Tag Archives: digital

tools of the trade

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I was a young man when I first began writing professionally. It was what I expected to do… what I’d set as my personal goal. I had been so grateful for the advice and friendship I had received from writers in my childhood and youth, that I felt a personal debt to them, and in this way I hoped to repay them. I wrote long pages in blue-black ink from a fountain pen on white linen bond paper. That same pen is still in one of my drawers. The act of writing was as gratifying to me as the possibility of conveying thoughts to paper. I could smell the ink. I enjoyed watching the trail of blue-black ink slowly drying on the page as I continued to write. I had a number of different pens, and numerous nibs which enabled me to write in different styles as well as different languages. I preferred a fine line, but used wide nibs as well… sometimes to emphasize something in the text, I used italics as well. To me, good writing meant no spelling or grammatical mistakes, and the ability to organize my thoughts in such a way that they would be readily understood by the reader. This was so important to me because if I (or my editor) found a mistake, I would usually rewrite the page. Which took some time. Such work was drudgery.

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My first typewriter was a present from an aunt. I was greatly moved by her gesture. It seemed such a personal and appropriate gift. And strangely enough, I received another three typewriters through my life, from very close friends. But as much as I enjoyed typing, I felt most comfortable and most natural writing by hand with pen on paper. Though I felt no need to study journalism or creative writing, I did take a typing course so as to learn to put my thoughts on paper as quickly as possible. Typewriters could only write in one font, which meant that I needed separate machines for Hebrew and Latin letters.

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The machines stayed with me for decades, and became part of my physical presence in this world from my point of view. In a way, they were more an extension of my body than the pens I used, maybe because I typed blind. The Royal portable traveled with me across the world on ship and in airplanes. I used to feel a sense of intimacy in my relations to tools. But since the start of the digital age, tools come and go. The life expectancy of a computer is so short that I haven’t really gotten attached to any of them. Software programs change and become more complicated. I would discover that I didn’t have enough RAM, and by the time I moved on to a new computer I was glad to get rid of the old.

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Language too, is an intimate tool. A tool of the mind by which we communicate our deepest thoughts and feelings. And that too is changing. When I was young, our ancient language was sacred. Educated people went to great pains to conform exactly to the rules of grammar. The language we heard on the radio was elegant. When a word was added to our vocabulary, it’s addition was decided by The Academy of the Hebrew Language, and though we laughed sometimes at the new inventions, they were necessary for scientific and technological subjects that hadn’t existed when our language first flowered. But then slang appeared in the army, and folks were amused by these new additions and used them. Foreign words were included in our speech as well, and slightly changed to correspond to our rules of grammar. Slowly, gradually, the slang increased, and nowadays when conversing with the young, I have to ask the meaning when hearing an unfamiliar phrase. It makes me feel less grounded.

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The pictures on the store front windows, were found on Jaffa Str., here in Jerusalem. They represent visual illustrations of Jerusalem slang and expressions unique to our town. The artists involved in this project wished to decorate the city with local expressions.

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for better or worse

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We may have been born blind or ugly, with a twisted body. or a body that turns out too short, or too long, or with skin of the wrong color. We may develop disadvantageous habits such as eating too much or biting our fingernails. We may have some borderline personality disorder or be Bipolar or have one of the many different mental diseases that are still part of the human landscape. We could get some terrible illness like Degenerative Muscle Disease or Alzheimer’s Disease. Some of these disadvantages are a matter of luck. And others reflect on poor decisions, and choices. A person who drives a motor vehicle while drunk might pay for it with a lifetime as a cripple, much worse than any punishment the court would sentence. But that’s life. There isn’t much we can do about that.

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I could tell you about my own personal life, my bad luck, and my failures. But I’m a person who values privacy. When I go out into public, I prefer to be fully clothed. And when in social discussion, prefer to hear of what people enjoy eating and not about their bowel movements. But if I don’t mention them, it’s not because I want you to think that I don’t shit.

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We arrive here in this, our common world, each person with his own talents and limitations, and we have to make do with what we have. It’s our life, and it’s there for the taking from the time we reach maturity till our death. We can find inspiration in the choices of Helen Keller or Stephen Hawking who were able to overcome severe disabilities. We may read the thoughts of the great thinkers recorded in history since the invention of writing. But finally, it is up to us to find our own way and enjoy this period of time we have on earth.

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There was a time when I enjoyed mountain climbing, sleeping on the ground, eating minimal rations which I could carry on my back, and learning what I could about this world. I lived a good life… maybe even, a few good lives, from my perspective. But now, like Saul who put away his toys when he was grown, I’ve given up the pleasures of my earlier days, and have tried to enjoy the possibilities affordable to an oldster. I miss the libraries I used to visit, miss the high mountains, miss driving with all the windows open across the warm desert, picking a spot to make camp, and finding a universe hidden in the wide wild open. But the computer compensates somewhat for the loss of libraries, and I have the advantage of enjoying the parks, and the cozy corners of this city I live in. We even have islands in the midst of thoroughfares in which flower bushes, different greenery and vines are planted.

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Of course, in my city as in every city, there are better spots, and places which I try to avoid. Usually it’s a matter of choice. Even when I go from one place to another in this city, I don’t always travel the shortest distance. It’s important to me that I enjoy myself while traveling, even if it takes a little longer. I think, how good it is when it takes a little longer and I’m enjoying myself all the way there.

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When I hear the exploits of people richer than myself, how many cars and houses they have, airplanes and yachts, I’m happy for them. I wish them happiness and peace and satisfaction. I know it takes very little to live. And fortunately, I don’t see any hungry people here in the society around me. There are people driven by unquenched desires, but that isn’t hunger as I know it. When I see people living according to twisted values, what used to be called worshiping false gods, I know it’s not my place to steer them against their will towards the good. Everyone has to make their own choices. I tried to influence my own children, but I learned that those with the right stuff, eventually found the right way. And now I believe that it’s best only to give advice when you’re asked for it. Otherwise, it doesn’t usually help anyway.

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Since I feel I’m talking to friends on this, my page on the internet, I feel free to offer a piece of advice here and there, You can read it or skip past to find something more interesting. Some people prefer to look at the pictures without struggling through the text. That’s fine too. As for myself, I make an effort to find those places in which I feel best. Even in my own home, there are more preferable places and less. Outside of the home, there’s a whole world to be found in the city in which I live.

D2715_06this is my home, with clouds above… the room that juts out, with wooden boards between the windows and the roof is my living room

The olive trees posted here are found in the liberty bell park. The park was named in honor of the USA because we admire their aspiration for freedom. Olive trees are native to our land, and there are many stories about them and their wonderful fruit. I’ll share just one that I particularly like. There were priests in the holy temple whose job it was to extract oil. They would squeeze each olive just one time, and the oil from that squeeze was gathered in a vessel. It was called ‘pure olive oil’ and was reserved for the eternal flame. The rest of the olive was used for all the regular needs, as food and oil.
Wishing everyone a very good weekend.

summer time

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We usually have a short spring, and then a fairly long summer. And summer is my favorite time of year. Doesn’t matter, a heat wave or two. I can sit them out, inside. It’s rare that Jerusalem gets uncomfortably hot, because we’re on a mountain. And even when it does, since almost all the houses are made of stone, it stays quite cool inside… even when it’s terribly hot outside. And nowadays, just about everyone has air conditioning… so that makes it still easier. In the past, I didn’t care much for air conditioning. But I’ve been convinced.

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summer food

For me, an important part of summer is getting out early to take my morning walk… while it’s still relatively cool. Then I get a day’s work done, and still have time left to sit out on the balcony, where it’s always quite comfortable… or enjoy the light of day even in my salon till after eight at night. I have to admit, when people were still arguing here, about whether to have daylight savings time, I was against it.

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clothes hanging out to dry in the warm sun

For one thing, it’s nice for people who get up late in the day. But for people like me, it means getting up in the dark at the beginning and the end of the season, and there’s something discouraging about that. All the same, it’s very pleasant to sit with friends at the end of the day and enjoy the colors of the setting sun in late evening. And aside from the colors, which are at their best during this season, I also enjoy the fruits of the season; wave after wave of wonderful and tasty fruits.

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Nechama listening to a conversation between friends

I start out my day with a couple glasses of cucumber juice, which has proven to be a very healthy ingredient in my life. This was Chana’s idea, and it has proven better than any pill or medicine. I know a lot of you like to start the day with a glass of beer or coffee. But for me, drinking that cucumber juice feels as natural as a cat stretching himself, when waking up from sleep.

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And speaking of cats… you can see that all the animals in the neighborhood are affected and inspired by the coming of summer. Nachshon here, above, is playing panther, as he walks between the neighboring houses. As much as I care for him though, I’m hoping he doesn’t catch any of the local birds. But if he does, it’s all part of nature, and we have to accept that cats have their own way of looking at the world. We’re not going to convince them to be vegetarians. Why, even Nechama likes to have a light repast of herring in the afternoon.

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Noga feeding Nechama a herring

The children come by from time to time, each one with stories of the real world. The world that is constantly changing and challenging. They too have their ups and downs, and I take great pleasure in watching how well they deal with it all. I often have the feeling that they’re handling life’s challenges better than I did, and have reached a style of existence that I could only dream of at their age. Which is an exquisite feeling. It seems to me that since the computer became part of everyone’s life, I’ve been living in the ‘future’. But now, with waze, that feeling has been intensified.

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my son, Jonah

When Jonah was here this week, he spoke of the probability that cars would drive themselves within his lifetime. And that the person who would otherwise be driving the car could be enjoying a cup of coffee, and still working while on his way from one point to another. I thought of how much I used to enjoy driving when I was a young man. But that changed long ago. I think it was when they forced us to wear seat belts. And now with all the traffic jams, it’s become something of a pain. Not to speak of the difficulties of parking in the big city. Yes, having a car drive itself would definitely be an improvement. Less people killed and maimed on the highways too.

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cottage cheese is a popular summer food

So let me wish you all (at least those who live in the northern hemisphere), a joyful summer, with easy going long days; good reading and studies, and the pleasure of successful work. May you enjoy pleasant communication with human and animal neighbors. Listen to good music. See beautiful sights,

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the park behind my home

on the way

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Yesterday, while at Chana’s home in her village, we decided to drive to Jerusalem; there were a few things we wanted to get from my house. But it was relatively early in the day… just about the time when there are traffic jams in the city. Chana volunteered to do the driving so that I wouldn’t suffer the tension of traffic. Once we were in the car she informed her smart phone of our intended trip… where we were coming from, and where we wanted to go.

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I have a smart phone too. But the only thing I do with it is to call someone, if it’s really important. I’ll turn it on sometimes, so that I can receive calls if I’m expecting someone to call. My phone isn’t always on. I don’t like to be distracted when I’m busy living my life. And when my phone rings, it doesn’t sound like ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles. It sounds like a phone sounded 30 years ago. And even so, I find it a distraction.

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I don’t know how to take advantage of the many applications, and haven’t made any effort to learn. I don’t say that proudly. That’s just the way I am. I have a great admiration for invention and innovation. But I don’t believe that I have to use every tool that’s been designed to aid human beings in their work or play. I know there are more good things in this world than I’ll ever get to know. So I just search for a tool or utensil when I’m trying to do something, and have the feeling that I don’t have the proper means to do the job.

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I had heard about Waze because it was invented in Israel, but I had never had the opportunity to use it. And here we were, on the way to Jerusalem, and there was this very pleasant male voice giving us instructions. Chana explained to me that Waze would offer us alternative routes to my home address, and tell us how much time each route would take, thus helping us choose the most desirous route.

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It was amazing from the start. This fellow told us when a turn was coming up ahead. In another 100 meters… or in another 400 meters, we would have to turn right. Get in the left lane, he said, because soon we’ll have to turn left. And so he guided us to the city, and through it… till we arrived at my place. When we did arrive, he told us, without any smugness, ‘You have arrived at your destination’. I was flabbergasted.

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But, it wasn’t just directions. This virtual guide knew everything. He would warn us if there was a hazard by the side of the road. He even informed us that there were police up ahead, just so we wouldn’t breeze by at two times the speed limit (fat chance in Jerusalem on a busy morning). If there was high density of traffic at a certain point, he would warn us ahead of time, and also adjust the arrival time in consideration.

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For three quarters of an hour, I was in an alternative universe. No longer in the familiarity of my hometown in the 21st century, but back in the 50s reading a science fiction novel about what the future had in store for us. Actually witnessing the future… it was romantic… and so perfect.

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And when I thought about it, I knew that it was only a matter of time till the computers would take it the next step forward. I could imagine the two of us having coffee in the car, face to face, the air conditioning keeping us in optimal weather… pleasant music in the background, and the car itself being driven by the computer. There’d be less accidents that way. The computer would reroute traffic so as to maintain maximum speed on the road, and we would enjoy the calm and have the opportunity to watch the scenery as we traveled.

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For me, it was delightful being a passenger. I could lift my camera as we went through the city, and take a few shots along the way, so as to give you a view of what Jerusalem looks like from the car. Usually, I’m driving. And often I see a sight worthy of recording, but have to stop the car and find a parking spot if I wish to photograph. But not yesterday. I took a few shots through the windscreen of the car. Today you’re on the road with me. The pictures on this post are all from yesterday’s visit to Jerusalem.

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a new chapter

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Those of my readers who follow me regularly have read of my odyssey from my old home, staying with a dear friend, and then in rented apartments, till I finally moved into my new home as described in last week’s blog post. I shared with you my agony and my bliss… sometimes the blues, and sometimes the wonder of a youngster who looks around him and is amazed by the beauty and the endless possibilities of the world around him. Being uprooted from my old world was painful. But coming face to face with new environments and conditions taught me to appreciate what I had taken for granted. And I discovered I was more flexible than I had thought. And that as long as I was alive, I could learn new things, and new ways of dealing with life. As rooted as I was in old habits, I discovered that even habits could change.

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Though I worked in a number of fields, most of my career was spent as a professional photographer. Towards the turn of the century, everything I had known about my profession changed, as we moved from film to digital photography. It wasn’t easy. I had to learn new skills and acquire new tools. But somehow I managed to learn the new system.

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Now, moving into my new home, I’ve had a similar experience. Not so much, in having to learn new skills and standards. For I, like everyone around me, have made many adjustments as our world changed over the years. But in moving into my new home, I came face to face with all that had changed over the years. I see those changes reflected in the physical reality of my living space.

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Two of my great passions have been the written word and music. The first recordings I bought were 78rpm records. After some years, the 33rpm records made their appearance, and then there were ‘long playing records’ and stereo. The quality of the recording improved in stages, and each time, I bought the latest devices so as to appreciate the added element in recorded music. I had a very fine record player which allowed for minute adjustments of the weight of the ‘needle’ on the groove of the record, so as to avoid excessive wear on the vinyl. Because after a while, one could always hear the sound of the needle in the groove, and sometimes there were bumps and scratches on the record that spoiled the purity of the sound. It was for that reason that I was so excited when the stereo reel to reel tape recorder became available in electronic stores, and backed up my favorite recordings with copies on tape. A few years later, the cassette player became the player of choice. Eventually, many of my favorite pieces were recorded again on to cassettes, joined by original recordings which were sold in cassette versions. This system was replaced by the CD, and over a number of years I bought several CD players as well as a sizable collection of discs.

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With the advent of the digital age, it became possible to transfer recorded music to digital files, and to play them on the computer or on an MP3 player. A few years ago, I started converting many of the records, and taped recordings to digital files. Today, I listen either to internet radio, or to recordings that have been converted to digital files. But in my old home, I still had an extensive collection of records, reel to reel tapes, and recorded music cassettes, as well as the instruments made for playing these old recordings. That old record player with diamond needle whose weight could be adjusted still stood on the top of a music chest in my old home, within which were stored musical recordings on a number of different media. No sign of any of that in my new home.

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The walls of my old living room used to be covered with book cases and shelves, bearing more books than I ever counted. It was a great pleasure for me to access many of my favorite books at a moment’s notice, and to reread a thought or piece of information. I remembered the place of each book on the many shelves around me. The books are still with me. They have been moved to my new library. But they are no longer as crucial as they once were. Because now I often read digital reproductions of books on my computer or Kindle, and when I want to review a quote or a poem, they are often available on the internet, and it’s even faster to find them on the computer than it is to locate the book and bring it to the table.

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This week, Chana and I visited an old barn in the northern negev, where books have been donated and collected from people in the area. We met two very charming people who are doing their best to organize these treasures of a previous generation. A visitor may buy any of the books for ten shekels, regardless of size or topic. The price is between one seventh to one thirtieth the original price of the books, but there are not that many customers. We heard the young man singing as he worked. The young woman, Adi is her name, offered to help us find any particular book we might be looking for. We told her we were just looking. I saw many books I have read and loved… and some I have never encountered. I didn’t expect to buy any. But as it happened, I did buy two: ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ which had impressed me greatly as a young man, and ‘Prey’, a delightful book by Michael Crichton, which I gave to Chana as a present. I was touched but not saddened by the great array of books. For though they told of the conclusion of an age, I knew they had been replaced by a fine new method of enjoying the written word.

black and white photography

Photography has existed for hundreds and thousands of years. It is described in Greek books written some 2000 years ago, as a device by which one could watch the eclipse of the sun without damaging one’s eyes. And later, it was a much loved device among painters in the dark ages, used to create accurate copies, and exact portraits. All of this by way of the camera obscura, which was basically a dark room with a very small hole that allowed the picture to enter the room and be projected on the wall opposite the opening. It was only in the early 19th century, that pioneer photographers devised a way to print the image on a page. And though color photography came to this world at the beginning of the 20th century, black and white remained the standard till the 1960s, and many fine art photographers preferred black and white till the arrival of digital photography.

Since the invention of modern photography, there were many special effects that stimulated enthusiastic responses over the years, including cinema, color photography, 3D photography, and others. But the standard black and white photograph was dependable, relatively easy to use, and proved over the years that it could open a world of possibilities. Color and 3D were always in competition with reality. But black and white remained a parable, and as such, did not compete with reality as we know it. It reminded us continuously of the reality we saw with our eyes, but never quite touched it.

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the window, on the northern shore of the dead sea

My own love affair with photography started in my youth and continued through my life. I loved the art, and the technology, and became a professional photographer, and had numerous periods in my life where I devoted myself to certain aspects, media, and equipment that are part of this occupation. I loved working with large negatives, which by their nature are able to hold enormous amounts of information. In the area of high resolution, large format photography, film is still able to produce results that are unequalled by digital photography, but it seems that digital equipment is fast catching up.

The image above, of the window, is an image that I fell in love with at first sight. And over the years, I have returned to that image and re-photographed it with different media, and different cameras. But this original picture still hangs in my dining room, and forever reminds me of that night, long ago, when I printed the first print of that picture with a very old fashioned enlarger, and trays of chemicals in a room illuminated by a red bulb. I have enjoyed some of the variations. The color version of this photograph, that was taken years later, became quite popular. I have done a panoramic version, and eventually a digital version too.

One of the advantages of black and white is that it has a longer life expectancy. Color dyes fade in time. Both on negatives and on prints. Digital media has a short life span too, from what I’ve heard. But I have printed negatives for the museum here, that were older than 150 years, and all of the information was there. And I was able to provide beautiful prints from the excellent negatives.

Up until the digital period, there were many reasons to consider if you were going to photograph in color or black and white. And once you made your choice, you already had a film in the camera, Many photographers found it easier to work with black and white, because one was able to use the red light to see, while printing pictures. When working with color, one had to work in complete darkness. I personally had a wide variety of tools and equipment, as well as a large collection of cameras, but aside from the fact that I could work with color without problem, and many of my customers demanded color for their industrial and advertising needs, I found myself often going back to black and white for any number of reasons, ranging from limitations that one found in artificial light, and all the way back to seeing the black and white as a parable, or an analogy. Often, it was more comfortable for me to work with it.

Now, in the digital age, one does not have to wait to put a different film in the camera. One can change from black and white to color and back again with each picture. One can change the sensitivity of the camera with each picture, or change the white balance. We have the advantage of much greater flexibility. On the other hand, it seems to me that the digital cameras are more friendly to color use, and one has to know more about photography in order to elicit the full power of black and white from the color camera.

plain photography

This post is meant mainly for amateur and artistic photographers. Some of the comments I received on my last post, made me think that it would be worth while talking about my understanding of what this craft is all about. Photography has been a popular pastime since Kodak first advertised, ‘you press the button, and we’ll do the rest’ about a hundred years ago. Modern photography, with a permanent image on paper, or metal or glass, is almost 200 years old. But never has photography been as popular or as accessible as it has been since the invention of digital photography. And since this is a very commercial age, a lot of attention has been given to the different cameras available. In fact, there seems to me, to be too much of an accent on the tools and accessories, and applications which can help one in attaining beautiful or interesting images.

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Since I started working in this field long before the digital revolution, and had the pleasure of teaching the craft to students for quite a few years, I thought that some of my blog friends and readers might enjoy hearing a bit about my views and experience.

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Cameras have become very sophisticated. They offer automatic exposure, automatic focus, in camera artistic effects, stabilization, automatic recording of the time when the picture was taken, where it was taken, and what the aperture and the speed of the shutter at the time the photo was taken. When I started out as a photographer, all of these functions were part of the photographers work. The way to stabilization was usually with the help of a tripod. And if you wanted to take a flash picture because there wasn’t enough light, you had to use a separate instrument, and then calculate your aperture according to the distance from your subject, and then the bulb was only good for one flash. I had to carry boxes of bulbs when I used the flash. But even when photography meant a lot of work, it was still a lot of fun, filled with adventure and excitement.

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Cameras weren’t the most important thing about the craft. There were those of us who made their own cameras. I remember teaching many of my students how to make a camera in the most simple way… from a discarded coffee can, without even a lens. I saw some very beautiful cameras that were hand made, and equipped with fine lenses. Some of these cameras were made of metal, some of wood, and some of carton, and they all worked just fine. Most people had one camera that they used for years and years. And what mattered most, was the size of the negative. some folks liked large negatives, because they could absorb far more information. Others preferred small cameras that they could take everywhere without too much notice. They used smaller negatives. After WWII, the most popular cameras were 35mm, because they were easy to carry, and the films were relatively cheap, since the movie business also used 35mm films. I used to work with a 4×5 inch camera, which meant that the negative was that size or 10×13 cm. These negatives captured a lot of information, and one could blow up the pictures to very large dimensions without getting a lot of grain on the print.

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The illustrations in this post were made in the darkroom without the use of a camera at all. These photograms, as they are called, were made while working together with students. Photography does not have to be a mirror image of something we see around us. It can be the product of our imagination… it can be play, or humor or art. What is most important is the vision of the photographer. The tools are of secondary importance.

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When I first started with digital photography, I was given a very cheap digital camera by one of my sons who discovered it on the internet. It had a view screen but no monitor, so I had to wait to get back to the computer before I could see the pictures. And it created an image that would be considered very light by today’s standards (low in pixels). The lens was made of plastic. In fact, it distorted the image that passed through the lens. But I was able to make some fine pictures with that camera, which were later exhibited, and are still among my favorites. In the old days, we used to photograph through glass, nylon, and plastic, sometimes smearing the glass with a thin layer of Vaseline in order to distort the images on purpose. And on the other hand, I have had students who used a simple copying machine as a camera. What is most important is the imagination, and the ideas in your head.

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No matter what camera you use, it is a great advantage to learn the character of the camera and just what it can do and what sort of results you are going to get from it, before you use it seriously. Because each camera has its own personality, and you get the best results when you work together with your camera and don’t try to force it to do your will. Think of your camera as a happy little donkey, and try to play with it.

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A good modern camera has automatic exposure, plus the possibility of choosing an exposure according to your preference, or setting the exposure manually You can set the sensitivity yourself, or choose automatic ISO. The ISO is the sensitivity. Sometimes it is called ASA. If you set the exposure to A, you can determine the aperture you’re going to use, and the camera will automatically set the shutter at a speed that allows you to shoot a properly exposed picture with that aperture. If you want to determine the shutter speed, you can set the exposure at S, and then the camera will set the aperture to meet the demands of that shutter speed. Now if you want a very deep depth of field, you’ll choose the smallest aperture, which is found when using the highest number available on the aperture scale. If you want just a certain something in focus, then you’ll open up to the largest aperture. That’ll be the smallest number on your scale. But sometimes the speed of the capture is what is important. If you’re trying to avoid blur, and freeze motion, you’ll set the shutter to a relatively fast speed, 1/250 of a second. If you want to show movement in your picture, you’ll choose a slow shutter speed. Sometimes I’ve gone as slow as a few seconds for a shot; sometimes minutes.

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There’s so much to tell about the use of a camera, that this is just a little taste. But if there are enough interested amateur photographers out there, I will come back to this subject again. And of course, there is a great wealth of information available in countless books on photography, found in every library.