Bill Carter, Master Jeweller

Bill Carter, master jeweller

Wandering down the narrow, branching streets of old downtown Nanaimo will take you past the ornate stained glass of Bill and Jean Carter’s Bastion Jewellers.  Bill …”practices traditional jewellery making the old-fashioned way. He carves master models out of wax to create custom designs then hand-fabricates the piece which gives him the freedom to make exceptionally beautiful, high-quality finished jewellery. Whether it’s a favourite logo, ring design, or an art-deco reproduction of an antique item, we create custom items in gold, silver, platinum, or a new blend of platinum-silver.”

Bastion Jewellers Storefront – A work of art in itself

Yet it is Bill himself who is the gem of the shop.  I first met Bill bent over his immaculate workbench, carefully dissecting the workings of a classic mens watch.  He was kind enough to sit for me. The little Ensign 16-2 is compact, and ideal for unexpected opportunities.  I had no tripod, so braced my body as best I could, firing off two shots at 1/25 sec., slow exposures for a 75mm lens used without a tripod.  However, one exposure was almost perfect, capturing Bill at his workbench.

This image will be part of a series on craftspeople in their workplaces, and is an excellent example of the genre known as environmental portraiture.  No, this does not mean placing your subject beside a polluted river.  Rather, it refers to the concept of photographing subjects where they work or where they spend much of their time, and its techniques differ sharply from standard portraiture.  In traditional studio portraits, the background is de-emphasized, and is frequently shot out of focus by using the lens wide open and blurring any background details.

In environmental portraiture, deep depth of field throughout the images is maintained by the use of small apertures, and the subject is shown in his world, with all of his or her surroundings in sharp focus.  Consequently, both the subject and his world are given equal weight in the image; one sees the subject as a part of his world and the activities that best define him. Following this idea further, David Peterson suggests having the subject actually perform his work to lend an extra layer of reality and impact to the image.  Wonderful examples of this genre, together with excellent suggestions on camera technique, can be found on DePaul University’s “Environmental Portrait” page.

The greatest master of this genre was Arnold Newman, who posed the famous in their favorite environments:  Georgia O’Keefe against a New Mexico bluff and a bleached steer’s skull, Igor Stravinsky at his piano, Woody Allen writing in bed.

Igor Stravinsky at his Piano. Arnold Newman, 1946.

Andy grunberg notes Mr. Newman’s best-known images were in black and white, although he often photographed in color. Several of his trademark portraits were reproduced in color and in black and white. Perhaps the most famous was a sinister picture of the German industrialist Alfried Krupp, taken for Newsweek in 1963. Krupp, long-faced and bushy-browed, is made to look like Mephistopheles incarnate: smirking, his fingers clasped as he confronts the viewer against the background of a assembly line in the Ruhr. In the color version his face has a greenish cast.

Industrialist Alfried Krupp, Essen, Germany, July 6, 1963. Arnold Newman

The impression it leaves was no accident: Mr. Newman knew that Krupp had used slave labor in his factories during the Nazi reign and that he had been imprisoned after World War II for his central role in Hitler’s war machine.


“Arnold Newman.”  Wikipedia article.

DePaul University.  “Environmental Portrait.”

Getty Images.

Grundberg, Andy.  “Arnold Newman, Portrait Photographer Who Captured th Essence osf his ubjects, Dead at 88.”.

David Peterson.  “Environmental portraits.  What are they?  How are they different?”

The Arnold Newman Archive.

Breaking the Rule of Thirds: Alberta Evening

Alberta Evening

It is amazing how strongly the Rule of Thirds is wired into the human neural network.  Cropping pictures, I slide the margins this way and that, looking for unusual ways to place my subject and compose in an interesting and unusual way.  Yet in almost all cases, the subject clicks into one of those magic four points, and the image suddenly gels and gains strength.  There’s no logical reason why those points should work, but they do, and most of my pictures have the subject situated according to this classical rule of artistic composition.

So it is with great pleasure that I take a picture where I can throw away the rule of thirds, emphasizing instead the wonderful symmetry of an image like this Alberta evening panorama.  Out exploring north of Calgary, I topped a ride to find this scene laid out in front of me.  Composing the image on the ground glass of the Graphic, I noted how the horizon and the road formed a perfect cross.  The scene called to me to bring to life the symmetry of the vertical and horizontal lines, and when I placed I placed their intersection at the exact center of the picture, the image came to life.  Waiting until the shadows lengthened and the colors picked up the glow of the setting sun, I took one image on Kodak 160VC with the semi-wide angle 68mm Schneider Angulon (approximately equal to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera) followed by a record shot with the Droid X.

This is the preliminary Droid cell phone digital image.  The film image with the Crown Graphic will replace it as soon as it is ready.

Cutting Keys at Hardwick’s: A Study in Complexity

Cutting Keys at Hardwick’s

Clearly, this is not Home Depot.  Welcome to one of my favourite haunts: Hardwick’s Hardware in Seattle.  Want a reverse-bladed Japanese saw?  A fine set of wood turning tools?  Brass corners for an ornamental box?  Endless numbers of delicate wood carving tools?  Racks of pliers with smooth points, long points, duckbill jaws, round jaws? If you have specialized hardware needs, from tiny 00 brass wood screws to a fine pocket knife, Hardwick’s has it.

Any photo of Hardwick’s is a study in complexity.  Classicaly, one aims for a clean, dramatic image that highlights the subject.  This image breaks those rules; the young key cutter is almost lost in Hardwick’s clutter that fills the cases and tabletops, then climbs up the walls.  It takes some visual concentration to separate the young assistant from his surroundings.  Many would say this picture is too complicated and busy.  Obviously, I have an emotional connection to Hardwick’s, but to me that’s the point of the image: the delightful, glorious, overwhelming clutter of the place.

Taken on my favourite street photography camera, the Ensign 820 in 6×9 cm. format, masks folded back, steadied on a table top and near the maximum aperture of the f/3.5 Ross Xpres lens, using Ilford XP-2 at around 1/25 second.

Modern Note:

Two years later, I returned to Hardwick’s and took the following image as a short cell phone panorama from almost the same spot completely undetected:Hardwick'sA Fascinating Comment on Hardwick’s:

A wonderful review that I found about Hardwick’s:

“…Clueless one-star reviewers:

If you believe “the customer is always right,” you’re probably exactly the kind of self-impressionable young dewdlet who will have your ego handed to you by the staff at Hardwick’s, julienne-sliced and neatly arranged on a second-hand (but only slightly chipped) serving platter. If you charge through the doors in a flaming hurry, you might well become a bit frustrated by the fact that nobody wears a uniform smock in a friendly, primary color with a tag that lets you address them by their first name without introductions — or that, when you do find a staffer, he or she isn’t going to cut short the $0.86 transaction with the old gal who just needs a couple of picture hangers, even though you’re OBVIOUSLY tapping your foot and waiting impatiently for that batt of insulation that they don’t carry.

Look, it’s not a home center, and it’s not all about you. Once described as “a finishing school for grumpy old men,” Hardwick’s hires employees who are more like tour guides than clerks. There’s a strong chance that not only do they know what you want and where it is, but can talk you through four or five different ways to go about your project — and show you which parts and tools (all of which they stock) can be used to complete it. Keep going back for 20 or 30 years — like ten thousand diehard customers before you — and Hardwick’s will change your life.

But if you march in there with a chip on your shoulder, they’ve definitely got the tools to cut you down to size. They were there before you blew into town, and they’ll be there after you’re dead. Besides, it’s part of the compensation package: nobody makes much money at Hardwick’s, but management allows their staff to offer real service WITHOUT subservience.

Be grateful for that. They’re teaching you what your parents should have taught you, years before you were blessed to walk through the doors of Hardwick’s: enough humility to get out of your own way and build something beautiful. Check your ego (and your backpack) at the door, take the tour, and have your eyes opened. Those grubby people ghosting around the aisles include boatbuilders, artists, Burners, millwrights, cabinetmakers, and the world’s most renowned antique motorcycle restorer. If it’s good enough for them…

Anyone can walk into Lowe’s and leave with a Kobalt Chinese spade and a cheap Stanley hammer. Go to Hardwick’s instead, and learn about hori-horis, hard-forged North Bay drawknives, laminated white steel pruners, and seventeen models of framing hammers. Like moving from Southern Comfort to single malt Scotch, going to a real hardware store instead of a hand-holding “home center” requires the development of an adult palate.

Hardwick’s isn’t there to make your life easier. It’s there to make Seattleites’ lives better. You either get it or you don’t. It may take more than one visit, and it will certainly require taking your time.”

Author: Jack L.


Hardwick’s web site.  “Rust and Dust since 1932.”

Yelp Review.  “Hardwick’s.”

Craft and Art Fairs: The Sidewalk Artist

 The Sidewalk Artist: Denver 2012

Music festivals, craft fairs, and art fairs are rich hunting grounds for vintage camera photographers.  Look especially for artist’s booths, as one may capture an image of someone sitting for their portrait or a face being painted.  These subjects are ideal for vintage cameras, as they are typically sitting very still; since the maximum aperture of a lens encircled by the mechanism of a leaf shutter is typically around  f/3.5, this allows use of a slow shutter speed.

Fortunately, this chalk artist at a sidewalk art festival in Denver was well and evenly illuminated by indirect afternoon sunlight bounced from surrounding buildings.  The original image included many legs and feet of spectators and passers-by; judicious cropping isolated the artist and his young admirer, the latter entranced by each broad stroke of colored chalk.  This image was taken on XP-2 with the Ensign 820 and the Ross Xpres lens.

Two Women: Montreal 2010

Two Women

Much of photographic composition is about the use of space.  In some compositions, the subject and the space around it become the dominant elements, and the creators of tension between space and subject.

Walking through one of Montreal’s many cobbled courtyards,I saw these two women and took an image from a distance with my Ensign 820 and Ilford XP-2 film