A Measured Level of Engagement

“The only time I take a picture is when tourists ask me to take one, with their camera. ( These rare works are now dispersed around the world, in private collections, mostly in Japan.)” -Geoff Dyer

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Caveat: this post is opinion-laden.

Perhaps you share a trait with Your Obedient Servant: that of spending more on oneself during the Nation Shopping Season than at any other time of the year. Perhaps “Everyone needs to get out more” applies to the holidays as well. Perhaps a big-ticket item figures in the expenditures; heck, I’ve acquired new cameras during December a coupla times, and some of you have already told me you’re aware of new Nikons in the wings (or at least wrapped and hidden in the back of closets). In any case, here are some ideas for thoughtful fellow citizen consumers.

Books are always welcome, even if not hung by the chimney with care, and there’s no better list of (mostly) monographs than at http://5b4.blogspot.com/2009/12/best-books-of-2009.html

Everyone oughta have a decent cable release. It’s like buying socks for someone, as far as I’m concerned, but not unlike socks, it’s a necessity. Certainly easier to tote about than a tripod, which everyone also oughta have. If you don’t have a tripod, you put yourself at a serious disadvantage. Look into acquiring a Leitz Tiltall. (To the clerk who snickered, repeatedly, the last time I picked up a Tiltall for school: we’re still here; where are you now?)

Holgas & Lomography: you decide. I know there is tremendous potential for making pictures of dream worlds with these tools, and although there is more variety available among models and their features than you have ever imagined (Remember the Holgaroid? It was all the rage, and I don’t mean for athletes), the prices are often ‘way out of whack. You’ll see what I’m referring to on websites such as http://www.holgablog.com/2009/04/09/the-massive-guide-to-all-holga-cameras/, and at Urban. Find the good price for the simplest of simple cameras, and grab several at a time. You can always modify them on your own; then you’d have something unique. What not to consider: gimmicky filters, gimmicky toys such as “Lensbabys.”

Everyone can always use more excellent film. Get a reasonable quantity of medium-speed stuff, like Acros 100 or FP4. No darkroom? Choose XP-2, and overexpose.

Opposite of no darkroom? Add a teaspoon of sodium carbonate to your developer to improve the blacks, or a pinch of benzotriazole to restrain highlight and/or cool out the print color. Set up a safe way to tone with selenium or gold chloride, even.

Everything I’ve mentioned here can be a nudge in the direction of making your giftee’s (or your own) pictures distinctive, unique. Check the “Resources” links, on the right side of the screen, or write back with questions. Haddy Grimble.