Broken Banjo Photography

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Donna in the Bakery: Homer, Alaska

This is Donna. In 1982 she founded the Fresh Sourdough Express, a fine bakery in Homer Alaska. To do so, she had to drive a van and trailer from Washington state, up through Canada, to parts unknown in the distant north. The vehicle was a mobile bakery, a bread-slinging wagon that paid her way along the Alcan Highway.

In late summer of 2003, I vagabonded into Homer, after several months of traveling. I had left the Florida Everglades in April and ended up at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula in August. I slept in the local hostel for a night.

The two photos on this page were shot using one of my favorite (and affordable!) techniques.  They were taken on an old Pentax K1000 film camera.  Some of you may recognize this as the bulletproof student camera that many of us used when learning film photography.

After developing the negatives, I did NOT make prints in the darkroom.  Instead, I wandered into the digital photo studio at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.  There, using a Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED scanner, I ran the strips of negatives through and into a computer.  These scanners are amazing, and can give you resolutions of 4000 DPI or more (better than any 35mm camera on the market).
The next day, looking for work and completely without money or plan, I walked into the Fresh Sourdough Express and handed them a resume. Being late in the tourist season, I expected that I had a very small chance to find any work in town. After just a few minutes, Kevin, Donna's husband and business partner, came back to the counter and asked if I could begin work the next day.

Over the next five years, I spent four summers in Homer, driving up as early as April when the Yukon River was still thickly frozen over, and leaving around October when the raindrops threaten edges of ice and the days begin shortening dramatically. Donna has kept up with me, and I with her; most years she and Kevin call me at some point to ask, only 30% kidding, if they could fly me back to Alaska to work the bakery.

Using the technique above gave me very large digital files, which could be tweaked, cropped, balanced, toned, etc., and saved for future use. Scanning in your negatives results in wonderfully powerful and high-quality images, which can be printed quite large.  In the prints you may see the film grain, but you'll be hard-pressed to ever see any pixelation unless you are going wall-sized, or have done extensive editing in post.  
They live their lives primarily in Hawai'i now, and finally sold the bakery in Homer after 30 years. They and their son Jazz (who was one of the brightest pre-teens I'd had the pleasure to hang out with) recently swung through Portland and had dinner with Anna and I on Thanksgiving Eve. Jazz has grown, Kevin is his wonderfully goofy-and-kind self, and Donna is healthy, happy, and working hard to make sure the world is a nutritious, thoughtful place.

We all have thousands of "what-if" moments in our lives. What if I hadn't walked in to the bakery? What if I hadn't taken the suggestion of an Anchorage barista to head south to Homer? What if I was never shown the joy of baking bread? What if? 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ellyn On the Willamette: Portland, Oregon

This is Ellyn.  We have known each other since we were young teenagers, tromping around in Manzanita, Oregon. We got in trouble together a few times, but that's what friends do when growing up in small towns.  Or anywhere, I suppose.

There is a place where the mighty Columbia River and the Willamette River collide.  It is a simple park in Portland.  There is a beach there (if you examine the sand you will find it to be equal parts powdered remains of rocks, industry, cement, shipyards, and history).  From that beach you can watch container ships haul goods out towards the ocean, full of wheat and coal.

Shot with only natural light while the sun was low in the evening, this shot encapsulates much of how I feel about my friendship with Ellyn.  Colorful and dynamic, but peaceful and contemplative at the same time.  Shot with a Pentax K-5 at 18mm, with vibrance and clarity pumped up a bit in post.
Ellyn and I both live in Portland now.  Throughout my adult life I have lived in countless places, often moving after just six or nine months in a town.  She has traveled and has lived in such wayward places as Tennessee, but has called a single apartment in Portland her home for 7 years.  I find that impressive.

I hold on tightly to my old friends, those who have known me or seen me through all of the iterations of my life.  Sometimes a decade passes by, but as long as one person is willing to track down another, there are always opportunities to maintain relationships with the folks who have shared time with you.

The north-flowing Willamette brings the essence of the Oregon valleys, of Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, and points in between, of wine country, dairies, and cities.  The Columbia is a viaduct for salmon, and has come through many dams.  It sheds its energy along its path, powering the Northwest through Bonneville and the Grand Coulee Dam ("the mightiest thing ever built by a man", sang Woody Guthrie).  It has passed through the Northwest's desert for thousands of years, and has left a jagged, steep mark in the form of the Columbia River Gorge.

Ellyn took me there to catch up, while she did some scouting for a location to hold a small family reunion.  Catching the late light in late summer, we stepped over families with cheap radios and steered around packs of friendly dogs.  The sun gave us golden light as it lowered and we stepped barefoot through the splashing edge of two rivers that have seen the Northwest through its grand history.
Also shot in natural, golden light.  No matter what else is obscured, a (totally breakable) rule of portraiture remains that the subject's eye(s) should be clear, well-lit, and the sharpest part of the image.