08 / 06 / 15
How We Are
I will be 33 this September, and Paris turns 30 in December. This is how we look — young or old I am not sure — as we build the structures at Morsefield, the place that will become our home.
I will be 33 this September, and Paris turns 30 in December. This is how we look — young or old I am not sure — as we build the structures at Morsefield, the place that will become our home.
Many thanks to Patagonia, who did a great job repairing my beloved down sweater. A few hot ashes last season put holes through my jacket, allowing down feathers to gradually exit the baffles. My buddies said I looked like a chicken. Kids stared at me, wondering if I was a bird-man. I sent my jacket in for mending, fingers crossed that all would return to the way it had been. Not three weeks have passed, and I'm wrapped in my favorite jacket again, ready to wade the Jordan headwaters and chase the grouse and hare this weekend. #WornWear
One of my favorite days of the year is Paris' birthday. On this day, I wake up and put on the very best version of myself. I am totally unselfish — in fact entirely generous — on this day, attributes I'm afraid I do not exhibit often enough throughout the other 364 days of the year.
On Paris' birthday, I bake a cake, I make hand-painted wrapping paper to conceal hand-made gifts, streamers are hung over the dining room table, the house is deeply cleaned, candles are lit, feasts are created in the kitchen, and my darling's face lights up when she walks in the door. She glows brighter on this day than any other day of the year. And I adore her immensley when she glows like that. Even now, writing about it, the very idea nearly brings me to tears. Life lived in pursuit of another's happiness is the finest living we can do. I hope that this year, I live more days with the intention of making Paris' life as good as it can be, because she makes wonderful every day of mine.
September is the finest of them all. After meals made from the season's harvest, we bike throughout town and the countryside in sweaters and boots. The days are not yet short, and the air is not yet cold. Like soup that is ready for the spoon, everything is just right. If I could have anything, I'd ask for more September.
We enjoyed a week and a half of meandering about the American West. Our Volkswagen, packed to the ceiling, toured like a champ from Ann Arbor to Omaha; to Boulder; to Carbondale; and back via the Nebraska Sandhills. Colorado was as enjoyable as ever. They've received a lot of rain recently, so the alpine flowers blanketed every mountainside, and the rivers flowed quickly. I had time to fish the Roaring Fork, the Crystal, and Whiskey Creek. Visits with our friends and family were as enjoyable as ever, and we had the pleasure of witnessing the marriage of our good friends Caitlyn and Jonny D.
We were surprised to discover how hip Omaha is, and the Sandhills were a totally unexpected treasure. The landscape is mesmerizing and dream like. I am not sure why the Sandhills don't receive more press. They go on and on, seemingly forever in every direction, and the wildlife is noticably abundant. The grassy hills have a gentle quality about them, and the distant small towns — isolated from modernity — posess a charm and authenticity that is fading from small-town America today. The Sandhills seem a timeless place, where things remain in a stable balance and change is not needed or desired. I would like to return some day, since we were only passing through.
This is the latest piece from the 5 Minute Portrait Sessions. Every now and then, a friend or co-worker visits Ann Arbor, and after some catching up and a nice meal in town, I shoot a few portraits before parting ways. What I enjoy about these shoots is their spontaneity and the casual nature of the image making. The simple pleasure of photographing friends seems apparent in the eyes of the subjects. I hope that once we live in Northport, friends who live far away will visit us from time to time. On those occasions, I hope to always photograph them before they go. Accumulated over a lifetime, the Friends of Morsefield series will be a great collection to pass on to my grand children. I must never forget the importance of bringing out the camera to make a few portraits of visiting friends.
I was fortunate to enjoy a thoroughly entertaining visit to a client's job site today. The client's company is disassembling the American Axel Plant in Detroit. I was visiting the site to shoot images for the new website we're building for the team. Until yesterday, I had never been in such close proximity to these massive machines as they operated. The power is even mightier than you'd expect, and the sound is exactly what you imagined when you were playing with blocks as a little kid.
Every machine operator I met was bundled in Carhart and smiling from ear to ear. It seems these guys enjoy their jobs a lot — so much so that several of them have been at it for over forty years. Though it was snowy and cold, I didn't hear a single complaint about the weather. In fact, some of the guys mentioned that working in the winter is really nice because the sun is less intense and there's hardly any dust. It was a real treat to have unlimited exposure to this kind of work!
This new Morsecraft farm bench was recently completed and installed in our entryway. We wanted a place to keep our boots and shoes tidy that would double as an end table and a seat for tying our laces. The bench is made from locally sourced white oak and is finished with bee's wax and mineral oil. The length is eight feet and the height is 18 inches. The legs are through mortised, and the benchtop is joined with dovetail keys in order to show off an interesting knot at one end (shown in detail above).
Had fun making pasta and photographing it for a client today. The image will be used as the hero image of the client's website, and in addition to the pasta making scene a mobile device showcasing a recipe app will be added to the image. It's always enjoyable to have the opportunity to eat your work!
The polar vortex of 2014 was certainly chilly. Temperatures in Ann Arbor hovered around -15 for two days — not accounting for wind chill. Fortunately the vortex also brought lots of snow and a magnificently bright white daylight. Paris and Atlas both enjoyed snow days, and once the temperatures climb a bit we'll all go out for a ski and sled.
As we drove north from Siena to San Gimignano we stopped in the walled city of Monteriggioni. Being January, there were no other visitors, and none of the businesses were open. It felt as if we had arrived in a medieval city bracing for an invasion. A few old women peeked out their windows to consider who we were, and our noses told us that several of the homes were preparing dinner inside. It was late, and it was raining, but our visit was enjoyable all the same. I drove up into a nearby vineyard to make this photograph of the walled city at dusk. Shot on Kodak Ektar 100 with a 90mm Leica lens on my M3.
Monteriggioni, Italy. January 2012.
If you would like to add some papal flavor to your closet, Gammarelli's of Rome — just around the corner from the Pantheon — is your place. They will starch your mitre and iron your mozzetta. This is an image from the honeymoon series. Shot on Kodak Ektar 100 with a 50mm Zeiss mounted on a Leica M3.
Rome, Italy. January 2012.
It has been a drizzly evening in Ann Arbor, so I have pulled out the film archive and fired up the scanner. With a bottle of wine and Bob Parlocha selecting the records on WRCJ there is hardly a better way to spend time.
Here, Paris rests her legs during an early morning stroll through the Roman Forum in Rome. I will always remember how stunningly beautiful Paris was that morning. The winter air carried a crisp peach light, and we — the newly weds — were aimlessly meandering through Italy. It's one of those moments where you're perpetually young and carefree. It was a honeymoon in the fullest sense of the word, and I could not be more thankful for such magnificent memories. Shot on Kodak Ektar 100 with a 35mm Zeiss mounted on a Leica M3.
Rome, Italy. January 2012.
My muse at the shore in Northport, Maine. We enjoyed lots of time all over Penobscot Bay last year for a Morse family reunion. I'm looking forward to returning to Maine next summer for a multi-week wooden boat building class. This image shot on Kodak Ektar 100 with a 35mm Zeiss mounted on my trusty Leica M3.
Northport, Maine. August 2012.
We've been enjoying an extraordinary summer with equal measure of work and play. The coyotes seem to have grown comfortable with our presence uphill from their den. We pitch our tent one hundred yards from their sandy doorstep. The song they sing is more free than it was in the spring, and these evenings they howl boldly without a hint of caution. Their fears that we would eat all the rabbits, or sing our own songs in a key unpleasant to their taste must have gone unrealized. Or, perhaps, they are simply drunk with the triumphant satisfaction that washes over everyone and everything during the harvest season. This time of year, our bellies are full, we sleep without covers, and the wind is a welcome feature of the landscape. As summer tapers, and the autumn winds pick up, there'll be time aplenty to play with the images made these past months. And soon the bright white light of winter will be sweeping past the shutter again.
Above is a two-track that leads to an Aspen wood near the western edge of Morsefield. The wide spectrum of summer light is still rich in the air, as seen here at approximately 7:15 AM the second-to-last Saturday of August.
My good friend, Jay Seawell, spent some time in Ann Arbor on a recent voyage from Chicago to Washington D.C. We putzed around the city, enjoying walks, making photographs, and discussing the health of the nation. It is so enjoyable to talk with Jay because he is well read, quick with metaphors, and skeptical of everything while remaining cheerful and optimistic.
Take a look at Jay's recent work, National Trust, here.
One of the great things about the Leelnau Peninsula is the quality of light. Because it is such a skinny peninsula surrounded by a vast expanse of water on three sides, the light literally bounces all over the place, subtly filling shadows and providing a lot of undescribable color. It is a very true light. I have seen similar light in Scotland and Italy — both narrow land masses book-ended by the sea. I look forward to photographing and painting this light for years to come. If I pay close attention, I may be able to write more elegantly about its qualities by the time I turn fifty.
The view from Peterson Park is nicely elevated. I hope to watch the Chicago/Mackinac boats pass between the Fox Islands and our new backyard.
Like Chicago's Richard Nickel, or Manhattan's Jane Jacobs, Detroit's Susan Mosey is a mighty force for good in Detroit's ongoing struggle to retain and preserve its many architectural gems while demolishing burdensome and hazardous buildings. I was lucky enough to enjoy a personal tour of her past, present, and future Midtown revival projects last week, and at the end of the day it was clear that because of her hard work Detroit will no doubt be a healthy, bustling city within ten years. I met with Susan Mosey to make a few portraits of her for an upcoming story about Detroit's revitalization in London's Financial Times weekend magazine.
This question painted on the side of a rescue mission in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit stopped me in my tracks. It's as if the city asked, "What must I do to be saved," and the answer was right there on the other end of the wall. Just like Santa Claus, Thomas the train engine, and everybody who ever achieved anything by applying a bit of elbow-grease and perseverance, Detroit will be saved by the hard work of those who believe in saving it.
The city is in good hands. I've been shooting a story about Detroit's revitalization for the past few weeks, and in doing so I've met a lot of awesome people who are actively improving the city. These people are shop owners, farmers, urban planners, barrista's, watchmakers, bakers, and they're all mostly from Michigan. Detroit is in good hands. The people who are spending time there are nurturing and creative. They don't listen to negativity. They don't even hear the people who doubt that the city will be thriving in a few years, let alone solvent in the next two. The Bible says you must believe in order to be saved. This is true if you're riding a bike up a hill, rebuilding a city, or trying to find the gumption to live another day. There is nothing that can't be accomplished. Nike knows it. Jesus knew it, and Detroit knows it too.
Over the past seven years I've shot several stories about Detroit for London's Financial Times among other publications. In the past, the story has been about the shocking ubiquity of urban decay juxtaposed against a history and horizon of incredibly beautiful and monumental achievements. These days, such "ruin porn" is nothing short of cliche. I personally never want to see or hear another story about Detroit's unusually bizarre ghost-town situation. Fortunately, that's no longer an accurate reading of the city's persona. Today, Detroit is bursting at the seams with hard working young people and generous financial supporters — the city is literally being transformed every day of the week. In about ten years, it will be impossible to find scenes like the one pictured above. The city has momentum, and engough magnetism and affordable housing to draw in an entirely new young population. Let the good times roll!
Paris' bees are doing well. They've built lots of comb on the frames, and have already begun filling some with honey. In the image above, Paris smokes the bees to placate them before she lifts and inspects each frame. She added another super (a box with frames) to the hive so that the bees have room to grow as the weather continues to warm. By the end of the summer, she may have four or five supers in the stack.
My buddy Shane was in town today. Shane's my project manager, and without our daily calls, working remotely would be substantially more challenging. This dude keeps me on track, and doesn't let any deliverables slip through the cracks. We're lucky to have him at Grid. Hopefully I'll have the chance to visit Shane in New Mexico soon. This guy catches amazing trout with a dry fly — all around the world.
We planted a white oak to mark the occasion of acquiring ownership of our land. We camped up on the hill the first night it was officially ours. Coyotes sang in the distance, and turkeys woke us to a foggy, sun drenched morning. It was Atlas' first night sleeping outside, and from the look in his eyes it won't be his last. Now we are charged with being good stewards of the land. We will work to make it fruitful, and we will build to make it livable. Guided by Elliot Coleman, John Seymour, and many others, we will slowly but surely carve out a home. Now's time to roll our sleeves up.
Paris successfully setup her honey bee hive this evening. The bees are acclimating to their new home, and they'll begin scouting for pollen and building their comb within a few days. We're looking forward to some delicious honey in autumn!
Paris' honey bees arrived today. We picked them up from a farm north of Ann Arbor. She's the proud new owner of 10,000 Italian honey bees. When she pulled her five-pound box off the truck she was smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. It's going to be an exciting summer!
It's climbing to a high of 75 today in Ann Arbor. Spring is in full swing — the trees budding and the daffodils sprung — summer will soon be in the air. Lazy mornings on the cabin porch are just around the corner, and the bright ubiquitous light of summer grows nearer every minute. I'm looking forward to getting the boat in the water.
I had a chance to show a buddy of mine some land we purchased up north. We walked the acreage during the magic hour, working up an appetite for fried chicken and dreaming about laying hedgerows. It's going to be a beautiful summer of hard work.
My dad always told us about Dead Man's Hill, but it turns out there's an even deader man's hill nearby the fabled sledding hill of our youth. The view of the Jordan River Valley from the top of Dead Man's Hill is outstanding, especially if you arrive with low expectations. My buddy and I tried to get into the Jordan River via three different roads this weekend. We were eager to try out a few new streamers from the guys at Fuller's North Branch Outing Club. After digging our way out of a seriously stubborn and snowy two-track on the third attempt, we decided to head for the Cedar River instead. It seems you've gotta earn your time down on the Jordan. Presumably the trout put up as good a fight.
The lake was remarkably calm this past weekend. As we drove through Omena, the bay was static like a glass of water beside your bed in the morning. There's a unique pleasure in bringing friends to Pyramid Point (shown above). Passing through the dune-top valley just before the crest — laid thick with Trillium shoots this time of year — I always think about the natives who must have considered the place sacred. At 400+ feet above Lake Michigan, the view is thick with perceptual astonishment. Lord knows it's holy to me.
I swam in some great coves during our time in Maine last August. Roger Deakins wrote an entire book about swimming in England's moats, rivers, lakes, and seas. It would be delightful to travel up the coast from Key West, Florida all the way to Eastport, Maine swimming in the ocean's pockets as the coastline turns from bleached white sand to kelp-covered ruby granite. There'd be more than a few fine photographs to be made, and the food along the way would be fantastic! There may not be a better way to spend a summer.
We encountered this friendly island explorer waiting for a bus in Acadia National Park. This might be the most picturesque bus stop in the entire country. She was on her way back to the lab after a day of collecting moss.
The April showers have come — with rain forecast through the end of the week. But heirloom wisdom cheers us through these wet dreary days with the promise of May's crescendo of blossoming. This past weekend was wonderfully sunny, providing warm weather and plenty of light to accomplish much early-spring work. Paris painted and setup the new hive, and her bees are expected to arrive the first week of May. We spread last season's compost into the vegetable beds, and I suffered few thorns while pruning back the roses. Atlas seems delighted at the prospect of spending more time outside, and if he keeps working hard he should be able to crawl where ever he pleases later this summer. Everything feels new and exciting. This week's rain is sure to wash away winter's dusty coat, leaving us with crisp bright air to enjoy next weekend. Lord knows everyone's fingers are crossed in hopeful anticipation.
It's hard to believe that Atlas was cozy inside of Paris less than three months ago. He seems much older than that, as if he's been in our lives (beyond the womb) for half a year or longer. This is a welcomed observation, as it indicates that you can have a lot of fun in a short time frame — contradictory to the belief that, "Time flies when you're having fun." We are having fun, but time is moving slowly. This must be because Atlas changes rapidly compared to Paris and I. Using his appearance and abilities as a yard stick, time is flying by, but using the seasons to measure time's passing, the spring sun is slowly thawing the ground and Orion is falling back beyond the horizon in slow motion. My heart races in bed at night because there is a lot to do right now. I need to remind myself that there is plenty of time to get everything done. Slow and steady wins the race.
For the past few weeks I've been working on a print piece for Stanford University. It's a joy to work on a print project because it's physical — you get to use your ruler, pencil, and x-acto knife. Print is also nice because you know exactly how the end user will see the design, unlike the myriad screen sizes and devices with which people approach the web. The guys I work with are always keen on documenting the process, and this part of the project is half the fun. Now that the prototypes have been created, Stanford is preparing the actual content for the piece, and soon I'll begin laying out the inaugural issue. I'm looking forward to that fresh-ink smell once it rolls off the press.
"Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces." —Paul Simon
"It occurred to us that there is one feature of the Manhattan landscape that we have never analytically described: the faces. So we went out and examined them. The first thing that struck us was how many, many there are. They occur, with rare exceptions, in a narrow belt of space between four and six feet above the pavement. A few glimmer darklingly from windows at an elevation higher than this, and once in a great while, usually late at night, a face may be seen on the pavement itself, but by and large the faces, with surprising conformity, restrict their ebb and flow, advance and withdrawal, as well as their more intricate cross- and counter-movements, to the narrow lateral area described above. Here they hover, like a dense pink cumulus, in a dogged flux as remarkable for its variety as for its nagging persistence."
November 17, 1962
The New Yorker
We're back in Montalcino! The streets are narrow and full of texture, and the food is perfectly simple. We purchased a farmhouse on 10 acres with twenty year old brunello vines and a view of the castle. April fools!
After cleaning the office, I discovered a handful of unprocessed film rolls. I took them to the lab, and now I've got dozens of photos to color-correct and share from our time in Italy and Maine. Above, Paris saunters about the Roman Forum in Rome.
I finally got around to wrapping up the bench dog project. This past weekend I had a chance to spend some time in the shop with my dad, and he helped me put holes in the bench (intentionally), which makes my bench vice fully functional.
Boring the holes for the bench dogs was tricky since my bench was already setup and I couldn't simply lift the benchtop onto the bed of the drill press. The issue was that I needed the sleeves to be perfectly parallel to the jaws of the vice. We first drilled 1/2 inch pilot holes using a hand drill in order to remove much of the bench material. Then, to guarentee that the holes would be parallel to the jaws, we used a 3/4 inch straight bit on the plunge router to get 90% of the way down. It was vital to remove most of the material with the hand drill because otherwise the router bit got way too hot and nearly lit the benchtop aflame. We finished off the final 10% of material with a hole-saw bit to cleanly bore through to the bottom of the benchtop. The brass Veritas bench dogs fit snuggly in their sleeves. Now I've got my bench setup to build a new coffee table with some wind-fallen Ann Arbor walnut.
I've been very happy with this straight razor from the Hart Steel Company. I purchased it last fall, and it's remained nice and sharp with frequent stropping. I intend to sharpen it with a honing paste later this month in order to tune the edge back into perfect razor sharpness. If you're interested in straight razors, you might have a look at the Hart Steel Company. The razors and scales are hand-shaped in northern Michigan by independent craftsmen. Ordering from Hart is a pleasure. They offer a wide variety of scales (oak, walnut, maple, beech, etc.) and there are several blade shapes to choose from. It's a piece of cake to get exactly what you're looking for, and it's nice to keep the money in the country.
This is one of my favorite places in the world, and I count my blessings every time I have the chance to enjoy this view at the end of a perfect day. If you happen to wander down this road in the next few weeks, let the trout know that I'll be up in early April.
I don't work like a dog for nothing. I plan on building a house on top of this hill, just to the left of where my buddy Matt is standing. If you enjoy hard work, I'll need as many hands as I can get later this spring when we plant the hedgerows. All are welcome. Fischer's fried chicken and cold beer in return for your sweat.
I've been hard at work on a new print design project for a client. It is deeply satisfying to work with paper and pencil and books all day — consulting Bringhurst's Elements and the Chicago Manual of Style. Now that the format, paper stock, and typographic explorations have been completed, it's time to move into layout. This is where all the fun happens. March is going to be a month of much smiling. Better buy another thing of ChapStick!
I put a spare tire on the Volkswagen today. A gaping, late-winter midwest pothole blew the front passenger's side tire to smithereens. It was entertaining. The sled hill nearest our house has been enjoyed exceedingly by kids, their parents, teenagers in love, and even a well fed squirrel who was either tumbling down the hill on accident or having an incredibly good time. I have rediscovered the surface of my desk after many months of wading deep into piles of junk; checking my email and looking for a semi-stable place to rest my coffee mug. I am certain that spring is just around the corner, because everything appears worn through the elbows and hanging by the threads — praying for the rejuvination of a spring cleaning — and there was birdsong as I torqued the lugnuts tightly.
Thanks to a few tips from our friend Chad, our pasta making time has been reduced by a third. We've been spinning away with whole wheat and farro flour recently, using butter, oil, pecorino, parmigiano, kale, chard, eggs, bacon, or whatever is hanging around the kitchen to dress the noodles with. The extra body of thick-rolled whole grain dough (rustica!) is like a heavy quilt in winter. I had not thought of it until now, but of course Chad would have exceptional skill with the pasta machine — he works on a press all day!
I do not often think of fences as mark-making utensils, but this chain-link barricade has clearly drawn a dark line across the hillside. Or is ivy the artist?
It's late summer on the other side of the world. The oranges of South America are ripe, and they're a deeply appreciated addition to our breakfast routine. This morning felt like a Saturday because of the bright white light, but it is actually only Thursday. The desire for a vacation is strong on the nose. We are conditioned as children (appropriately) to expect a late-winter early-spring warm weather vacation. I lay awake at night scrolling through the internet on the iPad dreaming of warm weather adventures. Perhaps we will visit the Grand Canyon or San Francisco, or maybe a short weekend in Savannah, Georgia would suffice. We have to go somewhere — the cabin fever is getting thick.
Soon, our side of the world will begin its shift towards saturated greens and the ubiquitous light of summer near the forty-fifth parallel. Before Spring is fully underway, we'll enter that sweet spot of bright white winter light and the neon color of nature's early risers. The canary yellow of willow tree buds, the cyan-green of new grass shoots, and the hyper-white of dogwood blossoms and daffodils scattered across the brown/gray of the forest floor. This is one of two times a year when you can feel, smell, hear, and see the transition from one season to the next. Needless to say, we are excited.
We have got the hang of this. He looks around the world — taking everything in — and she cares for him as if she always has — effortlessly, comfortably, enjoying it immensely. He has nestled into our home and trusts us wholly. He sleeps the day away, cooing and bubbling and squeaking in between naps to tell us what he's dreamed. I kiss him and dance with him, and breathe in his wonderful smell.
I photograph them endlessly — it is extremely enjoyable to do so. The combination of white winter light, the softness of their skin, and the stillness of their moments makes it hard to create a bad picture. My new Leica M9P helps my capturing go unnoticed. Only occasionally does Atlas peer over his shoulder with one wide eye to inquire about the "click". It has been a wonderful year so far, and every night I can hardly sleep because there is so much fun and excitement on the horizon. Life is very good, and we could not be more thankful.
I rented a Leica M-Monochrom this weekend, and the experience exceeded my expectations. Leica removed the color-separation filter in front of the sensor, allowing the light to make unobstructed contact with the surface that renders the light coming through the lens. The result of this improvement is remarkable. The sharpness of the Monochrom images is worthy of the quality of the lenses, and the tonal range provided by the digital negative files is as good if not better than that provided by film.
After hundreds of hours working in a black and white darkroom, I am familiar with the messy — albeit enjoyable — workflow of processing film and chemically printing black and white images. The process is time consuming, but the time is meditative, creative, and well spent considering the resultant beauty that is possible in the final prints. The remarkable thing about the M-Monochrom is that the workflow is rapid, and the results are as good and possibly even better than those achieved in the lab. Even if you shoot BW film, process it in your kitchen and drum scan the negatives, the analog workflow is laborious. With the M-Monochrom, I can shoot images without worrying about clipping highlights or loss of values in shadows, I slip the memory card into the computer, process the RAW DNG files, make adjustments to the image in Photoshop, and print them on a large-format Epson printer. The prints are outstanding — with all the definition and subtlety in the highlights and shadows that analog printers have been unsatisfied with from digital prints made with color images converted to black and white. The process is quick, clean, and rewarding. The time involved is so short in fact, that you can shoot, process and print, hang the prints to evaluate for a while, and then go back out and reshoot before the light has changed very much! This is the real value of the M-Monochrom. You can shoot and print more images in less time, without losing any quality in the tradeoff from film to digital. There is no tradeoff in fact; the images are that good.
The M-Monochrom is different. Shooting with a digital camera that ONLY captures black and white images puts the photographer in a different mindset — the familiar mindset of shooting with TMAX or Superia. Nothing is lost when shooting with the M-Monochrom, there is only gain. You gain the freedom of priceless experimentation, you can shoot more radically because there is no film being wasted. You gain the time that was previously spent agitating the film, scanning the negatives or setting up the enlarger. You gain control of burning and dodging in Photoshop with incredible detail compared to the wire coat-hanger and matteboard tools of yesterday. Don't get me wrong: the analog workflow is imbued with a magical quality, it feels like an ancient craft handed down through the ages from masters to their apprentices. It is dirty and smelly and physical, and the boombox playing in the dark room has that unique and wonderful heavy-bass echoing sound. There is nothing quite like time spent in the darkroom. But if we are talking about making great images that are sharp and have a lot of subtleties in the highlights and shadows, then the digital workflow has finally surpassed the analog method. I knew this day would come, and to be honest it is a bit shocking that it has come so soon. I find myself second-guessing the quality of the images, asking if the prints really are that good. To check, I pull out the analog prints and I compare them with these Epson prints, and the evidence is there in front of my face. Next, I will experiment with the vast array of papers available on the market. My tests have so far involved Epson's Ultra Premium Luster Photo Paper and Hahnemuhle's 308 gram Photo Rag. There are flavors to satisfy every taste.
Sadly, the M-Monochrom has to be returned to the rental house tomorrow. I do not have $7,800 to spare, since I have just purchased an M9-P. I shoot in color more often than black and white, so the M9-P is best for my needs. Shooting with the M-Monochrom brought back that familiar joy of shooting black and white film — something I do not do as often as I would like anymore. I felt like a kid in a first-semester Photo One class this weekend. I was smiling the whole time — amazed at the magic of photography — and I ran home after each outing to see what the images looked like on the screen. Every time I was delighted with the quality of the images. It feels so good to have equipment that produces results that meet your highest expectations, because then there is nothing in the way of your imagination and the end result.
"More cheese please." That is what my mind says to me when I am picking up supplies at Zingerman's. Paris' dad was in town this weekend, and we needed a good excuse to get out of the house and make some pictures with the Leica M-Monochrom. So we went to Zingerman's and bought some cheese. Nothing too crazy. We brought home a Dutch Gouda, a pyramid of Valencay, and some Pecorino Tuscano all to enjoy with a variety of chutneys that Jim made last summer. Needless to say it was a great weekend. You can not fail when cheese, chutney, and a Leica are involved.
Today was Atlas's first Valentine's Day. Paris and I forgot about the holiday this year — since we've been so enamored with the new guy in the family. We stayed in for the evening, and were able to whip up a very satisfying Valentine dinner with items already on hand. To begin we enjoyed bucatini con pancetta di americano with a side of broccoli, and then with the discovery of some frozen strawberries we enjoyed a strawberry-apricot tart topped with fresh whipped cream. There were smiles all around the table!
I made a mobile for the boy. Like the quilt his grandma made him, the mobile subtly introduces a bit of color theory. Each layer of the mobile has two spheres, whose color is opposite that of the other end. The bottom most sphere is simply polished with beeswax, revealing the grain of maple beneath. It will be especially nice in the spring, when the breeze will send the mobile dancing an orbital waltz.
We took the kid up north for some fresh air and deep sleep. It's noticably quiet up there, especially beneath two feet of snow. We visited a few friends, and I enjoyed many hours of cross country skiing. You can always count on having a good time up north. I'm glad that Atlas was able to get up there early in his life. He was two and a half weeks old when we arrived. This is a photo from the front porch.
Paris' mom made Atlas a great color-quilt. Its herringbone pattern radiates the ROYGBIV color spectrum. This photo was taken before we washed it. After washing it, the quilting took on that great wrinkly look and feel. The colors didn't fade or bleed at all in the wash, which is good because a messy baby will be spending lots of time on the quilt. Atlas will surely enjoy all the color once he can hold up his head and take a look around.
From the archives: Garfield Farm, Spring 2011. Garfield Farm is in La Fox, Illinois. I first learned of Garfield Farm from photographer Terry Evans. This is the road in front of the farmhouse, which is situated behind the white picket fence to the right of the frame. I have been looking for the 4x5 negatives that I shot at Garfield Farm, but haven't had much luck. Presumably they are somewhere here in my office. Hopefully I find them soon, though I can think of worse things than having to visit the idyllic farm again. I saw a fox, a coyote, and a buck during the four hours I spent shooting on the grounds. Unlikely that you'll believe it, but tis true!
I stumbled upon a lot of old photos recently, mainly from our Chicago days. We moved from Chicago to Ann Arbor in the autumn of 2011. That isn't very long ago, but we've taken a lot of BIG steps since moving, so it seems as if those days are far away in the past. We moved the weekend after our wedding, and last month we welcomed our first child into the world. We've spent the last year trying to figure out where to put down roots — looking at land and houses with realtors. Several of life's biggest milestones have somehow all clumped together in the past sixteen months!
Anyways, I really like this picture of Paris. She's at the kitchen table in our tiny Chicago apartment addresssing wedding invitations, but from the vantage point of today she might as well be a kid making valentines!
I don't think it is legal to have as much fun as we did that weekend. I am still bummed that there is no photographic evidence of the belly slide I did across the rain-soaked lawn of the Old Capitol building — it was undoubtedly a record breaking distance. Jack's frozen pizza has never tasted so good, and I have yet to meet a fox with a more impressive juke box. If this sounds like codespeak to you, that's because it is.
I am a father now. I have a son. I have a wife AND a son, and I am thirty years old.
I was at Target the other day buying diapers for my son and little glass bottles for my wife to pump breast milk into. If you don't already know, you would not believe me if I told you how quickly your freezer can fill up with breast milk.
A copy of Field of Dreams called out to me from the "Family Time" section of Target. Because I am a family man now, I felt like I belonged in that section, like it was OK for me to browse the shelves in that aisle. Field of Dreams and Dances With Wolves were each on sale for five dollars. I love these two movies, and want my son, Atlas, to see them someday, so I bought both.
I watched Field of Dreams later that evening, and was shocked at how slow and boring the first thirty minutes are. The plot takes its time thickening, but when it finally does, it is really thick, and extremely enjoyable. My son fell asleep but that is because he's too young. My wife, Paris, almost fell asleep, but pulled out of her nose-dive towards slumber when Ray Kinsella's wife defends the writing of Terence Mann at an Iowa PTA meeting.
Like most people, I too burst into tears near the end of the movie when Ray Kinsella meets a younger version of his dad on the baseball diamond in that corn field. I cry for several reasons. Most of all, I cry because that part is about getting a second chance to apologize to your dad for being a jerk so many times in the past. I have been a jerk many times, to my dad and to countless other people, and the idea that you could one day have the balls to acknowledge that you were a jerk and to ALSO say that you're sorry is a very beautiful idea. But I also cry because that scene is about our mortality. We are born young and beautiful and nearly invincible, but through life we are worn and beaten. We are extraordinarily beautiful in our youth, partly because of all the potential stored in our future, and when Ray Kinsella sees his father as a young man — at an age before he had his son Ray — Ray is blown away at how young and innocent his father is, he says something like, "God look at him. He's got his whole life ahead of him, and I'm not even a glint in his eye."
This evening I was looking for a file on my computer, and stumbled across some self portraits I made five years ago when we first moved to Chicago. When I saw that twenty-five year old version of myself, looking back at the camera through the screened door of our old kitchen I took in a sharp breath. I had long forgotten about the photos, which I playfully made on a lazy Saturday morning many summers past, and to suddenly look into the eyes of a much younger version of myself was like seeing a ghost. For the first time in my life, I recognize today that I am walking out of my youth, and over the threshold into post-youth living. Perhaps this is because I am a father now, or simply because I am no longer in my twenties. Like Ray Kinsella, when I saw that photo I thought to myself, "Damn, look at that kid. He's got his whole life ahead of him, and Atlas isn't even a glint in his eye."
Of course thirty is not old, and I likely have a minimum of fifty years left to cause trouble all over the world. I am not even half way through life, nor even a third of the way if I've got any say in the matter. But this does not change the effect that old photos can have on us, for even as children we are blown away when browsing through our baby photos. Pictures are powerful, and remain so even though our cultural landscape is saturated with them.
I'm not sure why I wrote all this. Maybe just as a reminder to my future self to keep making self portraits every once in a while. Time is a funny thing, as I'm sure you know. I guess this is just a message in a bottle that I hope to find later on in life. Don't waste time. Live your life ambitiously and bravely. Our time is short, but wonderful. Go big or go home.
The snow falls steadily this weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan — and we are grateful for it. But this image from the top of Barton Damn at the height of summer sure is appealing. It looks warm, and fresh, and wonderful. Who want's to go bridge jumping?
We welcomed our first born, Atlas Walker Morse, into the world on January 16. He weighed 8 lbs 1 oz, and had plenty of hair to keep him warm. Paris stoicly delivered without the aid of any drugs or intervention. She pushed for four hours, and left the hospital without ever even having an IV. It was an incredible experience to watch Paris push Atlas into the world. Mother and child are now happy and healthy at home. You can keep an eye on photos of Atlas as we continuously update atlasmorse.com
There's a metropark north of Ann Arbor that graciously maintains twenty-six miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. The trails range from mellow flats to long steep climbs as they meander through open prairie, marshlands, forests, and retired farm fields. You encounter a wide assortment of skilled and rookie skiiers while on the trails. One minute you may find a twenty-something skating past you with elegance and endurance, and the next you'll be passing by a flock of kids on their first outing. I am always impressed by the sixty-plus crowd. There are many older people who ski with excellent form, and seem to have the lungs of God. I am eager to take our newborn son out for a ride strapped to my chest!
I made my parents a cheese board for Christmas. It's shaped from black walnut that was cut here in Ann Arbor. I finished it with a foodsafe beeswax/mineral-oil mixture produced by the Holland Bowl Company in Holland, Michigan. The cutting surface has the dimensions of the Golden Rectangle, and the length of the tapered handle is the same as the short side of the cutting surface. This Christmas I have been making gifts that will hopefully make up a portion of the stock available from Morsecraft sometime later this year.
The moon rose with medieval sovereignty this evening as we walked along the Huron-Barton bend. A high-pressure system has moved into the region clarifying the air and providing a breath-taking view of the evening sky. Tonight was especially good — though the iPhone was unable to record the scene with much fidelity. As the moon rose through the cotton-wood and poplar groves, her silver light against the cornflower blue sky was absolutely dazzling. Paris and I were immediately struck by the aesthetics and the mood created by the scene. The palette reminded us of Giotto, Bruegel, and Botticelli among others. It was one of those super-real moments that we are bestowed from time to time. It was certainly a wonderful way to bookend another great year.
Paris and I are very thankful for all the snow that's been falling in Michigan this week. Last year was uncharacteristically mild and we didn't receive much snow, which meant there were very few opportunities to ski, sled, skate, etc. This year may be off to a better start. We're keeping our fingers crossed!
Jolly Saint Nicholas has been showing up around town. We received some snow this week, which frosted the top of every house in town paving the way for Santa's skis. After parading around the christkindlmarket with their paper lanterns, the children are eagerly awaiting Rudolph's bright nose in the sky, and Santa's sleigh bells on the wind. It is indeed a magical time of year.
I like to design quick and easy projects that can be completed after dinner in a single evening. Making little things like cutting boards, cooking utensils, toys, or desk accessories immediately improves our quality of life, and now we have a new entryway coat rack to hang our coats and scarves. After working on the computer all day, it is extremely satisfying to work with three dimensional objects. After closing down the basement shop (typically at 10:00pm) I head upstairs to wash the sawdust from my hands, pour a glass of water, and browse the bookshelf to choose an evening read. The steady development from pencil sketches to the shaping of materials into useful items relaxes my mind in a way that working on the computer does not. I find it much easier to fall asleep after evenings spent in the kitchen or in the shop. The beneficial utility of working with one's hands is seemingly unlimited — satisfaction emerging in all corners of life.
Using wood from the scrap bin, the simple coat rack pictured above is made of poplar and maple. It has a rabbeted edge on top to accomodate incoming and outgoing mail — a handy feature since rekindling my letter writing habit. The coat rack is a big improvement to our daily routine. We had been flinging our jackets onto the couch for too long, and now theoretically we'll have better luck keeping track of our scarves. As they say, "It's the little things in life."
While taking a dip near Thunder Hole, I climbed up out of the ocean onto the barnacle and kelp covered granite of Acadia, and saw my Uncle Roger in the distance — looking east, surveying the Atlantic extending to the horizon and beyond. There with his wide-brim hat and hands on hips, I imagined him as John Muir. Fortunately, the camera was an arm's length away.
With a forager's leash in hand, we searched high and low for items to incorporate into a door wreath. Soon to be woven materials include: White Pine, Scotch Pine, Cypress, Elderberry, Alder Cones, Concolor Fir, and Holly.
We took a Sunday stroll along the Huron-Barton bend this afternoon. The light and color were reminiscent of Scotland. Chicadees inhabited nearly every thicket, or perhaps were simply following us around with hopes of being fed. A man with two enormous Irish Wolfhounds passed by, and it was easy to imagine that we were living in Midieval times, he returning from a Bruegelian hunt, and we enroute from village to manor. The dampness and neutral gray-light presented many bold and richly saturated lichens and moss for color inspiration. The palette of whites on the Poplar bark alone was enough to send our imaginations running wildly in pursuit of a project to make use of such beautiful whites, grays, and creams. Paris found more than a few color-combinations for future weaving projects. It was a fruitful wander.
Today is Paris and my sister Meredith's birthday. It's a special birthday because today's date is 12/12/12. Thankfully the world has not ended, and we get to have cake!
This is an outstanding lecture by Leonard Bernstein. Worth listening to several times in order to gain at least a portion of the knowledge he provides.
The title of this lecture takes its name from Keat's poem, On the Grasshopper and Cricket. Coincidentally, the same phrase appeared in a book I'm reading by Roger Deakin. Funny how the stars will align at times. Keat's poem below...
The Poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
The sun was vibrant when we stopped for an apple break, and she looked beautiful. I wonder if the kid enjoyed the walk as much as I did?
We were lucky enough to be able to enjoy Sunday dinner with our friends Meghan and Greg on a recent trip up north. Mr. Hart is an extremely talented man, not least because of his salumi skills. He raises his own hogs, and uses the whole hog to create a wide variety of heavenly treats. Here, he is proudly admiring his first shot at prosciutto. Cheers my friend!
And boy, it sure makes us smile.
We enjoyed another wonderful weekend in Leelanau. Before heading home, we walked along a part of the coast that we had never explored before. The lake was vast, clear, and calm, and the dunes were wild but hospitable. The sunset was as good as any that I remember. This place makes my insides feel better than they do anywhere else in the world, and it was literally painful to leave. How many more days of my life do I have to spend somewhere besides here?
This topographic map hangs in our house. My dad purchased this map somewhere up north when I was a kid — perhaps in Petoskey. Google maps is certainly a useful application, but nothing beats a three-dimensional object. I've probably looked at this map for over a hundred hours, and it has helped me conceptualize the land I love.
The low winter sun has arrived, bringing with it that piercing white light, which can photograph so well. I love the crystal clarity and wide range of whites that this light introduces to our eyes. Life is good near the forty-fifth parallel.
The mornings are regularly frosted now, and the bold yet diminishing palette of fall is stubbornly vibrant beneath the crystalline ice. We are invited, though the invitation is cautiously received, to entertain delightful thoughts of snowy days. I will lift my skis out from storage, and darn my winter cap if necessary. My heavy boots glow beneath the oiling applied last spring, and tying them on for the first time this season is to revisit many nourishing memories. I am ready and excited — as is my cheerful whistling neighbor — with fingers crossed for a record-breaking quantity of snow.
Sensing the need for somewhere to sit with the newborn baby early next year, we did the only reasonable thing and bought a beautiful American made sofa from Design Within Reach.
Last night, the baby's heel was so tangible beneath Paris' belly that I nearly burst with amazement at our ability to create another human being. As if I had been playing along with an elaborate ruse for the past eight months, I snapped into the shocking rawness of reality, blown away by the fact that the little guy is actually in there, preparing to emerge. What joys await? Too many to name.
As previously noted, the winter months provide ample time for post-processing the backlog of summer photographs. Here's a nice reminder of warm July mornings on Lake Charlevoix. I believe this is what they call, "Pure Michigan."
I was afforded the rare opportunity to enjoy a lecture by a brilliant mind last evening. Stefan Sagmeister spoke at the Michigan Theater here in Ann Arbor about design and happiness, though mostly about the latter. Essentially, the man is seeking answers about how to live a good life. He is a philosopher, and he is making great strides in finding solutions to the question of how to live well. He was more charming than I had anticipated, and his intellect, Austrian accent, and unlimited curiosity reminded me of seeing Werner Herzog speak at the Egyptian Theater many years ago. Essentially, his message is this: "Having guts works for me." In other words, live boldly, be brave, and don't let opportunity slip by. This is your life, and every moment counts. Do not waste time doing things you are not good at, and work hard to make sure that your work life is intellectually and spiritually satisfying.
Earlier this season, my good friend R.P. Brennan returned to Ann Arbor for a visit. He was in town for a video shoot, which was later edited into a case study about some work we did for Stanford. After the shoot, he sat for a few portraits. It's easy to make pictures of a friend.
We found a decent mid-century armchair on the curb about a year ago while living in Chicago. Now that my woodshop is established, I'm about halfway complete with rebuilding and re-upholstering the chair. The new seat and back are made of oak, and after the glue dries we'll start sewing together the cushions. It's been a great project because it's given me practice with joinery used in chair construction. Later this winter I plan on building an armchair from scratch. Hopefully Santa puts a lathe under the tree.
Our new baby room is basically complete, we just need a baby to put in it. The small space is our former closet, and due to the dimensions of our bedroom, it's a bit challenging to get a complete picture. Here's a wonky composite image stitched together with a few frames.
You never know when a patch of dune grass is actually the hair on a giant's head.
It was a perfect day, so I stopped working and went for a bike ride.
Feeling like a kid, I rode with no destination. And my eyes must have been radiant with joy, because everyone I passed looked at me and smiled — infected by the freedom and happiness that I could not hide. Bikes are like this, they often give this feeling to people. There may not be a more wonderful machine.
Perhaps the vast depth and limitless complexity of nature is becoming more sublime the less we live among it, huddled behind our screens. There is vastness, and you can not hide from it. It was windy on top of Pyramid Point when we visited last. So windy in fact, that you could not look at the view for very long because your eyes would fill with sand. The power of the natural force was literally too much to bear, you had to look away. This is not something I have ever experienced through a computer screen. At the computer, I endlessly stare. I watch robots comb through the soil of Mars, I watch Syrians slaughter other Syrians. I watch massive hurricanes barrel into overflowing metropolises and I never look away. I just stare.
I hope to live here one day.
Today is my birthday. I was enjoying a cup of coffee when FedEx knocked on the door at 10am. By 10:05 I had my 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens on the Leica M9 and was snapping pictures in the kitchen. We're headed up north this weekend, and I wanted to make a few test images to make sure everything was working as expected. In fact, everything was working better than expected. I've had the camera for less than an hour, and I'm ready to shoot exclusively with the M system. I've been dreaming of reducing my camera kit down to the bare essentials, and since I've got three lenses (35, 50, 90) for my Leica M3, it makes sense to downsize from the DSLR kit in favor of the more compact, discreet, and superior image making tools offered by Leica.
I rented the M9 in order to gain experience with it before making the decision to buy one. The image above is just some lousy snapshot made in my kitchen, but it is proof enough that the M9 and Zeiss lenses provide superior images (not to mention what Leica lenses provide). LensRentals.com is a great service. Their website is very easy to use, and their communication materials are clear with a quick and friendly personality. I will gladly rent from them again, and anticipate renting the Leica M-Monochrom later this season. Needless to say, I am a very happy birthday boy right now. I look forward to shooting with the M9 this weekend, and will post images later this month.
Paris and I will be celebrating my thirtieth birthday and our wedding anniversary in Northport. The trip is also a scouting mission for property that we can build a house on. I am looking forward to slow breakfasts (Barbs!), reading, surfing, and a few fried chicken dinners at Fischer's. Hopefully the swell is up.
Now that summer has come to a close, and the solar diminuendo ushers in Autumn and Winter, the hours I spend in front of the computer will steadily increase. One benefit of this correlation is the ample amount of time that can be designated for post-processing the backlog of summer photographs.
It was a great summer, and there's plenty to show. As the weeks carry on, more and more images will trickle onto this screen. I'm already looking forward to next summer, because it'll be our son's first.
This portrait of my kid sister was made up north in July. I am always amazed by the soft and ubiquitous quality of summer light — especially in Northern Michigan. As I recall it, this photo was made around 9:00pm. Life is good on the west end of a timezone.
As a birthday present to myself, I rented a Leica M9 to shoot with this weekend. I'm eager to see how my Zeiss lenses do on the M9. If the images are on par with the 5D, then I would like to sell my Canon kit (including two Zeiss ZE lenses) in order to shoot solely with a Leica kit. The camera I use most frequently is an M3, and it's as much of a work horse as one could hope for. I'd like to have a digital M camera so that I can reduce my lens collection down to the bare minimum (35mm & 50mm Zeiss ZM, 90mm Leica) — shooting the same lenses for digital as for film. The Holy Grail is within reach.
Media Temple has domain sales ($4/domain) once in a while. When that happens, I tend to lose control and buy any and all domains that I can think of while waiting to fall asleep. Welcome to the latest hangout.