Say Hello to my Little Friend

Say Hello to my Little Friend

No really, check her out.

After finally deciding that I wanted to get back in to photography, and the ensuing disaster that was my Yashica Electro 35 GSN, I decided to look deeper into what sort of camera would be best for me. I decided I wanted something largely manual so I can still shoot in our -40 Northland Winters, I wanted something built like a tank so I could carry it daily without fear, I wanted something relatively compact and simple but that would give me options if I want to do more of different types of work (like getting back into macro work or doing some studio work again) in the future. Essentially, I’ve given up on the idea of a rangefinder for right now, and I ended up buying this:

I had narrowed down my selection to the Olympus OM-1 (an absolutely gorgeous camera but typically just outside my price range); the Pentax K-1000 (an excellent camera but I didn’t like the fact that the light meter constantly runs, apparently, and you need to keep a lenscap on it to prevent that if you want to keep a battery in it); or the Minolta SRT-101 (yes I know I ended up getting a 102 instead of a 101). I actually find the SRT Minoltas a bit ugly. The prism reminds me of that hairstyle that’s really popular with women right now that almost looks a bit like a pompadour, where women pull just a few inches of their hair back right along the very top of their head and leave the rest loose. It’s not flattering. However, I’ve heard almost exclusively good things about them aside from the fact that you shouldn’t turn the dials too fast or it can unseat the silk threads that are used in their mechanism. Moreover, and perhaps one of the biggest influences on my decision, I thought it was appropriately sentimental to buy a Minolta since that’s what I first started shooting with so many years ago, and that Maxuum of my Mother’s, despite how incredibly loud it was, remained my favorite camera throughout my time in college.

So here we are. I went out on a limb and won an auction that, while affordable, gave very little information about the camera itself. I lucked out though. I couldn’t be happier. While it seems it hasn’t been shot in a while (I cleaned a fair amount of dust and grime off the top), it seems whoever owned it before actually cared about it. They already replaced the most important light seal at the hinge of the film compartment, it has a working battery and seemingly accurate light meter (I checked it against a light meter app on my phone for what that’s worth…though a big part of the reason I’m going manual is to learn & practice with Sunny 16 so the light meter isn’t super important anyway, but nice to have), it came with a lens cap and the original neck strap (neither of which were mentioned in the auction, so that was a nice surprise), and even had a roll of film in at already (which I didn’t realize at first & wasted a bunch of exposures of while testing the camera).

By golly does that shutter sound silky. Oh I’m sure it’s nothing compared to a Leica but compared to my old cameras it’s a totally different experience. Even the 5D Mark II I used to have sounded clunky in comparison. I love hearing it. It makes me want to go out and shoot.

Now she needs a name, guys! I think I need to get to know her better first to come up with a fitting one.

Charcoal Photo Study

Charcoal Photo Study

So I’ve been wanting to do more photo and life studies lately in order to improve, and decided to try drawing my good friend and language partner. Partially because he was teasing me about it, and partially because he’s a very striking individual. His lips are slightly asymetrical which I thought would be a good challenge, and it was, in fact it was very difficult. I haven’t decided whether to show him yet.  I had high hopes for this drawing. The thing is, I’ve screwed up with something. I can’t put my finger on it, I only see it in the scan and not the actual drawing, but it turned out very disappointing. Something is definitely wrong. I think perhaps his eyes are too large and too far apart, and his lips are slightly off center. I would appreciate any feedback on where I can improve. I kind of question why I used charcoal for this. I’ve really come to love charcoal and simply wanted to work with it, but I know next to nothing about charcoal technique and usually when I see people using charcoal it’s a much looser, rougher look which I honestly love but just wasn’t what I was going for here. I think I blended it down too much. Maybe graphite would have been better. Maybe not. I have no idea. All I know is I need to get back into drawing every day and do more studies.

Pentalic charcoal pencils, Artist’s Loft compressed charcoal, Strathmore toned gray paper.

Sketching With Charcoal Sticks

Sketching With Charcoal Sticks

I’ve finally gotten to the point with my Arabic studies that I can actually do other things while I’m talking in Arabic instead of just focusing on trying to speak, so I’m trying to double my long conversations with my language partner as sketch time. Today’s adventure was brought to you by the letter W (for Waterfall), and my husband’s nice Aunt Tina who sent me this spiffy sketchbook which gives a simple drawing prompt every day. This was my first time really using compressed charcoal sticks and I had a blast. They really force you to draw from your shoulder. I kind of butchered the trees, and I need to work on my values, but it was a fun experience. I’m looking forward to doing more work with charcoal & Conte sticks.  I used a reference photo for this but I wouldn’t consider it a photo study, I wasn’t sticking to it very closely.  I mostly just needed to see water, because it’s not something I draw a lot.  I feel as though soft, time-lapse  water like in this photo might be a little easier to draw than rough water.  I’m curious to try a raging river at some point.

Also, Life with Cats:

The Sad Legacy of My Yashica Electro 35

The Sad Legacy of My Yashica Electro 35

As I mentioned in my  first post on this subject, where I talked about why I stopped shooting, I’ve been wanting to get back into photography. Specifically, I want to shoot film again. Right now film seems to be having a bit of a renaissance, and I’m happy to say there are a lot of resources out there now for affordable film & processing.

I wanted something simple. I wanted to get back to basics, to really learn how to be a good photographer. A “real” photographer, in my mind.  (Not trying to dig at digital photographers, more just at myself and how I’ve always felt like a sham because I never felt particularly good or knowledgable in photography.)  I wanted to adopt the Lomography principles of have fun & shoot everything. I wanted to carry my camera with me everywhere like my first teacher at the Academy told us all to. (That was a running joke in many photo classes- the teacher would want to demonstrate something and asked if anyone had their camera with them. Of course, no one did. We’re photography students, why would we carry a camera?)

Because of all this, I decided I wanted I wanted to try a rangefinder.  I had never really shot much with a rangefinder before despite owning an old Fed-2 (the Soviet Leica) during college, and you often hear that shooting a rangefinder makes you a better photographer. I did research to find an affordable, good old rangefinder thinking it would be the best way to “get back to basics”, and settled on the Yashica Electro 35 GSN. (It didn’t occur to me at the time that it would be unusable in the -40 Northland Winter.)

Now the Electro has some issues. The lens and lightmeter are most excellent but there’s a little bit of foam inside of it that plays a role in the shutter and typically needs to be replaced due to it becoming a gooey mess over the past 40 years. (Enthusiasts will know this as the infamous “Pad of Death”.) I knew this before I bought it, I knew it was a slightly intimidating job, but I found instructions on replacing it myself and decided it would be an adventure. I went into this expecting to also replace the light seals, & clean the viewfinder glass from the inside.

I bought a beautiful specimen for a steal that looked near mint. I popped in The Yashica Guy’s battery adapter and it fired right up. I set about buying my supplies to get it all up to date and ready to be my little buddy for the next few years. I was so excited to shoot it I got to work as soon as possible and decided to replace the POD first. That’s when things started to go wrong.


Replacing the pad itself went fine but when I went to reinstall the film advance lever to test it out, the lever went flying off.  Turned out I managed to break the screw off inside the camera- and this wasn’t any old random screw, it was a proprietary thing built on to a little cover top-cap-thing that needed a special tool just to remove.

Since we had recently moved I had no idea where most of our tools were, so it took me a good week to find our drill  & charger & a screw that would fit in its place.  We drilled through the cap thing & used a 2.5mm machine screw that we had to cut because they didn’t have any short enough and it actually turned out really well.  Ok, so if that was the worst thing to happen, but I fixed it I would be pretty happy and pretty darn proud of myself.  The lever was working again, I popped the battery back in and…


Remember it was working before.  I genuinely have no idea what I did.  The battery compartment was completely free of corrosion, the battery was fresh, I tested it with a multimeter.  Additionally, even though the shutter was working, the release was both squishy and sticky.  Back in I go.

I determined the rubber I used for the pad was too soft, hence the squishiness, and the old foam had rubbed off on the rod it depresses which I did not see when I was cleaning it, hence the stickiness.  So I removed the new pad, cleaned it again, and replaced it yet again with another new pad of harder rubber.  Then I looked at the wiring, trying to determine why it was no longer receiving power.  The wire connecting the negative battery terminal to the circuit board next to the battery test switch was very badly corroded along its length and literally hanging on by a thread, so I removed it, learned how to solder, and attempted to replace the wire.  Put the camera back together.

Still nothing.  And now, the shutter isn’t firing…or rather, it fires about once in 10 times of pressing the release.

Now I’m not even back to Square One because at least at Square One the camera was working.  I sure regret messing with it.  I’ve taken the bottom off too and examined all the other wires, examined the circuit boards.  I’m inclined to believe my soldering just isn’t good enough, and that’s the reason it’s still not getting power, but multiple people more experienced than I have confirmed that the fact it’s not receiving power would not prevent the shutter from firing- the shutter of the Electro will still fire without power, just only at 1/500.  I feel my first priority then, is figuring out what happened (or more likely, what I did) to the shutter while replacing the POD for the second time.  The trouble is, it could be a wiring issue inside the lens and that’s a much bigger job than I’m capable of taking on.

That’s where it stands right now.  Despite research, I can’t pinpoint the problem exactly, so I’m not entirely sure how to proceed short of taking the lens off and opening it up from the front so I can examine more of the shutter mechanisms, which kind of fills me with dread.  I know “if all else fails, there’s Mark Hama”, but I emailed him to see if I could get a rough estimate of repairing this + a CLA and I haven’t heard back.  So…if I want to get back into photography, I’m thinking of just buying a different, preferably functional camera, one that I won’t be poking around the insides of and potentially killing, and then continue to work on my Yashica on the side as I have the time and energy.  If I ever fix it, you can bet I’ll post about it.

Why I Gave Up Photography

Why I Gave Up Photography

I attended Art School, as I may or may not have mentioned before. I wanted to be an artist, but at the time didn’t think I could draw. (I now know better, but that’s another story.) My Mother had been a photography enthusiast and I developed an interest in photography in my teens, appropriating her camera- A Minolta Maxxum 3xi- in the process. My cousin and I decided to take a photography class at the local college just for fun, which succeeded in ruining my interest in photography for the next three or four years thanks to a decidedly unpleasant teacher and frankly, the simple fact that I was an immature teenager who didn’t really take the class seriously. It was mostly just an excuse to hang out with my cousin, because I was lonely.

When I graduated High School I had already decided to attend Art School, but I was pursuing a screenwriting major due to my penchant for writing during High School. My first semester at college I didn’t have a single writing class and I ended up hating most of my film classes. The one class I enjoyed was photo storyboarding. I bought an SLR for that class, I don’t remember it that well but I know it was a Canon EOS model of some sort. It was big & heavy & fancy and I had fun running around shooting literally everything and just playing with my exposures, but I didn’t like the camera that much and eventually I sold it and once again appropriated my Mother’s Minolta.

I ended up changing my major to photography on a whim (mistake no. 1) because I was frustrated with my screenwriting major and was enjoying photography tremendously. I was not a good photographer, but I didn’t really care. My first photography class was great fun, I had one of the best teachers I ever had in my time at the Academy and spent hours in the darkroom, which was my favorite place to be at the time. Maybe if I had been able to continue shooting film, I would never have lost interest in photography. Who knows. What happened though was I joined the photography department right as they were transitioning to digital and phasing out their film classes & resources. So I bought a digital camera. It was ok. I didn’t like it as much as the Minolta but I didn’t hate it at the time. I took all the film classes I could, even a large-format class which was a fantastic experience, but film was soon out of my budget, darkroom supplies got more expensive and hard to find, and it made less sense to shoot film for my classes. Then I got married.

Between developing burnout, not enjoying digital as much, and being distracted by being newly married, I started phoning it in. I just did the minimum to get by. I was finding I hated studio work, which was mostly what my classes were focusing on. I had a series of teachers who weren’t the most effective and classes that were tedious. We moved out of San Francisco and my classes went online. I accepted that my already limited film days were gone for good and the realization was discouraging. People started becoming more vocal about what they thought I should do with my photography in order to make money, and with graduation fast approaching I became anxious over the subject as well. I had no training in commercial photography and started grasping (very ineffectively) at straws. I finally put some effort again into my graduation portfolio, but it felt too little too late. After graduating I felt as though I had no idea what to do, had no real skill as a photographer, and frankly didn’t care whether I picked up a camera ever again. In fact, the whole time I as in art school I had felt like a phoney. I wasn’t an artist and didn’t even consider myself a photographer. I regretted my life decisions (even moreso thanks to student debt) and ended up selling all of my photography equipment in order to move cross-country.

That was two years ago. Now in the past few months, something interesting happened.

I want to shoot again.

A Free Egyptian Arabic Course From The Government (No Joke!)

A Free Egyptian Arabic Course From The Government (No Joke!)

FSI course pic


Did you know that the government teaches people languages? Of course you did, I’m just behind the times as usual and only found that out recently. When a diplomat gets sent off to a foreign country, the government isn’t going to trust just any run of the mill language course designed for us mere mortals. Pish posh! Nay, they must design their own unique course to ensure the diplomat’s success in his or her or its or their language learning journey.

Why do I bring this up? Because these government institutions- Foreign Service Institute & Defense Language Institue – have new courses now and have released the old courses to the general public for free.

They have quite a decent amount of languages, including Arabic, but somewhat surprisingly they don’t only have Modern Standard Arabic, they actually have some spoken dialect courses as well, including Egyptian.

The courses are quite old, I think roughly from the 70s, so some of the language is a bit more formal than what is used today and especially more than what you would likely be using with friends. Honestly if your interest is MSA I would be venture to say there are likely way better options out there. However, for someone learning a spoken dialect the options are few and this can be a worthwhile addition to your resources.

The material is pretty boring and repetitive, but the focus seems to be more on speaking and common phrases than any overwhelming grammar studies, at least as far as I’ve gotten, and this is quite useful given that Egyptian is 39% idiomatic. You’re going to want to learn a lot of phrases. There’s lots of drills to get you speaking and exercises to help your listening. (For people who want grammar studies, there’s always All The Arabic You Never Learned The First Time Around, which is actually quite approachable and useful.)

You can find the courses available for download on the Yozhik Website.  They have both PDFs of the books & mp3s of the audio.

You can find the Egyptian Dialect course specifically here.

You can also watch this video review by LangFocus to get a better idea of what you’re in for and how useful they are.

If you’re looking for more good Egyptian Arabic resources, Glossika offers Egyptian Arabic now and is very useful.

On Comfort Zones & Time Management

On Comfort Zones & Time Management

Over the past few days I’ve taken huge leaps out of my comfort zone.  I’ve started talking with a language exchange partner as well as a tutor from iTalki over Skype, and I had an interview for a job that I never would have considered applying for just a year ago.

It may not sound like much to some people, but being incredibly awkward and introverted with zero self esteem, talking with people is an excruciating experience for me, even more so when I’m trying to bring myself to utter words in a new language.

My language exchange partner, Magdy, is the first person I’ve ever tried to say a single word of any other language to.  Though, I’m somewhat disappointed in myself, as here I had been following Fluent in 3 Months so diligently and prepared a bunch of phrases and relevant words to try to piece together my first conversation, and I could barely bring myself to say a single one.  Every day I work up the courage to say a little more though, and Magdy is always very encouraging.  My tutor, too, is lovely in that she is incredibly encouraging and helpful, and does a very good job of explaining things, I just wish I could afford more frequent lessons with her.  Even though I haven’t been speaking much the conversations are exhausting, both from being so far out of my comfort zone and from being so intensely focused.  That said, I look forward to them, and it’s really interesting and fun trying to explain things about my own language and culture that I take for granted.

The downside of all of this is that I am finding it extremely difficult to balance my art and Arabic studies.  I really need to learn time management, but even so, if I am able to focus I tend to delve into one subject all day long to the exclusion of everything else, which makes it very difficult to divide my time, particularly on work days when I have so little of it.

When I was in college it was easier because my assignments were weekly, and I didn’t care whether I worked on them every day.  But now, I have daily goals and want to work on both my Arabic and art every day.

I’ve been considering moving my Arabic to an every-other-day basis so I can focus more on drawing again, because often even if I make an effort to stop for now so I can work on something else I tell myself “I’ll stop when I finish this thing” but then that one thing will take another three hours.

Like everything else, I suppose it will just take practice to learn to balance my studies.