Readers’ Requests… and a Trip to Newfoundland!

Dear Readers:

I have enjoyed your comments over the last year, and your encouragement has helped me to keep writing.  Each month, I have come up with ideas for posts based on my own technical questions, topics that are not addressed in a coherent manner on the Internet, the images that come my way, and my own quirky photographic adventures.

Now I’d like to hear from you about topics you’d like to see – it’s your turn to drive the ship!

I will be vacationing in rural Newfoundland August 3-18, 2010, and largely out of touch (except when I manage to park our RV outside a little local library that may have Wi-Fi).  I hope to come back with many wonderful images to share with you.  It will be a trip long awaited;  Janie’s family comes from the Gooseberry Islands, a remote island outport now long abandoned,

Newfoundland Fishing Village (from

and her grandfather was a Newfoundland doryman jigging for cod in his sou’wester in the 1920s.  We are in Montreal with our cousins, Uncle Tobe has been paired with “…was she Aunt Susan or Susanna…?”, the genealogical charts cover the kitchen table, and the family has been traced back to William Parsons from Dorset in 1768.  We’re set for an adventure!

When I get back, there will be more images to see , plus the occasional adventure and musing on the creative process.  In addition to my Montreal and Newfoundland adventures, I am planning a large section on shutters, both pneumatic and spring-driven, the completion of the restoration and history of the 3A Ansco (which I’ll be polishing on the kitchen table of our Newfie cousins) , and a posting on a fascinating Mexican photographer and inventor.

But this is your turn – see how many ideas you can come up with while I’m gone!

Montreal, Quebec

July 22, 2010


What do a 1920 Newfoundland dory and the engine on the Wright brother’s airplane have in common?

Hint: Google “Make-and-Break Engine.”

Coaker (Collected by MacEdward Leach)
See also: The Six Horse-Power Coaker (Arthur R. Scammell)

Ye fishermen free that go forth on the sea,
With engines of various makes;
This old jump-spark of mine I will take every time,
You can keep all your new makes-and-breaks.

She was easy on fuel but she kicked like a mule,
And the screws on the bedding were slack;
And we all swore that she’d rise from the floor,
And we feared that she’d never come back.

One evening last fall we went out to our trawl,
It looked like ’twas going to blow;
We turned to go in in the teeth of the wind,
With a three-handed dory in tow.

Tom hove up the wheel and he cursed a great deal,
He cranked till he found of his heart;
He tested the oil and examined the coil,
But the devil of it would she start.

‘Twas coming on night, with the seas feather white,
When up to us rowed a small skiff;
And a bedlamer boy with a cast in his eye,
Kindly offered to give us a lift.

The kid stepped on board with the air of a lord,
His movements unhurried and slow;
He noted the string and the window blind spring,
But he got the old Coaker to go.

Go, go, he makes that thing go,
How he does it I’m sure I don’t know;
We can race with the Clyde and keep her alongside,
When he coaxes that Coaker to go.

So we shipped on the kid, and I’m sure glad we did,
Now it’s seldom we ask for a tow;
He gets a full share which I think only fair,
For coaxing the Coaker to go.

Go, go, he makes that thing go,
How he does it I’m sure I don’t know;
We can race with the Clyde and keep her alongside,
When he coaxes that Coaker to go.

Emmons Make-and-Break Engine

Variant of The Six Horse-Power Coaker by Arthur R. Scammell (1940)

This variant sung by Eddy Primroy [1928-1999] of Pouch Cove, and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive.

Originally published as The Six Horse-Power Coaker in Gerald S. Doyle’s Old-Time Songs and Poetry Of Newfoundland: Songs Of The People From The Days Of Our Forefathers (Second edition, p.74, 1940).

From the Dictionary Of Newfoundland English:
Bedlamer boy — a youth approaching manhood; applied rather contemptuously to young fellows between 16 and 20; derived from the French bête de la mer (beast of the sea) used to describe a half-grown seal.
Coaker — a gasoline-fueled engine used in fishing boats ca.1920, and named for Sir William Coaker, founder of the Fishermen’s Protective Union (FPU) in Newfoundland.

Thanks to Rolf Hicker for the use of his image.  May I suggest that you visit his gallery of Newfoundland images at

On Running After One’s Hat

I must admit it: I stole this title from G. K. Chesterton.  Back when people read (and wrote) essays for pleasure, G.K. penned several famous pages on looking on the bright side of life’s vicissitudes.  Most particularly, he came up with the famous and frequently-quoted aphorism “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.”  However, what was true for G.K. Chesterton about losing his headgear is just as true for photographers – if you stop planning, keep your shutter cocked, and just let things happen, opportunities for true creativity may fall into your lap when you least expect them.

Attending a course last week near Baltimore, I snatched a few hours to drive out into the rolling eastern Pennsylvania Dutch country near York and Lancaster.  I planned for this cherished side trip, packing my 1914 No.1 Kodak and my entire Baby Graphic kit, along with multiple rolls of film.  As my little rented Nissan purred along roads that crested hills of newly-plowed fields and meandered through valleys filled with cherry blossoms and the

The Silo's Shadow, York, Pennsylvania

verdant foliage of early spring, wonderful old barns and quaint farmhouses seemed to appear around every corner.  I had time to taken several rolls with the Kodak, with which I have learned to work quickly. However, I had little time to set up the Graphic and go though the routine of choosing lenses, getting out the dark cloth, composing on the ground glass, and changing out the film holders.  With the exception of a few frames, it sat in the trunk, and I began to wonder why I had packed it.

Returning homeward that evening, I boarded my little commuter jet to Chicago, only to sit on the tarmac for a cramped and frustrating hour while thunderstorms pounded O’Hare, hopelessly snarling air traffic.  Arriving in Chicago, I discovered that my flight to Seattle had departed, and I, like hundreds of other travelers, was stranded in Chicago until the following evening.  After I had untangled my airline reservations, I headed for baggage claim, only to discover that my luggage was safely locked away from prying eyes and greedy fingers – including my own!  My survival kit for the night consisted of my Baby Graphic, my computer bag, and two novels.  Fortunately, I had thought to pack with me my cell phone charger, my razor, and the essential medicines that keep my aging frame in some kind of balance.

After a night’s sleep and an indifferent dinner at the hotel on the $59 Distressed Traveler Special, I headed back to the airport to check in early, musing as I gazed out the window of the shuttle bus on the general drabness of the Chicago suburban landscape.  It was at that point that I realized that my tripod and Kodak were in my luggage, and that I was stuck with a camera with ground glass focusing and no tripod.  Abandoning my hopes of getting more pictures, I decided to at least get a walk around Chicago’s downtown Loop, and was soon rattling along on the train past miles of old brick buildings and warehouses.  Arriving at the underground station, rusty steel pillars and water stained concrete on the tunnel walls brought back memories of interminable Chicago winters during medical school, and of our longing for the mountains and oceans our West Coast home.

As I walked up Michigan Avenue and over the Chicago River, my spirits lifted somewhat in the sunshine, and I rounded a corner to find the center of Michigan Avenue a riot of color, as huge concrete planters of multicolored tulips marched up the street toward Water Tower Place.  Not only multicolored – there were large tulips, small tulips, single tulips, double tulips, tulips with three stems – and I didn’t have a tripod!

Tulips, Water Tower Place

I decided to at least try bracing myself on the concrete planter lip for a couple of frames, but I did not have much hope of taking home much that was usable.  Focusing on the ground glass, I checked my Kalart rangefinder and found that it was right on – all my careful restoration work calibrating the infinity stops was paying off, at least.

It was then that two things happened, and I began to clamber out of my mental rut of planning photography.  First, I remembered that the Baby Graphic is a press camera, and that it was designed to be used hand-held, with a body-mounted shutter release, and a wire frame viewfinder adjustable for parallax.  Then, I really began to look at my tulips, noting how the flower heads bobbed and swayed in the draft as taxis and buses tore by, and my left brain began to translate that into artistic swirls and blurs on the film.

Soon I was bracing my leg on the rim of the planter, and hardly letting myself breathe as I shot frames of the sunlit flowers at slower and slower shutter speeds to show the motion of the swaying flowers. Soon I was making multiple exposures, stacking translucent images of dancing flowers one upon the next.

After several rolls of film, I caught a cab to the north side, wandering through working-class neighborhoods with old brownstones and auto repair shops housed in cavernous old brick buildings as I soaked up the feel of the city.  When it was time to leave, I found myself once more clattering south toward the Loop.  Arriving at the Lake Street Station, the car door opened to admit the sound of a spirited R&B number from a tall, skinny busker in a leather vest and cap.  A five dollar bill in his guitar case brought forth a quick smile, and I unpacked my camera.  As trains rumbled in and out, disgorging their passengers, I was struck by the manner in which most of the travelers bustled along the platform, intent on their destinations and completely oblivious to the energy of his music.  Suddenly, I was glad for my camera and the way it had forced me to stop and take notice.  I shot several frames, and then had to hurriedly close the Graphic and run for my train to the airport.

A week later, I picked up my film at the post office, and hurried home to view the scanned images.  Of the scenes of the busker, my favorite captured the tension  between the music and a preoccupied commuter striding along the platform against the blurred image of the moving train.

The Busker and the Commuter

My Chicago transit pass is pinned up in my office as a memento of a perfect day.  I can’t wait till I miss my next flight.


Chesterton, G.K. On Running After One’s Hat and Other Whimsies.  R. McBride and Company, 1933.

Note: This story appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Canadian Camera magazine

The Image I Won’t Show

As a photographer, I shoot anything that moves.  Or doesn’t move.  Or might move onto a page in someone’s magazine.

But sometimes you have to be careful about what you shoot and show.  Really careful.

I recently spent a week in Miami at the 2009 Healthcare Globalization Summit.  As usual, I wandered the streets looking for images.  Returning each night to the parking lot, I was greeted by the pleasant Hispanic man in his 40s who manned the gate.  Slightly plump, with dark curly hair, a couple of days’ stubble, and a slightly rumpled T-shirt and jeans, he looked like any one of the thousands of Hispanic men who kept Miami running for the benefit of the richer and more privileged Anglos.

One night as I pulled  into the lot, he sat with his feet perched up on the desk, absorbed in his newspaper.  Illuminated by the overhead light, he looked like one of Edward Hopper’s images of night people.  On an impulse, I asked him if I could take his picture.  We struggled a bit with his fragmentary English, but eventually he got the idea, then smiled and assented.  Hurrying to my room, I loaded film into my classic Ensign 16-20 and arrived back with camera and tripod.

We began talking as best we could while I set up my equipment.  I came to understand that he was from Columbia.  Struggling to convey something to me, Eduardo (not his real name) became frustrated, pulled out a folder from beneath his paper, opened it, and laid it out for me to read.

I was surprised to have an asylum application appear before me on the first page.  Fascinated, I read on.  My anonymous Hispanic friend was a Colombian attorney from Bogota, had been active in Colombian politics, assisting in rallies aimed at attempting to free hostages held by FARC.

FARC Soldiers

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC), a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization, has been the main protagonist in the in the ongoing Colombian Civil War for more than 40 years.

Originally established in the 1960s as a people’s movement in reaction to repeated and systematic human rights abuses by the US-backed Colombian government, FARC and its nonviolent political wing FARC-EP’s tactics have degenerated over the years into kidnappings, hostage-taking and political murders.  The group became involved in the cocaine trade during the 1980s to finance itself.

Losing its popularity, FARC has faced widespread criticism throughout Columbia, expressed recently through large rallies during 2008.  Eduardo, as an attorney involved in human rights cases, became involved in the public reaction against FARC.

Soon threats ensued, and a friend and associated disappeared.  His bloodstained body was found a few days later.  Faced by escalating persecution and the very real fear of kidnapping, torture and murder, Eduardo, his wife, and their three children fled to Miami and applied for political asylum.

However, as best I could tell from Eduardo’s fractured English, they didn’t run far enough, and threatening phone calls began again after they arrived in Miami.

So that is their situation- a young family, both parents trying to make enough money to survive in a country where they do not speak the language, and dealing with death threats while they wait to see if the government will grant them asylum.  Yet Eduardo was always cheerful, friendly, and helpful, giving no sign of the way his life is going.  Could I do as well?  I’m going to remember this the next time I start to worry about my bank balance.

I did take his picture.  It’s still on the undeveloped roll in my camera.  But I won’t put it on a web site where it can be seen in Colombia.  I’ll keep it for myself and wonder when I see it how this courageous man is doing.

On Shooting Your Relatives

I love to travel, and I love to take pictures. If I can do both and get paid for it, I’m in heaven. I have spent much of the last few years working as a traveling pathologist. In 2006, I was fortunate enough to be offered an assignment in Hazard, Kentucky, the little town in Appalachia that inspired the “Dukes of Hazzard” series.

Southeastern Kentucky lives on coal; when the rest of America buys coal, the mines run 24 hours, and families eat well. When coal is out of favor, people go hungry. Poverty and hardship are part of life in the mountains. Often Appalachian towns aren’t pretty; old buildings are abandoned and crumbling, paint peels from ramshackle houses, and Wal-Mart is the premier place to shop. Yet never have I met people who have a stronger sense of their roots, their family, and their faith.

Many Appalachian towns are tiny- a collection of ten or twenty houses, a gas station and maybe a store, tucked into the bend of the river or a corner of a “Holler” between the mountains. They have names like “Viper” or “Scuddy” or “Fourseam”. Many houses are old, often representing old coal company housing, and people are obviously poor. Yet in the middle of each of these little towns is a church with fresh paint, a parking lot without a blade of grass in the asphalt, and a neatly painted sign. In a year in the mountains, I saw only one church that wasn’t impeccably kept. Most mountain people have deep religious faith, and “family values” has real meaning. Friendship and hospitality to strangers are an integral part of Appalachian culture.

The Old Blue Diamond Mine:  My Place to Watch the Sunset

The Old Blue Diamond Mine: My Place to Watch the Sunset

As a photographer, my experiences were rich in both imagery and spirit. On my time off, I would spend evenings and weekends hiking the many mining roads that crisscrossed the mountaintops near Hazard.   I would prowl abandoned processing plants, climbing ladders and catwalks and photographing cables and conveyor belts.  At the end of the day, I would sit on the mountainside on the steps of an abandoned coal processing plant, watch the sun go down, then hike down the mountain listening to the cacophony of frogs, watching the fireflies and searching for glowworms among the fallen leaves. It was there that I heard my first whippoorwill. I collected fossils, which are plentiful in coal country, and learned about Kentucky’s native plants.

The Old Blue Diamond Mine at Twilight

The Old Blue Diamond Mine at Twilight

Occasionally, I am fortunate enough to find both a memorable image and an adventure.  Shortly after arriving in Hazard, I and my camera were out one night exploring Combs, a little town that climbs up the side of a mountain to an old cemetery at the top. I paused to take a time exposure of one street that went up the mountainside between huge maples, their bare branches stark in the illumination of the streetlights. I noticed people peering out of the windows of the house next to me.

Main Street at Midnight, Combs, KY

Main Street at Midnight, Combs, KY

I could see someone making a phone call, then neighbors arrived, and soon there was a group at the widow watching me. Finishing my exposure and not wanting to alarm anyone, I went to the gate and began to explain my peculiar behavior to an elderly woman who was just leaving the house. She snapped “I don’t hold with that kind of stuff” and stomped off. I was perplexed. This wasn’t the friendly Kentucky I was used to.

The Drug Dealers' Shack

The Drug Dealers' Shack

I walked up to the top of the hill, finding an old shack beneath an enormous maple tree, illuminated by the light of a single lamp- a wonderful picture. By this time, I had acquired a pack of neighborhood dogs, who surrounding me, barking vigorously. As I was setting up my picture, a man and a woman came out of a nearby house. The woman held back, while the man approached, asking me what I was doing. I explained, showing him some of my pictures. He grunted and walked off. Once more I was puzzled, not being used to this kind of reception.

The next morning, I mentioned to the lab manager that I had been in Combs, and asked if it was safe to wander around there after dark. She replied, “Oh, you’ll be fine. People are good to strangers. They just shoot their relatives.” Then she added, “But you know, there used to be an old shack up on the top of the mountain by the cemetery, and a drug dealer used to sell his stuff out of there”. Apparently, this was where I had been taking my photographs. In my Doc Martens and Eddie Bauer vest, I clearly wasn’t a local. Obviously, I was either another dealer looking to set up shop, or a government agent. Neither was popular in that town.

I later learned that shooting your relatives is still not an uncommon way of settling family disagreements in Appalachia. Fortunately, I was not related to anyone in Combs.

Note:  This posting is an excerpt from the full article “A Pathologist in Appalachia”, published in the 2008 edition of the King County Medical Journal.  Please refer to the page “A Pathologist in Appalachia:  At Home with the Dukes of Hazzard” for the full article.