertilize a garden. I no longer inhabit those molecules; might as well put them to productive use.

Autumn at Crown Hill

Maybe it’s because I once lived on cemetery grounds. While I waited for my divorce to be final, I lived in the parsonage at my church. The church building was just up the hill, and it was surrounded by a cemetery in which members had been buried since 1837. My sons and I used to run and play among the gravestones.

Autumn at Crown Hill

It’s sure handy having Crown Hill so close by. I’ve taken my old film cameras there for years.

Autumn at Crown Hill

I ended up taking almost nothing but wide shots. This is as close as I got, and I could have easily made this shot with my 50mm f/2 prime. But no matter; this 55mm f/2.8 macro lens is plenty capable.

Autumn at Crown Hill

There you go: an Indiana autumn afternoon.

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Film Photography, Stories Told

Getting ready for winter, a photo essay on Fujifilm FP-3000B instant film

The last leaves fall the first of November, just in time for cold days and freezing nights. Let the calendar disagree with me, but I say this is where winter begins, bleak and down and lonely.

Bare Branches

Through October I spend every Saturday mowing up the trees’ prodigious leavings, just me and my old tractor. I cling to this ritual, which readies me for the closed-up months to come.

Tractor and Bagging Attachment

Most years I mulch the leaves back into the lawn. Some years I bag the shreddings. This year I dumped them behind the low fence in a corner of the back yard; the years will turn them into dirt. It’s mindless work: mow for a few minutes until the buckets fill, drive around back and dump, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Leaf Dumping Grounds

But in November, after the trees are bare and the yard is clean, a ceremony of sorts: the putting away. Unclutter the garage so the car can go in, clear the deck to protect summer things from rust and decay. Into the shed go the yard tools, the bicycles, the patio furniture.

Open Shed

As I move each piece, a summer’s events project on my mind, idyllic like color slides: the new brown bicycle I couldn’t ride after foot surgery, the dirty red wheelbarrow I used to spread fresh and smelly mulch, the new green electric cultivator that leveled and mixed compost into my front yard all torn up after the new sewer connection. My whole family worked an entire Saturday with me to do that and plant new grass. What a good day.

Electric Cultivator

The patio furniture went in next. I hardly used it this year thanks to the thick, relentless mosquitoes! The citronella candles on the table didn’t help at all.

Patio Furniture

All secured, it was time to run the gas out of the mower and tractor and put them away, too.

Push Mower with Tractor in the Background

While I waited, I walked around the yard, clear of leaves and still green, especially the new grass. That color will dull and fade through November; now is the time to enjoy it.

House at the End of Autumn

I noticed the work I didn’t get done this year. The driveway’s cracks need filled, dead limbs need cut from the maple, the windows need scraped and painted. Next spring, for sure.

Bare Tree Reflected

The motors soon shut off, one and then the other, out of gas. I pushed the tractor in first, the mower in next, and then locked the shed. One more job, which I hired out: haul that brush pile away. It was gone the following Tuesday. It feels good to have all those overgrown trees and bushes cleared out back. I worked at it here and there all year, sometimes alone, sometimes with one son or the other, once with my parents newly moved to my town and eager to do normal family stuff. Good memories.

Shed and Brush Pile

Good memories indeed. It was a summer well lived. Okay, winter, I’m ready for you now.

Photographed the afternoon of November 9 with my Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 on Fujifilm FP-3000B instant film.

Film Photography

Autumn strolls through my neighborhood on Fujifilm Velvia 50

Velvia is born for sunny days. Cloudy days, meh. Or so I found out when I strolled through my neighborhood one overcast afternoon with camera in hand. But this is the only photo I got that shows how the reds, yellows, and oranges frosted the green trees here as autumn began. So you get cloudy-day shots.

Neighborhood trees

A canopy of trees covers my little neighborood’s banal little houses. My neighbors and I all have our work cut out for us each autumn when the leaves fall. I spend half the day five or six weekends in a row driving around on my tractor sucking up leaves.

Neighbor's house under the yellow canopy

This is one of the better looking homes, just a few doors down from mine. Even though these houses aren’t anything special, I’m happy in mine and am glad to live here.

Neighbor's house

I did get one useful shot of the colorful leaves on a sunny-day stroll through my neighborhood.

Looking up

This really was a remarkable Indiana autumn: wildly colorful, mostly sunny, dry, and warm. I wish they were all this way.

Little flag among the fallen leaves

It’s called Mount Jackson Cemetery, but it’s on some of the flattest land in Indianapolis. Mount Jackson was the surrounding neighborhood’s original name, going back to the 1820s, but it’s been called Hawthorne for longer than anybody can remember. Poverty, drugs, petty crime — nobody lives in Hawthorne because they want to.

The cemetery persists, quiet, safe. Here lie Hawthorne’s earliest residents and the neighborhood’s original name. This plot gets little love, but someone came to remember a veteran buried here.

Film Photography

Captured: Flag at Mount Jackson