4 May 2010

Firstly, I am sorry I disappeared for so long. At the risk of making this a boring and trite “dear diary” moment, I’ll just say I was slightly preoccupied about where to take the Tiny Flying Goats project and dissatisfied with my perceived failings. But, damnit Annie, you know you need to just forge ahead. So here we are, and here we go.

Secondly, today is a one-day holiday (International Respect for Chickens Day) amidst an entire week-long holiday (Polaroid Week). I think this Chicken Respect business is pretty much up there with Groundhogs’ Day in terms of brilliant holidays. I have, coincidentally, been spending quite a bit of time respecting chickens of late (chiefly hanging out with them in various locales, working on a new photography series). I’ll be writing about the chicken photos later, but for now, please do celebrate today by respecting chickens. You can also read some more about our fine feathered friends at United Poultry Concerns. (I am concerned that the chickens are all going to be hung over tomorrow, after all this partying.)


As for that other thing, Polaroid week… I’ve been celebrating that too. Mostly, this is because I sprung for some of that yummy new PX100 Silver Shade film that the Impossible Project put out recently. It’s pretty pricey (understandably, with the R&D that’s been going on the past year), but it’s completely delectable, and I wish I had more of it. But it’s sold out, so I guess I’ll have to wait for the “second flush”.

Nerdy Camera Stuff

Though I try, I’m kind of bad at being a geeky photographer. I get a bit befuddled about the parts of photography that involve numbers. Sure, I know that stuff, and sure, I’m always trying crazy ambitious things like taking lens-building workshops for medium format cameras which totally involve math, and getting together with my photographer friend Jared for hours of coffee and camera-geek-talk… but at the heart of the matter, I’m much more of an impressionist than a stickler for exactitude and technique.

That said, let me tell you a little about my experience with the new PX100 Silver Shade integral Polaroid film… I was slightly wary of using it, at first, as it is, as I was saying, rather pricey ($21/8 shots), and the website made it sound very temperamental. But it turned out to be quite charming and not that difficult to deal with.

I was using a circa 1977 Pronto! B rigid-body SX70 camera.

Outdoor Shots

First, I went outside and shot with available light. It was a bit cold out… maybe 55 or 60˚F. (This film is prefers 63-75˚F), so I put each shot in my pocket to develop (the film is also light-sensitive while developing). Turns out the heat and darkness of my pockets did the trick quite nicely — though my results varied based on how long I kept the pictures away from light and what setting I had the light/dark adjustment set to on the camera (starting with it in the center for outdoor shots and adjusting in small increments worked well).

Indoor Shots

Later that evening, being addicted now to the Silver Shade film, I decided to do some still life photos inside. I set up two very bright color-balanced photo floods on either side of a table. I pulled out a Polaroid “macro” lens (i.e., a +3 filter). Of course, this lens wasn’t actually for this camera (it’s for pack film Land Cameras, I think), and actually had a different dimension and attachment mechanism than the Pronto lens, so, you guessed it, Scotch Tape to the rescue! Actually I’m quite well-chuffed with the weird vignetting that the smaller-than-the-lens-and-inexactly-attached filter caused.

The temperature inside was in the upper 60s, so that wasn’t an issue, but I still developed the shots in my pocket, to protect them from the light. I think they may have, thusly gotten a little too hot, causing some solarization-like effects (in a kind of oxblood-red color, in the shadows). Shooting indoors, with all that light, I had to turn the light/dark dial way up… or is that down? (I didn’t meter this situation, but it was pretty obvious what needed doin’.)

Summation (whoa, that’s an awfully formal subhead)

Interesting that the outdoor/colder weather shots came out far more yellowy-sepia and the indoor/hotter shots came out far more red. Both are lovely palettes. Especially fooling around with ill-matched filters and stuff, these pictures are delightfully and weirdly reminiscent of van dyke brown prints or even callitypes… but then they’re encased in plastic and pop out of one’s 70s camera instantly! If “thumbs up” weren’t trademarked vis-a-vis the rating of films, I would certainly give one or two to this film.

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2 February 2010
Closeup groundhog (Marmota monax)
Image via Wikipedia

There are many American holidays celebrating dead guys. Mssrs. Lincoln, Columbus, King, Washington and their ilk. Then the holidays commemorating war-related happenings: Veterans’, Memorial and Independence days (and Superbowl Sunday?). There are the pagan and other religious observances such as Halloween, Easter, May Day, Xmas and similar of varying degrees of obscurity. But lo, there is only one holiday devoted to the supremely worthy topic of rodents.

Personally, I’m very fond of rodents. The rodents of the squirrel-containing Sciuridae family, especially, have a fuzzy, toothy place in my heart.

Groundhog’s Day gives us a chance to reflect on our fine furred friends. No war and peace, no martyrdom and stigmata, no question of imperialism or patriarchy. Just lovely little small-headed, puffy-bodied fellows who live in holes. If that doesn’t put you in a place of lovingkindness, I don’t know what will.

The Early Years

I have a long history of celebrating Groundhog’s Day with the pomp and seriousness of purpose which is its due. I like to recount each year, by way of celebration, some of my early exploits.

In high school, the true brilliance of this day became clear to me. At that time, I had a revelation, as follows: Groundhogs are brown and look like they’d have deep voices. Ian Curtis wore brown pants and had a deep voice. Special Dark candy bars are dark brown and deep, dark chocolate. Thus, the traditions of wearing brown, eating Special Darks and listening to Joy Division were born.

(Unfortunately, after the revelation, I roped my friend into celebrating with me, and we cleverly, we thought, brought our candy bars and tape deck to a seemingly secret rendez-vous spot between some very large shrubberies in a public park bordered by a busy road. Later, we were to discover that the spot between the shrubberies was not so secret, when my stepmother, who’d spotted us there from the road, interrogated us about illicit drug use.)

Another year, after becoming a Groundhog’s Day celebrant, I built a 4-foot-high groundhog in my bedroom out of brown towels, tomato caging, paper and a brown felt fedora. I paid it my respects.

Yet another year, I launched a massive campaign at my high school to convince everyone to wear brown on Groundhog’s Day, and the stodgier the better. (I’m not sure how stodginess got conflated with everything else, except that it is my way.) I met with limited, though surprising, success when 3 or 4 friends, beside myself, actually followed through and wore brown (though one of them was prone to wearing brown German-style knickers regularly). I wore a brown polyester 60s thrift store dress with brown polka-dot trim that some old lady had inevitably died in, and spent a terribly uncomfortable day amidst the scratchiness — but considered it some sort of self-flagellation in the name of groundhoggedness. After all, monks also wear brown.

More Modern Practices

While becoming vegan in the mid-90s curtailed my Special Dark eating (also, the subsequent discovery of actually good chocolate from far less dubious origins), and becoming a goth curtailed my brown-wearing for some years, I’ve always found ways to celebrate the Day of Groundhogs come hell or high water.

During the years I was in a band, I was generally fairly successful in getting at least some of my bandmates to don brown for the occasion. Generally, as I was in charge of our band mailing list which announced shows and releases of recordings, I would write epic narratives of praise for groundhogs (imagine that!) and share them with all of our fans. Indeed, these massive missives became somewhat infamous after several years.

Recent Years

In a spate of exceptional good luck, nay, blessedness even, I’ve had the excellent fortune to encounter quite a few live groundhogs in the past few years. First, while at the Museum of Science, crashing a live animal demonstration meant for children, I was privileged to get up close, and quite personal with an exceptionally fine groundhog. Elbowing small children out of the way, I’m afraid I quite monopolized him, asking myriad groundhog questions of the presenter and, eventually, attempting to hatch a plot to kidnap and befriend the unsuspecting groundhog (foiled, it would seem, by my gentleman friend).

Last year, I believe, I began to see groundhogs now and then in the wild. Chiefly, I have spotted them in the rural areas north of Boston, and also in New Hampshire. Inevitably, such a sighting results in an abrupt u-turn and/or sudden backing up of the vehicle in which I am traveling then an extensive search on foot for the suspect in order to indulge in a photo op (generally unsuccessful).

Most excitingly, it would seem that there are now several groundhogs living in the area where my doggie goes for walks with his father. My dog, being rather a peaceful (or oblivious) sort, does not tend to notice this, but on several occasions, my gentleman friend has photographed the hoggies. He has also seen them swimming in the canal. He tells me that one of them is definitely named “Groundy”. They live in quite an impressive hole, I might add.

Other Traditions

Now, the odd thing is, when Groundhog’s Day comes up, people seem to think, immediately of one of two things: Punxsutawney Phil or that movie. I don’t go in for either.

I see, this year, that PETA is calling for a “robot replacement for groundhog” and I can’t say I think that’s a bad idea. First of all, how awesome would it be to have a robotic groundhog? I would definitely want one of my own. I think it would be a thousand percent more entertaining and useful than a robot vacuum cleaner. Secondly, yeah, poor Phil. They make him wake up insanely early when he has hardcore hibernating to do, and they shine bright lights on him. It’s not something a Marmota monax (or a person such as myself with a quasi-vampiric schedule and aversion to bright light) would relish at all!

The whole thing with seeing his shadow or whatever, I never can remember what that’s about exactly. It seems like not quite the right thing to be asking a groundhog, and certainly not at the right time. Why not get a sundial or a barometer? Groundhogs have things to do. They are busy. I do not believe they wish to waste time prognosticating when, dur, obviously, in early February, there’s going to be more winter. At least in New England. It’s not like one year winter is going to end on February 2nd.

The Groundhog’s Day movie? Well I’ve heard it’s good. Seminal even. But somehow I can’t bring myself to watch it. I feel, somehow, as if it might be sacrilegious.

Very Interesting Information about Groundhogs

  • Groundhogs and woodchucks. One and the same.
  • Groundhogs whistle when they’re scared, to alert other groundhogs. (Leading to their alternate name, “whistle-pig”.)
  • Groundhogs are mostly vegetarian, but not averse to chomping on a few bugs from time to time.
  • Groundhogs live in burrows and are master-excavators.
  • Groundhogs can both climb trees and swim.
  • Groundhogs’ binomial nomenclature is Marmota monax (can I tell you how much I love the phrase “binomial nomenclature?). They’re in the Family Sciuridae with the ever-be-knighted squirrel and in the finely-named Order Rodentia. And they’re mammals, animals, all that. You know.
  • Although some people think groundhogs are destructive, mean or otherwise bothersome, I think they are adorable and extremely clever.
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