Saturday, October 1, 2011

Some New Photos, With a Twist

026[1]I've added some new photos to the Wheelchair Kamikaze photo gallery, but these are a little bit different than any of the other shots found there. Back before my neurologic difficulties robbed me of the ability to hold a camera to my eye (click here to see my wheelchair mounted camera set up), I loved taking photos with antique and toy cameras. Because of the decidedly low-tech quality of the optics used in many of these cameras, the images they produced had a surreal quality to them, almost like snapshots taken from a long-ago dream. I used to scour eBay listings, flea markets, and yard sales for cheap relics that were still in working order, knowing that each one would have its own unique but endearing quirks. Of course, none of these cameras were digital, and all used traditional film, which further makes them impossible for me to now use, as loading film with my one wonky but still working hand would be quite the achievement.

Within two years of my diagnosis I was no longer able to hold a camera to my eye and had to sadly give up my yen for photography. I bitterly thought my photo days were over, until my disease progressed to the point where I needed a wheelchair. Once I got the electric beast, and embraced the freedom it allowed me, my wife insisted that I try to figure out a way to rig a camera to the chair, and pressed the point home by getting me a suitable camera and camera mounting equipment one Christmas. I was quite resistant to the idea at first, I think because I was afraid the results would not be up to snuff, and would only serve as evidence of just how much I'd lost to my illness. After a couple of goes at it, though, I found that the photos I took in my new, somewhat unwieldy manner actually weren't all that bad, and realized that once again I was back in business. Of course, the antique and toy camera fetish was out, as the only cameras suitable for my new set up were high-tech digital beasties, but, as they say, any port in a storm.

Lo and behold, a couple of months ago I discovered that there were some decidedly low-tech lenses available to be mounted on my high-tech digicam. I warily ordered one, called simply the "toy camera lens" (click here), from an outfit in Hong Kong, half expecting my money to disappear into the ether. Incredibly, three days later (!) a package arrived from Asia, containing my wonderfully cheapo new lens. It's a really strange creature, with an area of sharp focus in the center, surrounded by increasingly swirly and out of focus edges. It's kind of temperamental, and I'm still sussing out the best ways to utilize its eccentric charms. There's no autofocusing the thing, you actually have to focus it by hand, an old-school exercise that I somehow find very satisfying, even though it increases immensely the complexities of trying to take a photo with only one coopertive hand.

So, presented for your perusal are the following photos, all taken with my new toy camera lens. I'd really appreciate some feedback on these, as I'm pretty sure they won't appeal to everyone, but I think some will find their dreaminess appealing, and hopefully see something striking or compelling in them. If not, you have permission to tell me I'm nuts. Honestly, I'd love to hear all opinions, good or bad, so feel free to leave comments positive or negative, as all will be valued.

the-path.jpg image by marcstck

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  1. Love the new style; glad you can enjoy even more a former passion. The height from which you shoot gives a tall one like myself an unfamiliar perspective. Add to that that I have never lived in the downtown area of a major metropolitan area like you do and you can perhaps see why I like your stuff: For its novelty !~! Thanks for sharing.

  2. The three that I like best are red weeds, bubble boy, and woman staring. You have a good eye, and it's nice that you have a new toy to use to put it to good use. Thanks for the photo journey.

  3. My favorite is the gentleman in the blue striped suit. I can construct whole stories just by gazing at the details of that photograph. I also appreciated the sensibility you have of capturing geometric forms in your composition, whether the subject be a person or an inanimate object. Trace a line over your subjects and you will see emerge vectors of movement, angles, even parabolas. The blurring around the edges teased me, but this MS brain couldn’t recall it, with a memory of when I used to play around in a darkroom. Couldn’t I in some way produce that quality? Or am I just thinking of old school photographers who would smear Vaseline on the edges of their lenses? Dunno. Thanks for the show.

  4. I love the new photos.

    The old chaps playing chess is definitely my favorite.

    What little actual technical knowledge I previously possessed has all but disappeared from my MS brain ;) but there is much to be said about the power of inspiration..

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. These are awesome, keep it up! My favorites include the grass photo and the B&W fence along the pier. Thanks for sharing these! Be well, Christie.

  6. An interesting twist indeed. They do have a dream like quality. Some look like they were shot through a hazy fisheye lens, and as Judy expressed, some appear as though vaseline was smeared on the lens. I like them.

  7. Love the pics. Coming from someone who doesn't get out as much as I used to, I thoroughly enjoy your pics, all of them.

  8. I got quite dreamy myself, just looking at them. That is a really interesting lens, I must say! I have been imagining the intricacies of setting up a shot with it.

    Do you sell any prints? Boy, would I love to have one of yours to look at every day near my desk.

  9. Love the dream like or movement effect of this new lens you are using. You are very talented. Keep it up and thanks for sharing. Love the chess players and the bicycles.

  10. You truly have more talent in your little finger than most people have in their whole bodies!
    My favorite is the red weeds. your ability to capture color is awesome. Then I love the chess players and bird bath photos. The focus in the center and blur all around is a great effect.
    Keep up the good play, my friend!
    p.s. Please answer the question about selling your work. I have often wondered that myself!

  11. So glad you found a way to be creative with you the new lens.

  12. LOVE these! Especially the first three, the chess game, and the bicycle. I'm also inspired and happy that you were able to recreate some of fun and joy you thought you had lost!

  13. I love the pictures. The background looks swirly in some and makes me a little dizzy, vertigo is no fun. My favorite is the little girl eating the ice cream cone, reminds me of my daughter.
    Thanks for sharing!!

  14. Hi Marc..
    Aside from these being your usual fab 'windows to the bigger (than mine) world' the shots often made me remember my old acid taking days in a good way... The great thing is that the lens shows us where YOU put your focus then lets us go from a story with a great first sentence. I never liked giving away all the information in my art so the viewer had nothing to do but look. In these, I find plenty to take me into places that kindof surprised me. You take an MS person, stir up the focus and VOILA! (I dont know what you get but today, it felt good..)

  15. The picture of the Gent who is standing on guard in front of the billboard that points us all to salvation while the man kneeling (maybe trying to light a mattch) beside the sign is true downtownistic scenery.
    Makes me feel all warm and cozy and normal inside. Who needs medical MJ when you have free entertainment like this.
    You make me inspired to get out the digital and just start klicking away from my scootermobile.

  16. Definitely feel dizzy and about to "all fall down" with the statue girls in the ring-around-the-rosey water fountain dance. But the question is can statues actually "all fall down" no matter how dizzy they get?
    Love the chess players so engrossed in their game they don't even notice the world swirling around them.
    And the wheelchair with oxygen tank . . .crank up the oxygen and transports me elsewhere, please!

    You gotta love toys.

  17. Lynda-happy that you like the quirkiness of the new lens. It is terrific that I'm once again able to pursue photography, one of the unexpected perks of getting sick enough to need a wheelchair. Go figure. The "down low" perspective courtesy of the WC does afford a slightly different perspective than the typical photographers POV, although the restrictions of having a camera stuck to the arm of a wheelchair do pose some interesting challenges…

    Webster-thanks for the critique, and for being a long time WK reader/contributor.

    Peace-the man in the blue suit was quite a character. He goes by the name of "Grandpa G", and he had the whole zoot suit thing going. I tried a couple of full body shots, but because of the lens' blurring the edges effect, those pics didn't turn out as well. Hopefully, I'll run into him again when I have a more traditional lens mounted to my camera. He was more than happy to be the object of my photographic affections. Thanks for noticing some of the compositional elements I try to incorporate in my photos. This lens changes things up a bit, since my natural tendency is to shoot the main subject off center, something this lens will not allow. The blurring effect would be difficult to reproduce in a darkroom, I would think, but possible. The darkening at the edges of some of the shots (vignetting) is certainly reproducible in a darkroom. I used to use the old Vaseline on the lens trick once in a while when I was shooting video professionally. You've got to remember to put the Vaseline on a cheap filter in front of the lens, not on the lens itself, as it's almost impossible to get the stuff off of a glass element…

    Alys-thanks for the input, the men playing chess seems to be a popular favorite. It's a good visualization of being "in the moment", the men concentrating on their game while the world swirls around them. I wish I could say this was my creative intent, but the results is one of the serendipitous things that happen when using as quirky a instrument as a toy lens. I was attracted to the classic "chess players" composition, and was more intent on making sure the subject was in the zone of focus than with capturing a Zen moment, but I guess that in itself is a Zen moment…

    Christie-thanks for your comments, I really appreciate all the input this post generated.

    Karen-it's the dreamlike quality that originally attracted me to this kind of photography back when I was healthy. I've always been an incorrigible daydreamer, maybe the ability to capture images that reflect that aspect of my personality is the lure…

    Ed-I don't get out as much as I used to either. The disease does take its toll. So, when I do get out, I figure I might as well maximize the experience. Sometimes I feel like each click of the shutter is a little act of defiance…

    Daphne-glad I could make you dreamy. I haven't sold any prints, but one of these days I will pursue trying to get a volume of some of my essays and photos published. Don't know what I'm waiting for, time is a'wastin'…

    Anonymous-thanks for the kind words and your input.

  18. Nicole-not sure about the "more talent in my little finger" thing, but thank you ever so much for the compliment. I've photographed that birdbath fountain a bunch of times, it's infinitely attractive… Some of my photos are going to be auctioned off at a CCSVI fundraiser in November. That will be the first time I've ever sold any of my work. Who knows, maybe it will inspire me to figure out a way to market my photos. I kind of have an aversion to making money off of being sick, but maybe I could donate most of the proceeds to worthy causes…

    Yankee-thanks for the praise and your encouragement. Your input is always appreciated.

    Kayla-it has been a wonderful surprise to be able to get back to one of my former passions, and the totally unexpected success of this blog has given me a vehicle to display my photos to lots of viewers. Life is strange…

    TM-hope the photos didn't make you too dizzy, I hate that vertigo feeling. I like that first photo also, it was shot with very little forethought, I just busy shooting something else when I noticed the girl and swung around and took a quick shot. Got lucky that she was in focus…

    Cathy-glad I could bring back some happy old memories. The shots do have a nostalgic quality to them, as do I, and their inherent lack of precision I think both attracts the viewer and forces them to make a little bit of an effort to suss out exactly what's being presented. You know that I'm a big fan of your art, and of your blog, which is a work of art in itself. Everybody must check out Cathy's blog, "Healing through Multiple Sclerosis" at

    Anonymous-it's interesting, I find that people tend to shy away from the "preacher" pick, maybe because it is inherently controversial. It's one of my favorites, I think it captures some of the barely controlled chaos that is New York City pretty well. You should definitely get out there on the scooter and start shooting. One thing about digital photography, you don't have to worry about the cost of film, so experimentation comes cheap…

    Hatch-I've been observing that statue for a while, and so far they haven't fallen down. Hope I'm there to photograph it if they ever do. The wheelchair photo is ironic and bittersweet, having been taken from the vantage point of another wheelchair. It was smack dab in the middle of the waiting area of my pain Dr., just waiting for me to sneak up and capture it. And yes, toys are a very good thing…

  19. The boy with the giant bubble made me think of Paul Simon's 'The Boy in the Bubble' from teh Graceland CD. Things rediscovered help me appreciate these days of miracle and wonder.

    I have little eye for taking good photos. The things which strike me often preclude me from seeing the flaws, like the "wonderful" photos of my kids taken the other week. Well, they would have been wonderful if I had made them blow their noses and wiped their faces. Details, I tell ya. They're just details. I think that is why I like the photos you posted. Interestingly enough, if oen goes to a place for portrait shots, the focus to blurry effect from these shots is one of the effects they offer, for an added cost of course.

  20. The 9th picture~THAT man has attitude. Love it. No corrections or complaints. ~Mary

  21. Love these! I like how the lends brings the focus to the center object emphasizing that as the main point of interest. Kind of like how MS forces those to have it to pinpoint the focus of their lives.Very nice!

  22. Great pictures Marc! I think it is your ability of capturing the moment, not the lenses. Maybe i should say that whatever lens you use, you take the best out of it.
    I can see the blurring -vaseline-like effect and i think it is the one that makes me dream. Dreams are a bit blurred, aren't they?
    Grandpa G and chessmen are my favorites.
    I hope that your plans with publishing your pics succeed!

  23. I love these photographs. The dream like quality adds an innocence to them. I love the one of the girl. It gives the appearance of the whole carrying on around her while she stands still. You have obviously maintained your eye for composing a great picture.

    They are also the inverse of my world really - optic neuritis means everything in the centre of my world is blurred and the outsides are clear!

    Your blog is such a joy. I have even prepared for a trip to New York by watching the videos! I'm only mildly frightened of New York traffic now rather than terrified!

  24. I think that these photographs are nicely presented and have a rather new-fangled appearance, is this the modernism of photography perhaps? Either way I like them my friend...

    I am visiting you today from Red's Space on WordPress...

    Be well my friend and do have an excellent rest of week...