DANO Pendygrasse

odds and ends from an unusual life

Transition. Part Four: Finally found what I'm looking for.



This blog originally appeared on
bneeth.com

Last blog I took you diving, but I still hadn’t found the small camera I was looking for. I’d reached the end of the road with what I could accomplish with the Canon G9 and its Canon successors weren’t moving in a direction that I liked. I needed more resolution and flexibility in a small package. Fortunately in the summer of 2009 Panasonic announced the GF1 micro four thirds camera and many of my questions were answered. The GF1 is a mirrorless system, so it’s small, but it has a large sensor so it makes good images. It was marginally bigger than the point and shoot, but the size was worth it.

It still took me 9 months to finally buy one because I’m pretty hesitant to buy the first generation of anything electronic, and in the meantime I did my research and realized that I was going to be able to adapt some really great glass to the GF1. I still own a Contax G2, but I never really liked the ergonomics of it and it fell out of rotation. The lenses I have for it however, can easily be adapted to the GF1. And suddenly I have a Zeiss 45mm f2 in my pocket…

Of course the lens that I’ve kept mounted 90% of the time is the Panasonic 20mm 1.7, a spectacular fast and sharp pancake lens that I bought the body with. I also bought a pricey 7-14mm f4 that hasn’t gotten a lot of use. It’s a good lens, but it’s so big that it sort of defeats the purpose of the small body.

So this has become my walkaround rig and has been for the last couple of years. I still go to the DSLR for when I have to shoot in the studio or action, but I was doing that way less at the time and started getting really interested in trying different styles.


In the process, I started to read up on street photography and tentatively went down that road. I find street photography to be really invasive, and as a result I’ve always kinda shied away from it. However, like just about everything in my life, when I find something intimidating, that’s all the more reason to give it a whirl.

The results of shooting people in the streets came slowly. I threw away hundreds of shots before I finally got one I liked. Slowly I got a few more, and became less intimidated by the process, but there were lots of shots I missed too. When a fight broke out literally on my shoes at the corner of Hastings and Main, my instinct was to walk the other way, not to pull out my camera. And when a guy collapsed and paramedics arrived to perform CPR on the street in front of the police station, I wasn’t pushing the EMTs out of the way to get the shot; I was more concerned that he was going to be ok. I guess I just don’t have the stones to be a crime reporter…

But urban spaces kept speaking to me and over the last few years I’ve put together a large body of work that speaks about the relationship between people and the city. As my thoughts about that relationship developed, so did the work and my photos became less abstract and more focused. As themes developed they recurred and I became more sure of my direction.

I still am fascinated by texture and patterns, and while I spend less time trying to “capture” people on the streets, I’m interested in relationships of scale and environmental interaction. Well, that and goofy pictures of the dog…

So in my first Bneeth column I told you about my creative existential crisis. It’s taken a few columns, but this is where I am today. I know myself as a photographer like I never did when I shot action sports exclusively, and I’ve let the work dictate the choices I’ve made. Interestingly, in the process I started to appreciate shooting action sports again. I don’t want to spend 7 months on a snowmobile again anytime soon, but I like to think the work I do now comes with a lot more skill and a far better eye.

Dano




Sidewalk diamonds. Vancouver.


Chinese Pharmacy. Chinatown.

Shopping. Sometimes a photo is about what you can’t see.

Breaktime. Hastings and Main.

Decisions. Paia, Maui.

Dead Sea Turtle. Wailea, Maui.

Open. Chinatown.

Sunday. Beach day in Roatan, Honduras

Prizes. PNE.

Lombard Tourists. San Francisco.

Framed. Vancouver.

Levels. Vancouver.

Letters. Vancouver Post Office.

Backside. Yaletown, Vancouver.

Josh. Vancouver.

Scoot. Gastown, Vancouver.


Sunday on the grass. Vancouver.
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Transition. Part Two: Shoot something!


This blog was originally published on bneeth.com.

Well after some deliberation I had found myself a convert to small cameras, and as a result I had my trusted Canon g9 with me at all times. What I still hadn’t figured out though, was what I wanted to take pictures of. This started a long process that continues to this day. But the first step was to document my steps.

A few times a week I was walking from my apartment at the time, right by Vancouver’s skate plaza, down Main Street to Railtown where I was working. I started to notice the seasonal changes in the buildings along the way and decided that it would be a good project to shoot all the buildings between Georgia and Alexander Streets, in all the different seasons. So I set out to do it.

I shot and shot, and I got some photos that were really cool, but eventually I got bored. I realized that it was a good project, but it would have to be one that stretched for decades, not just months. Plus, I realized that I wanted to shoot different buildings with different formats and cameras. That’s ok, I keep working on it, I love to see how things change, but it’s not really the body of work that speaks to me the loudest.

I kept shooting my walking “commute” though, and started to get shots that I liked more. It seemed to come in waves, one day I would get two or three things that I liked, and then I’d go a week without getting anything. The difference between my life shooting action sports and now was that now it was completely up to me to make things happen. I couldn’t rely on a rider doing a massive air to do the work for me, I had to create something compelling out of the things around me. That didn’t always come easy.

I kept adding shots to projects that I’d been working on for years though. Building on ideas but adapting to the different environment. All of the things I shot in the mountains were still present in the city. There was still an abundance of texture, there was still interesting light, and now there certainly were far more colours. I found myself doing familiar things but with different subjects and through a lot of repetition and a dedication to taking photos every day, I started to develop a new style and as always happens, themes started to emerge.

And as I shot, I got to know the Canon G9 really well, learning its strengths and using them to my advantage. Having a really good macro available at any time had me crouching down on the street a lot. And the compression of the long lens with a pretty much infinite depth of field was fantastic. I started a whole new body of work of abstract reflections, some of which have become my favourite images. I added to a personal project that I had been picking away at for years that I call “little horizons”, essentially portrait oriented landscape shots that emphasize the sky. Interestingly I’ve seen a lot of photography like that in recent years, but I continue with it.

Even while all of this was happening though, something was still bothering me. The quality of the image was still not as good as I’d like. I could deal with noise at low ISO, but anything above 400 was too much. And I didn’t like the shape of the noise. It had me craving the good old days of film grain. So I pushed on, but knew in the back of my mind that I would have to find another camera soon. Until then, I was going to shoot that G9 into the ground. And next time, I’ll tell you about taking it underwater.

-Dano


“119 Main Street.” Part of a project to shoot all of the buildings of Main St. between Alexander and Georgia.

Long September light makes for some nice shadows on the False Creek Seawall.

“False Creek” from the Little Horizons project.

Just a spectacular Vancouver sunset.

Masts. This is the first of the “Reflections” series.

Spectrum. Another from the “Reflections” series.

Crazy fall colours in Vancouver.

Fern. From my garden.

“Big OK” from Little Horizons.

Street scene from Stockholm, Sweden.
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Transition. Part One: Now what?

This blog was originally published on bneeth.com.

The one thing I knew for sure when I stopped shooting photos of action sports was that I wasn’t going to stop taking photos. I simply couldn’t. As much as the creative life is like a cruel pendulum sometimes, with swings of deep dissatisfaction and swings that feel like brilliance, the one thing I knew for sure was that taking photos was no longer something that I had the option to do. I had grown to the point where if I went any length of time without shooting something good, a part of me started to feel off. It was akin to going a long time without sex. It doesn’t kill you, but it grinds away at your soul until you finally have to scratch that itch.

But suddenly I didn’t have a cover to shoot for. I didn’t have a crew of people to work with and I didn’t even know what the goal was. A “good photo” had just become a giant question mark. What was “good” at that point? What was I going to shoot now, and what for?

I had recently moved to Vancouver, close to Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. Obviously there was no end of subject matter out there, I simply had to open my eyes and start to shoot things. I was doing work for a couple different companies at the time and I had essentially stopped driving. I would walk around false creek and the downtown core, or take my bike and I made a point to always have a camera with me. That was my first decision: What gear would I use?

The DSLR was out right away. Too big, too much weight, too much gear. I had hauled around a 40-pound pack for almost 20 years and I was looking forward to packing light. I pulled out my old Contax G2, a camera that I had always had high hopes for, but just never really enjoyed the ergonomics of. Nothing had changed. It still felt too big and I didn’t want to carry a bunch of lenses around. Plus it had that funky focus system that I didn’t like. What I did like was the lenses. But for now, it wasn’t worth it.

Luckily, right around this time The Canon G9 came out and for me, it answered a lot of questions. It had a lot of professional functionality in a pretty small body, with a zoon range that was really useful. I had found my “walking around” camera. At least for the time being. Some of the my favourite things about the G9 were the size, the macro, (which was, and is, pretty amazing actually) the zoom was good and I could haul in some fairly far-away scenes, and I could shove it in my pocket. I thought it was pretty durable, but before too long I learned about a fatal flaw.

The G9’s zoom lens isn’t sealed, and the act of it zooming and contracting causes dust to be sucked into the camera where it can find its way to the sensor. Once it’s there, there is now way to clean it. Eventually this would be part of the downfall of the G9 for me, but not for a couple years. Once I had a small inconspicuous camera that had decent image quality, I found myself shooting nonstop. What started as snapshots of friends and quick shots for reference, became more serious the more I used the G9.

It took a few months until I had a good feel for the G9 and realized that it was capable of more than just snapshots. I started to look at things differently and for the first time in my life, began to develop an urban approach to photography. I had decided on my gear, now it was time to see if I could take a decent picture.


With a camera in my pocket, walking the dog became a chance to find a picture almost every day. And a small camera meant I would never hesitate to shoot

Testing the G9’s ability to stop action, even in the late evening light. Not bad.

Familiar sights that I’d normally never shoot became a new challenge. A “why not?” photo opportunity.

The G9 has a decent telephoto on it allowing me to compress scenes and find interesting scenes on a day to day basis.

It’s nice to have a little camera handy when you find yourself looking down from up high. The black and white conversions were nice too.


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