Skate Park Redux

I spent much of the winter 2014 living in Santa Rosa, CA. I rented a wonderful little house on the top of a ridge overlooking two valleys. I photographed a lot. One of the projects that resulted was called "Skate Park". I wrote about it here. The final pictures are also on the gallery page of the site here. The series starts out in a brutalist manner and softens as it progresses through into an orgy of graffiti. It is comprised of photographs from three different skate parks in the area, the primary one being in Healdsburg.

All this history is as a preamble to something I started to work on closer to home. The City of Cambridge, where I live, has its first skate park under the elevated highway close to the Science Museum and it is a big hit.

It is called the Lynch Family Skate Park and it looks like this:

It opened last weekend.

Photo Credit: Christopher Baldwin for the Boston Globe. The rest of the pictures are mine.

It is a dramatic place for a skate park as it is where much of Boston's traffic collides. You can see I-93 from the north overhead on the ramp merging with RT 1. The Zakim bridge can be seen in the background. It is also where the trains arrive at North Station and where the locks are that control the height of the water at the base of the Charles River as it exits into Boston Harbor. It's a busy place. Oh yes, also in there is the Science Museum, Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and the infamous Leverett Circle, the site of more traffic jams than anyone wants to remember.

As I am becoming able to move again since hip surgery a few weeks ago I found myself headed to the area with a camera to see what it was like. 

I found poetry, dance and chaos in about equal measure. Skate boarders, of course, but roller blades, bikes. I even saw one of those small wheeled scooters and a guy in a wheelchair! What a strong contrast from the pictures I made in CA. Those were unpopulated and about form and fluidity and a very particular way of seeing. 

To be coming off of something as debilitating as being unable to walk a few weeks ago to this complete opposite was like a breath of fresh air. The place exuded life.

What a complete blast.

Of course, I couldn't ignore that there was form (along with bright late November sunlight) at the new skate park too:

so I went back on a weekday in the early morning to explore the park a little more:

How could I resist?

Stay tuned for more.

Topics: Skate Park

Permalink | Posted November 24, 2015

The Hasselblad Superwide

Another in a series taking a look at some of the tools I have used to make my pictures over the years. Last month I did a couple of posts on the Rollei SL66. Next up we're going to look at the Hasselblad Superwide (SWC). The SWC is a camera that has a rich tradition across many types of photography. Developed in the 1950's to fit a very special lens made by Karl Zeiss to a camera  body, it was a camera made to accommodate a lens rather than the other way around. It was also completely unique in the Hasselblad line of cameras and, indeed, across all of photography.

The camera used a fixed 38mm f3.5 Carl Zeiss Biogon lens, in a 120mm square format that used interchangeable backs. As it had no mirror, it was viewfinder-based with focusing determined by guessing the distance then setting the feet on the barrel of the lens. It had no meter, no electronics at all. It was also very small small due to having no mirror so it really was a one handed camera.

I had two of them. The first one I bought used in 1978 (from Phil Levine) and then sold it in 1984 to buy an 8 x 10 view camera. By 1996 I was back into one, and bought it new. By this time its price had become very high and the body had been revised slightly.

What pictures did I make with it? 

What pictures didn't I make with it! 

It was the primary camera I used to make series work, my main vehicle of expression over my whole career. Here are a few, searchable on the gallery page of my site:



Boston (in infrared)


Portland ( with a blog post explaining the pictures here



Old Trail Town

Hersheyand on and on. All the photographs from the monograph published in 2006 : American Series

were made with the camera except the wheat pictures, which were made with the 8 x 10.

Why was the camera so special? Quite simply it was the lens. 38mm on the 2 1/4 format is roughly equivalent to 25mm in 35mm. So this was a very wide lens. But it also was unique in that it fell off very little in sharpness and exposure in the corners and if kept level (hence the bubble level built into the finder) straight lines would stay straight. Plus, the lens was very sharp. The print of the boys on the dock from the Nantucket series is sitting downstairs at my home, and is 43 inches square. It is very sharp.

Advanced students would occasionally approach me about this camera, thinking, if they liked my pictures, they might like a to own a Superwide. Beside the obstacle of the camera's cost (about $5000!) the SWC was a highly specialized tool for making pihotographs. I would explain that this camera wasn't any kind of all purpose tool to make pictures with. You had to be able to move in close to your subject and any work with an extremely wide angle lens is always exacting. This usually discouraged them. I got so that I could guess the distance pretty well as there was no way to precisely check the focus except using the company's ground glass adapter. This was more for studio photographers and perhaps for some architectural work but it was cumbersome in the field. I would say 90% of the work I did with the camera was hand held. But over the years I got to know what I could and could not do with it. When it was the right tool for the job it was simply amazing. 

I don't know if people have the same degree of connectedness with their cameras these days or not. And I generally don't like to attribute huge importance to the tool used to make our art. But the SWC and I were figuratively connected at the hip. I still am in awe at what it allowed me to do, make pictures that span over 25 years of my career that are as close to me as anything I have ever done, seminal works that formed the basis for my practice. Finally, I learned much of the methodology from it that I still use today when I photograph, though I am now working exclusively with digital cameras. 

This is a 903 SWC, like the model I owned. I sold mine a few years ago.

The last version of the camera was called the 905 SWC. Hasselblad stopped making the camera in  2005. Odd but this last one has a reputation of being the worst in all the years the camera was made. Hasselblad was required to change some of the chemicals they used for environmental reasons to make their lenses and the new formulation made the lens less sharp.

Other people that used or use it? Lee Friedlander comes to mind and Harry Callahan made many of his beach pictures with one, using a 645 back instead of the square.

As you know, my work is represented by 555 Gallery in Boston. Want to see any of the above portfolios? Just ask.

Topics: Black and White,vintage

Permalink | Posted November 22, 2015

Special Place

We all have special places, places that have key meaning to us for a variety of reasons: where you proposed marriage, where you were when you heard of the 9/11 attacks, where you saw that moose along the edge of the river as you silently rafted down stream, that curve in the road where you almost lost it when driving too fast as a teenager in the rain that night, and so on.

For the purposes of this article I want to address our photographic special places, those that hold importance to us because of what they've meant in terms of our own development or maybe because there is something in a place that works on us in a little deeper way.

Ever find yourself someplace that you know is exceptional? A place that is extraordinary, perhaps to just you? Where the light and the air and the ground and the sky are charged with precedent and history, that whatever is there is frozen in a moment of such sublime beauty or serenity or tension that you must photograph it?

One of my special places is at the top of Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. I photograph it in the summer and take the tramway to the top. From there I hike to the observation tower and climb the stairs to the deck, position my camera up against the railing in the right corner, over by the coin operated binoculars. I have probably been photographing this for 15 or 20 years.

I point my longs lens here: 


This saddleback of a curve, covered in trees.



Partially the "same but different" and partially something that connects with me at a more primal level, a place that is special for me.

My friend Peter Vanderwarker uses a painting by Thomas Cole made almost 200 hundreds years ago to reference a place called Crawford Notch in NH and wrestles with how to convey meaning, emotional weight and wonder in the present with his chosen medium, which just happens to be photography. 

This is clearly a special place for Peter. I wonder where yours are.

By the way Peter is certainly one of the top architectural photographers in this century or any other, for that matter. He is Boston based but works all over. His site is here. He also is the co-author (with Robert Campbell) of the "Then and Now"series of pictures of Boston published over many years in the Boston Globe that look back at a scene in the city shot in the 19th or early 20th centuries compared  with the same place in the present.

                                                       • • •

Is the blog back for real now? Well, I am close to two weeks out from hip replacement surgery and each day is better than the one preceding it. I leave the house now and am in physical therapy. Life is good. We will see.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Mountain Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted November 16, 2015

Blog Back?

Is the blog back? Well, not really. I am back home from the hospital and working my way up to things like walking and sleeping through the night and trying to be be drug free after hip replacement surgery last week. Baby steps. But I  am walking and climbing stairs with crutches and was on them the day after surgery.

One's world shrinks very fast when body parts are replaced with titanium and polyethylene but I thought I'd share this:

which is the view out my window that sits right in front of my desk where my computer is and where I've written most of the posts over the past three years or so.

Nature's display in Cambridge, MA, where I live, is completely glorious in early November. I am a beneficiary and so pleased to be here to appreciate it.

Topics: Commentary,Northeast,Digital

Permalink | Posted November 10, 2015

Blog on Break

The blog will be on hiatus for a few weeks as I go in for hip replacement surgery in a couple of days. I look forward to being back on line and writing about my experiences with photography, making art and life itself, soon.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted November 4, 2015