music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Got Film?

When I was about 14, my dad unearthed his old 1950s Praktica 35mm camera and started teaching me the wonders of photography. He was the typical photo buff, having snapped his way through Europe while in the Army during the Korean War. His slides of post-war Italy and Germany were beautiful and sobering; beautiful because they showed what a jewel Italy was at that time and sobering because they also showed Berlin and other parts of Germany still in ruins 5 years or more after WWII ended.

I took to the camera quite happily and remember shooting a lot of black and white film with it. I had to use a light meter in order to dial in proper exposures and remember to use compensations when shooting with the old telephoto lens he had. Around that same time I ended up taking an after school photography class taught by a friend’s older brother. In this class, we learned how to develop black and white film, though I don’t remember if we ended up printing any of it.

After the infatuation faded, I ended up using small point-and-shoot film cameras and processing my film at the local one-hour places like everyone else. In 1990, I bought an Olympus Stylus, an ultra-compact auto-everything 35mm model for around $100. It was really a revolutionary camera at the time. Beautiful photos, ease of use, fit in a jacket pocket and perfect for travel. I used that camera up until the first affordable digital cameras came on the scene and since then, photographic life has never been the same.

In 2002, I bought a Canon D30, a digital SLR model capable of using Canon’s EOS film lenses. I picked up a few of Canon’s choice lenses, like the 50mm f1.4 prime, the 20mm f2.8 prime and their superb 70-200mm f2.8 L zoom. We traveled through Europe for three weeks and the camera performed perfectly. I also used it during the latter part of my 3 year project documenting the building of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall here in Los Angeles. I still use this camera almost daily and although newer models with faster autofocus, better low-light capabilities and more megapixels have become available, I’m still drawn to it because I know it so well and it fits like a glove in my hand. As in almost any art or endeavor, the tool is secondary to the expression, or as Lance Armstrong says, “It’s not about the bike.”

A few months ago, I read an article at Shutterbug about used medium format cameras and how their prices were dropping through the floor due to many professionals finally moving to digital, now that resolution was finally starting to rival (and possibly surpass) film. Would it be possible to own one of these classic professional cameras and have fun with film again? I looked on eBay and other places and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Many cameras that were priced in the thousands only two or three years ago were now selling for a few hundred dollars. I found a great deal on a Mamiya RZ67 system, sold what I didn’t need and ended up with an amazing camera for about $200.

The Mamiya RZ67 is a huge camera, best used on a heavy tripod. Oh, you can hand-hold it alright, but it’s like taking pictures with a shoebox. But that’s what I like so much about it. It forces you to think when you shoot. It’s a deliberate action, looking through the viewfinder, setting your f-stop, focusing with the rotating knob that controls the bellows, using the mirror lockup for long exposures. I’m so new at it that I still haven’t gotten in the groove, the whole pre-flight checklist before pressing the shutter, but I’ll get it. It’s fun re-learning the basics of good manual exposure, about all the different films available and I’m even thinking about developing my own black and white negatives again. I won’t give up on my digital camera, though. It’s still more convenient, lighter, easier to chase my 2-year-old around with; but I’m looking forward to experimenting with film, learning a thing or two in the process and hopefully making a good picture with it someday.

March 20, 2006 | Link to this entry

AT&T...It's Alive!

As I flipped through my mail this afternoon, I was reminded that AT&T was now my phone company, itself having been gobbled up by my previous phone service, SBC, which in turn had eaten Ameritech for breakfast and Pacific Telesis for lunch. The new AT&T announced this past week that they were acquiring BellSouth, the dominant phone company in the South.

Haven’t we been through all this before? The original AT&T was broken up in 1984 after it was decided that it constituted an illegal monopoly. Now it seems that the old monopoly is being reconstituted 21 years later, and although AT&T claims that there is a lot more competition around these days, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth…but that’s not the issue that concerns me most.

AT&T Chairman Ed Whitacre has been making public his view that not only does his company want to charge customers like you and me for access to the internet, but that he wants to charge companies like Google and Yahoo for delivering their content to us. He wants to make his “pipes” a two-way street and charge companies doing business on the internet for preferential access.

The internet was conceived as, and has been since its inception, an open architecture network. No one person or company is the gatekeeper to and from any point on the network. If a destination you want to visit has a presence on the internet, you are able to type in the URL and immediately be whisked to that site in the blink of an eye. We all pay a monthly fee to have that ability.

If preferential high-speed service for certain businesses is allowed, it will stifle competition and erode the level playing field that is enjoyed by all businesses on the internet today. As the Los Angeles Times noted in an editorial this week, customers and the websites they visit shouldn’t have to pay twice to connect to each other, and AT&T shouldn’t be allowed to give any site an unfair advantage over competitors.

The other danger is AT&T has its hands in so many businesses, that it’s not inconceivable it could give a promotional advantage to one of its own, say Cingular mobile phone service, as opposed to T-Mobile or Verizon. Or it could give preferential treatment and speed to one of its own online video delivery services when that type of service becomes the norm in our households for entertainment.

It’s also been rumored that AT&T would like to adopt a pay-as-you-go plan for high-speed internet subscribers. That would be a return to the internet Dark Ages when companies like AOL charged per minute fees, or charged you per bit that traveled down the pipe.

Unless Congress and the FCC keep a close eye on AT&T’s actions in the near future, the dark vision of Lawrence Lessig as outlined in his book, Code, could be visited upon us and the internet will no longer be the democratic town square we’ve all come to rely on and trust.

March 11, 2006 | Link to this entry


"The purpose of art is not the momentary ejection of adrenaline, but rather the lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity." - Glenn Gould

Handwritten post-it note pasted over a photo of Chinese pianist Lang Lang, found in the musicians' lounge backstage at Walt Disney Concert Hall

March 4, 2006 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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