A little hypothetical question: Imagine for a few minutes that you've found the absolute perfect camera for you, and you like everything about it. (I know. But I said "imagine.") Now imagine that the color rendition is perfect, the lens has just the right focal length, the camera is perfectly sharp into the corners and at all apertures. Dynamic range, responsiveness...everything is unimprovable. You have no more technical problems or limitations at all. (I said imagine. Stop arguing with me!)
Here's the really tough question to ask yourself: what then?
That, I think, really is the key question for photographers. After the equipment, technique, and skills are all nailed down, what next? What do you do then?
Well, there are lots of ideas in the world. And when I say "ideas" I mean ideas for projects, the framework that helps you focus an accomplishment, the underpinning for what lets you shoot and helps you edit.
Here's one idea: The National Park Service this month launched The 2013 National Historic Landmark Photo Contest. There are only 2,500 of them, give or take, in the whole country. (I mean there are only 2,500 National Historic Landmarks, of course. There are lots more than 2,500 photo contests in the whole country.) National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin include the Little White Schoolhouse where the Republican Party was founded, conservationist Aldo Leopold's shack and farm, Frank Lloyd Wright's first "Usonian" home, and "Ten Chimneys," the parklike compound that was the summer retreat of thespians extraordinaire Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. There are only 45 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, in all. It seems to me the low number is an advantage, because it makes it plausible that a single photographer could visit all of them. Here's where you can find a list of National Historic Landmarks in your state.
As I write "your state," it occurs to me to mention that this particular contest is only for those in, or visiting, the U.S. of A. Of course, there are old places elsewhere, too. Or so I hear.
• • •
I have a friend named Jack who claims there is no Spring in Wisconsin. Ha! Wrong. There is a Spring here, and it was yesterday. True, it's been in the 20s as recently as a week ago. True, we had five inches of rain in as many days, causing a flood warning to be issued for the basement of TOP World Headquarters. Luckily, however, the local river, the Fox, did not overflow, except in some places.
But yesterday...yesterday made up for all that. It was the first warm* day of the season. The temperature got all the way into the 60s for the first time this year, and it was beautifully sunny almost all day long. (It did cloud up in the afternoon.)
You've never seen so many Badgers come out of their holes. There were Wisconsinites all over the place. Every block in my town seemed to have three dog-walkers, three joggers, three cyclists, three people working in their open garages, and one person hauling soggy treasure-turned-trash from their flooded basement to curbside for trash pickup.
So yesterday—I was one of the dog-walkers—I stopped to talk to a fellow named Dan who lives in a stone house. He was working in his open garage. Turns out the house was built in 1847. The stone came from a quarry that used to be where the local college's football field is now. The house was fancy in its day, originally the home of a State Governor, no less. Despite being made of stone, the architectural style is clearly Greek Revival. Dan said it's the seventh-oldest surviving building in Waukesha. That's plenty old for around here, too—1847 was only one year after the city was first incorporated as a village, and only 13 years after white European settlers first arrived in the area and decided, for some unknown reason, to stick around.
I didn't take a picture of it, but I mean to. (Pictures I mean to take are a project of mine, a very big one.)
Unfortunately, I'll have to wait till Summer—it's rainy and cold again here today. Spring, apparently, is over.
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Featured Comments from:
Steven Ralser: "Here in Madison, it was also our only Spring day this year, and, of course, I had to work; whereas today I don't."
Jack: "Mike, Spring is more than a single day when the temperature goes above 40 degrees. In particular, it is when leaves are out on trees. Are the leaves out on the trees yet? Trees know when it is unlikely they will have leaf covered branches broken by a late snow fall. Tell me when the leaves are out, and as I recall they emerge so late and so fast, it swings from winter to summer without a spring. The physical term is sublimation. Your friend Jack, who is in Arizona until May 45th [sic]."
Mike replies: It's true, the trees are not yet fooled. But we've just had a second warmish day today; we're all delerious with joy.
Of all my Springs in Wisconsin—11 when I was young, culminating when I left for college, and 13 since 2000—this has been the worst. Whether that's because the weather is bad or because I'm getting old, I'm not entirely certain.
Crabby Umbo: "This 'toughest question' falls under my talk when I'm asked to lecture at a college or school about photography. I warn people that 'weaponizing' photography into a career maybe the thing that kills it for you; and I always recommend that people do it as a hobby or artistic discipline and try to accomplish it with as little equipment as possible. We 'pros' always laughed at the 'Leica Als' of the world, doctors, lawyers, etc. that hung around the camera shops on the weekend with more equipment than any pro I ever knew, taking pictures of their dog or nudes of their mistresses.
"Even far before our recent canonization of Vivian Maier, I told people they could spend the rest of their lives exploring one camera, one lens; and always told people to get a Yashica or Minolta Twin-lens, a tripod, a light meter, a cache of 120 black-and-white roll film, a single 120 reel processing tank, and an old B22 enlarger (now, probably just a scanner!). I've met more photo artists that ascribe to this, and I can't tell you how fascinated I am by their work. If I didn't have to make a meager living in professional photography, I'd never shoot digital again, and I'd sell everything but my RB and a few lenses, and a few strobe heads, in fact, I'd spend a year and see if I could do everything I need to do without additional lighting at all!"