Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Fit City?

The Racers
Originally uploaded by Apocaplops
If there's one thing I've been struck by in Lansing, it's that the city seems serious about physical fitness. We have a few great bicycle shops - Riverfront Cycle and Velocipede Peddler - and a great fitness store as well - Playmakers. There are many events in the summer geared towards the fitness-crazed among us, from triathlons to 5K races to half-marathons.

Today was the running of the Capital City River Run, which includes both a 5k and a half-marathon. For those not in the know, that's a little over 3 and 13 miles, respectively. This year attendance skyrocketed to 2,000 from last year's 900 because the city has done a good job promoting it in the outlying communities. My wife and a friend had been training for the 5k, and I was lucky enough to have the morning off from work, so I joined them down at the Lansing Center, to take photos of course. Not that I can't run, but given the choice I'll grab the camera any time.

Races like this start in the morning, and this time of year that means the light can be iffy for people shots. If I were doing it again, I would have used an on-camera flash for fill lighting to balance out the deep shadows. You really need a digital SLR to get the best out of the situation - having a zoom lens and quick shutter response is helpful - and you can change your settings on the fly to get different effects, like the blurred runners pictured above.

I'm starting to really enjoy taking photos at events like this. I could see myself covering events for a small local paper, although I don't know if my preferences in photography would totally intersect theirs. Perhaps I should take a class...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Michigan State Shutdown Imminent

An appeal to reason
Originally uploaded by Apocaplops
As negotiations continue in the Capitol, it is becoming clear that partisan politics will not allow legislators to agree on a budget for the next fiscal year, causing the state to suspend all nonessential services. Sounds awesome, don't it? Well, not surprisingly most people I talk to see this as a bad thing, and are embarrassed at how their elected leaders are conducting themselves; putting politics before the welfare of the state.

Luckily, I live in the state capital, so I figured I'd go on down to the Capitol building to see what was going on. I packed my digital SLR (with fresh batteries), expecting to see perhaps some protesters, news crews, and angry citizens voicing their concerns. I hung out for about an hour and only saw the woman pictured here protesting, however. There were about a dozen news vans parked around the Capitol, all just hanging out waiting for a break in the story. I asked one passer-by what they thought about the state being shut down, and he had no idea what I was talking about.

I may go back up again, as one of my favorite things to photograph is a protest, but the prospect of one happening seems dim. Perhaps that could change, should the lawmakers actually shut down the state.

Monday, September 24, 2007

UAW on strike in Lansing

UAW Strikers
Originally uploaded by Apocaplops
As of 11 this morning the United Auto Workers went on strike from General Motors facilities. Anyone who has been in Lansing for any period of time knows that the city is tied indelibly to General Motors, and as a result the UAW. For many years it was GM and the UAW that provided a living wage to the area residents, and to a large extent this is still the case. Of course, General Motors has fallen on hard times, and as a result, Lansing and its citizens have felt the pain.

I decided to go out and take a few photos of the people directly affected by this strike, so of course I reached for my digital camera. As happens often, the batteries were completely dead and I reached for a few more reliable, if antiquated, pieces of equipment: Olympus XA, Konica I, and Polaroid SX-70. It is, of course, the Polaroid you see here - more later when I get the 35mm film developed.

It was odd, me using a Konica from 1952 to photograph an organized strike. An old rangefinder has been the camera to use for journalistic photography since about World War II. I realized that a lot of what the UAW fights to preserve are the values that went into the making of my old Konica. High level of quality, hand-crafted precision, these are qualities that have since been replaced by automated manufacturing processes, cost-saving materials, and overseas construction and assembly. There is no way you could build a camera like the Konica today, things just aren't made that way anymore. What was once done by skilled labor with metal is now done by computer and robot with plastic.

It's much too late to turn that boat around, as the UAW and its members long ago realized. The media has reported that this strike is about retiree benefits, but the real meat of the matter has to be long term job security. These workers are rightly concerned about staying employed, as they have watched countless coworkers sent packing in the last couple decades, their jobs replaced in foreign countries by fewer workers, paid less.

It's not a problem I can solve, but I do support the UAW and its members. Nobody wants the strike to last forever, and people wrongly blame the union for GM's downward spiral. As one of the strikers put it, "I'd love to see GM make a billion dollars next quarter." These people don't want the moon, they want a reasonable compromise that makes sure both parties can stay afloat in difficult waters.

As a note about the photography, most of the strikers seemed upbeat and eager to talk and have their photos taken. From my experience the early hours of the strike are when people feel the most optimistic and free to cooperate, if you're inclined to take photos. A digital SLR would probably be the best for this kind of photography, but any "normal" lens will do, and just work with what you've got. Don't try to get people to pose for you as they are in this Polaroid - rarely will that work.

Friday, September 21, 2007

About that time again!

One of my personal favorite parts of being in Michigan has to be the apple Harvest. Seems that no matter where you live you can find a cider mill or three, and enjoy the crisp weather with a bushel of apples, a fresh warm doughnut, a glass of apple cider, and maybe a hayride.

Everybody has their own favorite apple (mine is Honeycrisp), and everyone seems to have their own favorite cider mill. In the Lansing area, you have a few options available:

Uncle John's Cider Mill: This is the big one in the area. It's a few minutes north of Lansing in Saint Johns. Seems half the time I go there is a waiting line for pretty much everything, and the place is totally overrun with people. If you want to go to the biggest mill, and the best established, this is it. No u-pick apples though.

Country Mill: This is a smaller mill and orchard, located to the southwest in Charlotte. It has a nice u-pick orchard, a working historic cider mill, and best of all for me, Honeycrisp apples in early September. Mmmm.

There are other options as well, and exploring the mills for a day is a relaxing change of pace.

Bring your digital camera or color film with you, because half of the fun is seeing the fall color while the sweet smell of apple fills the air. You can do some landscape shots of the orchard, equipment shots of the mill, maybe even a Macro or two of pumpkins and apples waiting to be harvested. I love to take photos of the visiting people as well. See you out there this year!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Park for the Dogs

Black and White Lab blurred
Originally uploaded by sakjosep
East Lansing used to have a really nice dog park right by the Commuter Lot. For some reason they decided to close it down and make it into a disc golf course. Thankfully for us dog lovers, Lansing has opened a brand spankin' new dog park, located off Aurelius Road adjacent to Hawk Island Park.

The park is named Soldan Park, after its benefactors Howard and Erma Soldan. It's a large well-groomed grass park, with an all-dogs-welcome policy. I went to the old East Lansing dog park and it was a great place to take photos as dogs chase and play. It's good practice for those of us dSLR shooters who want to learn how to do sports and action style photography. Take your pooch and camera, and have some fun. See you there!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Stop the hate, people.

Originally uploaded by Apocaplops
Evidently this blog gets read from time to time. I won't go into the nitty gritty, but I just got a call about it, someone upset about the way I had been slamming Lansing in my previous post. They're right a little bit, I was upset when I wrote that and I have to learn to read my posts twice before publishing. I don't want to degrade Lansing or hurt anybody's business - I still think Lansing has a long way to go as a city, but there are many people out there working to change that and I want to wish them well, not step on their toes.

It reminds me that even though we have the freedom to mouth off on this great big internet, and we may think we're anonymous, we really should keep a measure of self control. Hell, I publish my own name on this, so I shouldn't expect to be anonymous. I don't want to seem like a weakling, but after consideration I have gone back and revised that post to better reflect my conflicted feelings on Lansing.

So to those trying to make Lansing a better place: keep on trucking. I still live here, just not downtown, and I'm going to continue to support the city in ways that I can. We'll see where to go from there.