The Steel Door

We walk to the end of the rough stone passageway, stepping over the vents and careful not to slip on the wet floor. At the end of the passageway is a steel door, a meter square, elevated from the floor. The welding marks give a hint that the metal is heavy, thick. Nearby a video camera on a pole watches the door, 24 hours a day, well-lit, and the monitor at the other end of the video cable is monitored by a live person continuously. Through a crack near the floor we can see that the other side of the wall is also lit — I'm assured that behind the steel door are complex explosive traps, and more unblinkingly diligent video cameras. Two coils of barbed wire prevent me from walking the last six or seven steps to touch the door. We're about 73 meters under the ground, and 100 meters from North Korea.

3 min read

Secret Sports

I planning our upcoming trip to Tokyo, I’m surprised at how little info there is on the web (other than in Japanese) about kyotei boat racing. We passed a stadium along the highway during the past visit, while driving down toward Haneda airport — huge place, yet not found in any web tour guide that I’ve come across. Hmmm…..

If anyone has some pointers on seeing the races, please let me know!

The Right Way

Somewhere near Bolinas with a $35 Canonet (C) 2003 Kevin Bjorke Mechanical rangefinders are small, lightweight, discreet, and tend to have good optics. That doesn’t stop some of us from using them on subjects that don’t benefit much from those attributes — say, a fog-shrouded forest road (though having no mirror slap can be helpful for a 1/4 second handheld exposure).

Add professional Leica durability to the equation and Jason P. Howe has definitely figured out the right way to use a rangefinder. In his case, to cover the apparently-endless military and paramilitary violence in Colombia.

It’s a situation made for this sort of work — no generators, no sat phones and laptops, just a guy with lightweight sturdy mechanical equipment, no batteries, but pockets full of black and white film that can withstand the hot and damp environment. Compare his setup to the giant rucksacks full of gear carried by the Humvee-embedded journalists during the Iraq invasion. The immediacy and grit of Howe’s photos make the crisp, colorful Iraqi shots, while illustrative of American military power, seem like so much sport shooting.

Howe deals with both sides of the conflict, the government AUC and the FARC (which while labelled as a terrorist organization by the Bush administration, still manages to have their own slick and public web site). Among all countries in the western hemisphere, only Cuba is more oppresive to journalists, according the Reporters Sans Frontièreshere’s a telling example.


85% Three rolls of TMax 100, Xtol 1+1, 9:30. Unprocessed backlog is down to a roll of Ektachrome (off to the lab) and a single 120-sized roll of Delta.

Whacked monitors are a curse. Worse yet is trying to match them. My Eizo’s and Sony are all set to the same gamma, the same white point, but the Sony consistently displays more detail in the shadow values. The Eizos are black or nearly so for the bottom 10%, and the Sony handles the range nicely.

This is a personal annoyance, though perhaps an unusual one (not too many people have to worry about calibrating multiple monitors at home). What’s more worrisome is thinking about what people see when viewing pictures on the web.

I regularly see commercial studio pages where the “black” levels are clearly grey — often laid against a true-black background. I’ve come to the conclusion that the web designers themselves were simply unaware of how rotten their black levels are — they don’t even see the differences between 85% grey and black. And if the designers aren’t seeing the proper colors, what chance do I have that the casual web surfer will see them?

From now on I will try to preview everything using the cruddiest screen I can find. Maybe the old Sony laptop (a sweet screen for 1998, but not 2003).

Reviewing recent rolls, I will also try to stay away from using my 45mm wide-open all the time. ISO 100 film is not meant for available light indoors in the evening. I slap myself.


Museum of Photographic Art Before I left San Diego I ventured over to the Museum of Photographic Art in Balboa Park, to view the prints from Eddie Adam’s exhibition and book Let Truth Speak to Power.

It’s hard not to bring some presumptions to a show with such a title, if only because of its similarity to Gene Smith’s dictum Let Truth Be the Prejudice. Is Adams, like Smith, convinced that he has the inside track on “truth?”

The show is a collection of portraits, large prints, the faces of people who have in some way fought against the predjudices, inequalities, and brutalities in their home countries. These huamn rights activists (err, in the language of the show, “Defenders” — always with a capital “D”) are scattered around the globe — some of them exiled from their original homes and now living in places like the U.S. or Switzerland, others hiding out in the jungle, some resting peacefully at home because their primary goals have begun to be addressed.

3 min read