Big giant head

In Other News

Zoe's putting a serious dent in the bug population of our back yard. The roly-poly population, specifically.

I don't know what they're really called. They're the bugs that curl up into a ball when you touch them. I'd always heard them called pill bugs, but Zoe calls them roly-polys, so roly-polys they are.

Every afternoon lately she wants to go look for roly-polys. She catches them and saves them in her hand until she has a handful of bugs. Once she's got five or ten or so, then it's time to play with them.

She starts out by letting them crawl out of her hand and up her arm, then puts them back into her clammy fist. She's gentle enough with them, but bugs weren't built for that kind of manhandling. Quite a few of them don't make it.

Once she's culled the herd, so to speak, then it's time for the next level of play. She puts them on tree trunks or on the jacuzzi deck or into a flower pot. Again, she's none too gentle with them. Again, some don't make it. Those few that do only get a precious few moments of freedom before she snatches them back up again.

Today, she took the play to a new level of bug terror: baths in the dogs' water dish. Roly-polys don't float. And they can't swim, apparently. She'd put them in the water and they'd sink straight to the bottom, where they stayed until she took them out again ... if she didn't get distracted with another victim.

After the dunking, it only got worse. If they didn't open after the bath voluntarily, she'd try to pry them open. If they didn't close -- or crawl -- she'd try to close them. Soon enough, none of them opened or closed or crawled.

Though she'd proclaimed these bugs her "best friends," she wasn't too upset when she'd killed them all. There's a whole back yard of roly-polys for her out there. She knows she can get more.

There's really no other way to end this story than to say:

"With friends like that..."


Wednesday -- July 14, 1999
Bad Influences

Years ago, in a former life, I used to be heavily into photography.

I moved out on my own at 17 and got a job as a clean-up guy at a rental darkroom called "The Focal Point." I knew nothing about photography at that point, but I knew from paychecks, and since they were willing to give me one, I was willing to work there. I mopped the floors and replenished the chemicals and washed out the sinks and got paid. And along the way I started learning how to develop prints.

I kind of liked it. I liked shining light on a blank sheet of paper, then watching images appear when I dunked it. I liked how cropping the print made the entire image change. I liked moving the print from developer to stop bath to fixer and making, from a little piece of plastic, something you could hang on the wall.

I learned how to develop film and liked doing that, too. I especially liked loading the film onto the developing reel. You had to do it in pitch black darkness, entirely by touch. It was a learned skill and something not everyone could get the hang of. It took me a long time to get it right, and then one day something just clicked and I could do it perfectly. I used to love sitting in the dark, loading reel after reel of film. Weird, I know.

I worked there for about two years, started taking photography classes (employee discount = free), got my own Nikkormat, and started shooting pictures of everything. Hundreds of rolls over the years, probably. I was never very good, but I loved doing it anyway.

Then college beckoned, and writing, and booze and women and never enough money. At some point I either sold or traded my camera and lenses away, probably for rent money or beer. (I have a vague memory of trading something to a frat brother for a vacuum cleaner -- but that may have been my Technics turntable. Dumb trade, either way. What, me? Vaccum?) I tossed all my slides and most of my negatives and prints. All that's left now is seven or eight sheets of negs and a pile of really bad prints from early in my "career."

I forgot about photography. One day it was in my blood, the next it wasn't.

Then I met Steve. Mr. Photography. Reading through his talk about photography in his archives before I actually met him, I started remembering my own experiences -- you might call it photographic memories. I started feeling the itch again. Along about this time I stumbled across The Sole Proprietor's Journal, admired his photographic talents, and the itch intensified.

Then, on our first Mojave trip, Steve let me touch his camera. Ooh. Sense memory. It felt good in my hands, it felt like old times. I started remembering the joys of the darkroom, longing for them. It tipped me over.

When we got back, I tore my garage apart looking for my old camera bag (which is when I remembered the camera and lenses were gone ... somewhere). I started playing with Beth's full-auto no-brainer Nikon and got terribly frustrated with it because it itself was a no-brainer and sometimes just wouldn't trip the shutter for reasons I still don't understand. I learned on a manual with needles and a meter that made sense, one that took pictures when I wanted it to. I don't know from this full-auto stuff.

I started haunting the Nikkormat auctions on eBay. I priced enlargers and pondered how to convince Beth our guest bathroom would really be better as a darkroom. Finally, I took the plunge and bought a Nikon FE, then picked up some lenses to go on it -- a 28, a 75-200 zoom, a 200. The last of them just came in the mail today. It's a weird package, I know, but these are all lenses I couldn't afford the first time around. I'll get around to a 50 and maybe a 35-70 zoom later. The point is, I've got my toys back.

So now I'm shooting like a madman. One roll of artsy backyard stuff a few days ago, another roll of Zoe hunting roly-polys in the backyard yesterday, two rolls of her swimming lesson today. Just color so far because I'm still working on Beth about that darkroom idea, but a lot of it anyway. I think maybe I'll argue the financial angle: "Look how much we'll save if I develop my own stuff!"

The fact that most of what I've shot so far is crap should help: "I can't let him keep spending money for processing if that's what we're paying for." What I really want to do is black and white. Everything looks better in black and white, even my stuff.

This is just the first baby steps of the obsession. It won't be full-fledged until I've dipped my hands in developer and have matte board scattered around the house. I can't wait.

I blame Steve and the Sole Prop. They're bad influences.


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Copyright © 1999
Chuck Atkins