Thursday, November 21, 2013





Grand Tetons (click on the photo for the full-size image)

Photographing The World in Mud Puddle ~

A Review of the Loka Camera Bag 


Click on any photo for a full-sized image (Yevgeniy Rudoy photo)

Why am I pictured laying on the ground with a pack on my back? No, I wasn't run over by car, and I didn't trip over my tripod. I was working on a photograph, looking into a muddy puddle at a reflection that could only have been seen, and photographed, from ground level.  (To see what I saw and photographed, look no farther than the top of this webpage, and feel free to click on the image.)

The first time I learned to see the world in a reflection was an "ah-ha" moment. To ancient (and contemporary) Hindus, the word they would use for that moment of sudden enlightenment would be "satori." 

(Yevgeniy Rudoy photo)

Sheep Operation in Wyoming

Great Pyrenees Puppies

That might explain the names given to a trio of camera backpacks by the F-Stop company: Satori, Tilopa (the name of a long-ago Buddhist teacher), and Loka, which in Sanskrit is the word for "world." 

Over the years, I’ve had a number of fine backpacks designed to carry camera gear, including excellent packs from Lowe-Pro and Tamarac. In April of 2013, a participant on one of my photo trips gave me a Loka and asked if I would review the pack. While I haven't posted to my blog in over a year, I've returned the favor by writing my review. 

I'll let the cat out of the bag right now: The Loka is well-built. In that sense, it's no different than any other high-end pack. There are some clever design differences, though, that set it apart from other packs I own. 

Target audience: This is a pack for self-sufficient photographers who might take up to a full day to lose themselves in a city, to hike, ski or climb in the mountains, and leave only footprints in the desert or at the beach. To that end, the Loka comes with plenty of bells and whistles. Well, technically there are no bells. But there is – literally – a whistle, one that’s integrated into the sternum strap buckle. 

Features: The Loka, with 2,558 cubic inches (37 liters) holds its shape with the help of a lightweight internal frame. There is a comfortable and surprisingly easy-to-adjust waist strap, and easily adjustable shoulder straps. 

There are plenty of internal and exterior pockets, including a large zippered outside pocket that could hold a detachable snow shovel scoop. There are places to store media cards, smart phones, and spare batteries. There’s a large interior sleeve to house a water bladder (I put my iPad or my laptop in that pocket. My water bottle goes into one of the exterior mesh side pockets). And the pack will fit into the overhead storage bin on a plane. 


Elasticized Side Pocket

There is a mesh pocket under (as well as over) the pack's lid

Construction:  The Loka is, like my other camera backpacks, extremely well-built. Stitching is reinforced throughout and thicker layers of material are used where the pack is likely to come into contact with rough terrain. There are compression straps, beefy buckles, a somewhat less than beefy nylon carry handle, and YKK zippers, heavy-gauge where they need to be

The Loka is also fairly littered with attachment points – i.e. a cornucopia straps and buckles –  to secure everything from tripods and trekking poles to ice axes and snowboards. Optional stretchy straps ("gate keepers") – long and short – offer additional ways to secure gear. The straps on the pack itself conform to the internationally recognized MOLLE (pronounced like the name "Molly") attachment system used by the U.S. military, NATO, police, fire departments, and now photographers. I feel it incumbent upon me to reveal that Molle stands for Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment.

My ice axe easily attaches to the Loka; will I ever use it with my ice axe? Probably not.

How it Feels: With the Loka fully loaded, I can't jump as high or far as I could without the pack, nor rise from a mud puddle as easily as I could unencumbered by the  weight of the pack. That said, it's a close-fitting pack and it doesn't throw me off balance; I've got no fear scrambling over boulders in the Tetons or walking up a flight of stairs in Brooklyn. 

At your option: In addition to the gate keepers, additional optional accessories include a tripod bag with a clever roll-top design that can accommodate a wide array of tripod sizes, a rain cover that can be hidden in a bottom sleeve of the Loka, a nylon envelope that gives extra protection to a water bladder, les pouches, etc. I've purchased some gate keepers, the tripod bag, an extra ICU and the rain cover. 


The Roll-Top tripod bag can secure a variety of tripods; do I use this with a tripod? Yes!

Cover flap for water bladder hose just below the zipper for the pack lid

Design Difference #1: Like every other photo backpack, a series of interior padded pockets protect camera equipment. The protective pockets in the Loka, though – and the pockets in other packs made by F-Stop – are in a removable padded case. Most other photo backpacks are filled with non-removeable pockets. The removable cases in the Loka are what set the F-Stop packs apart from the competition. 


Small ICU in foreground, medium ICU with storage bag behind

F-Stop calls these cases Internal Camera Units, or ICUs, and they come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The size of the ICU, from the extra-large to the small, will determine how much space is left for clothes and other non-camera gear. Except for the largest ICU, which will fill a Loka, these cases snuggle into position in the bottom or top of the pack, with everything else sitting above or below. 

Because ICUs are sized differently, the Loka can also serve as a more traditional daypack, rather than just a backpack for camera gear. With a small or medium ICU, the Loka will carry clothes, food, a laptop, etc. This is what makes it easy to a photographer with a Loka pack to be a self-sufficient for a day. 

Each ICU has a zippered top that folds out of the way once it's inside the Loka. Each ICU comes with heavy-duty cloth storage bag, too. And an ICU doesn't have to live only inside a Loka. 

At home, an ICU can serve as storage container to help organize the voluminous amounts of camera gear that photographers tend to collect. It can serve the same purpose on the road, too. In fact, the ICUs make the Loka itself somewhat of a shell; it’s up to each photographer to configure the interior of the pack, with one or two ICUs, or no ICUs at all. (By the way, at home my older camera backpacks do hold and organize some of my photo gear.)

More than one ICU can fit into a Loka, and there are ICU attachment points inside the pack. In practice, I haven’t needed to attach any of my ICUs; they seem to fit snuggly enough that they stay in place. 


When I conduct a photo tour I like to travel light, walking out to wherever from my car or a van with just with a camera hanging off my neck, and an extra lens in a pocket. When I do that, the Loka itself has served as a base camp for the rest of my camera gear I don’t want to take with me. When I do have to walk any distance with more than I can stuff in my pockets, I’m happy to swing the Loka onto my back.

What's in My Loka? As you can see in the photo of my open ICU, I carry an extra body and extra lenses (I've usually got a 20mm or 70-300mm lens on the camera, and the other in a pocket.)  My additional optics are usually one of my macro lenses, sometimes my compact 400mm f/5.6 lens, and a 1.4x teleo-extender.

The pockets atop the pack hold spare batteries, polarizer and neutral density filters, a set of allen wrenches, a lens cloth, a spare end cap and lens cap, and spare SD and CF cards.

As I'm usually out walking with a group, I'll tuck a substantial first aid kit into the main compartment, along with any extra clothing I think I might need. I might stash a water bottle in one of the side pockets; an air blower (to help remove dust from the sensor when I change lenses) is often in the other pocket. By the way, it's probably a good idea to use an air blower at the end of each day of camera use.

I also have a couple of Molle-conforming lens pouches that I can attach to the hip belt when I want faster access to an extra lens or two.

Design Difference #2: Many photographers I've met have a major complaint about camera backpacks: they have to be removed to reach what a photographer needs. That's the nature of the beast, though, for those who want or need to carry more than they can put into shoulder bag. And once the pack is off, photographers have to unzip their packs to reach their gear. If they put their pack down on the ground or the snow, the part that touches their back faces downward, and it's apt to get some dirt or snow on it.

It’s the opposite with the Loka. The well-padded portion of the pack that is against a photographer’s back is outlined with heavy-duty zippers. Unzip the pad, pull it forward, and all the padded ICU compartments and whatever else is in the pack are accessible. With the pack on again, the back of the photographer stays clean and dry. 

The inside of the pack can also be accessed by unzipping the double-pocketed lid. While it’s not the easy way to extract a lens from the bottom of a pack, going in from the top is the quick way to reach a jacket or sandwich.



I imagine whoever came up with the idea of letting photographers into the Loka in this new way experienced their own moment of satori.


(Yevgeniy Rudoy photo)


Irrigation machine in Barstow, California





(Yevgeniy Rudoy photo)

Cowgirl, Jackson Hole





One Caveat: I like everything about my Loka. You, good reader, might not like one thing about the pack: it's very difficult to score one, and can be just as difficult to purchase any desired accessories. F-Stop is apparently a small company and demand often seems to outstrip supply. So if you want a Loka, be patient; it may be a while before you have one. The wait, though, will be worth it. (Right: Kidd photo)

Sunset Over Monument Valley
"Loka" to Buddhists and Hindus has a more nuanced meaning than just the "world." It can mean a world that is spiritual rather than a spacial. I like to think my Loka backpack is a bit like the spiritual world, because while it's part of the greater reality we all inhabit, it's also separate from everything else. It is an artfully shaped amalgamation of plastics, serving as a vessel for the tools – camera equipment – that help me see, understand, and photograph the physical world around me, a physical realm that can include magical images of the world found inside something as mundane as a puddle of mud.

Have I enlightened you about the Loka? If you seek greater understanding, look no farther than the F-Stop website, here.


Note: Click on any photograph for the full-sized image.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again




Having a broken arm hasn't kept me off my bike.

(Videographer: Nora Wyman)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Hawaii in Photographs


1945-1946



My mother, Theresa Wyman, worked for the U.S. government in Hawaii for about a year. When my mom passed away – more than five years ago – I kept her photo album full of photographs of that time in her life. She would have been about 33 or so when she made the trip.

I'm sure she worked hard. And I'm just as sure she had a lot of fun. Young, caucasian women from the mainland were in short supply; I don't think she dated anyone except officers. And I'm just as sure she had a lot of fun. I don't think she dated anyone except officers, and she had some great stories, including one about taking off in a small plane with one of her suitors and landing on a beach in the midst of a storm.


At the time, she was engaged to my Dad (I think he was having just as much fun as she was, by the way, in England, where he spent a few years of the war as an officer, teaching soldiers who to stay safe during a chemical weapons attack).




A long time ago, maybe when I was in my 20s or 30s, my my told me that an old Beau had come by the house. I'm not sure who he was. And I'd love to know what my dad thought. 

From a few hints, including a couple of place setting name tags in that photo album, I think the mysterious stranger might have been a certain Colonel Jacobsen.










 Colonel Jacobsen Getting his Wings



Damage from December 7, 1941

Mot of the photos seem to have been made by my mom. Some of them were of her, made by friends. She has a couple of pages of photos of the destruction visited on Hawaii on December 7th. I don't know who made the photos; as I recall, one person gave them to her.



When my mom returned to the mainland, she sailed on the famed Matsonia cruise ship, of the Maston Line.


My mom had mentioned to me a few times that passengers had been warned about a tsunami. There was, in fact, a serious earthquake in the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, when she crossed the Pacific. The ship was fine. The tsunami, though, did reach Hawaii, and passengers raised money to help the Red Cross relief efforts.

A few days later, the ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, my mom returned to Ohio. When my dad returned from England, they were married the next year, and she began a new chapter in her life, in Los Angeles. Her album went into a drawer in an old bureau. pulled out on rare occasion to share with my brother, Dan and I.

And now you've seen a bit of it, too.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Guest Blog


Bob Kidd and I met to photograph Yosemite, and we've kept in touch in the half-year since. We share some common interests that we both write about, and Bob recently asked me to contribute a post for his blog, Sunday Street. It seems eminently fair that he has a post for my blog in return: 


Bob Kidd is a self described cyclist, photographer and dreamer. He would have become a photo journalist, but his mother threatened to pull his college funding if he changed his major. Instead, he majored in English. He created the blog Sunday Street last year when he finally decided to do something with that English degree he got 40 years ago...
This his story...


Freezing Time



Blue Train - Pretoria to Cape Town, South Africa

Photographs freeze moments in time and provide a window into the past for future generations. Before the dawning of the digital age, we connected with these moments by holding the pictures in our hands. Although sharing the images with others was somewhat limited, it is still special to open a family album and take a trip back in time.  As time passes, such photographs become more and more valuable. Photographs taken today will be treasures years from now.
In the image taken of my father riding the Blue Train in South Africa in the late 1930s, it will always be the time before WWII.  (Initially, I didn't realize he was in this picture until I recognized his smile under that stylish cap). And I never would have imagined my Dear Mother perched on top of some bloke's shoulders at the beach. These images provide many clues about our parents, before they were our parents...





Images of our own past, often from before we can remember, reveal many rich stories and, in my case, explain quite a bit...







There are times, places, and events that are suddenly brought back to mind, even when we haven't thought about them for ages...



6th grade




Summiting Mount Katahdin, 1971 (Ektachrome image (c) Robert Kidd photography, 2012)



These photographs contain more than memories. They provide us with a rich pictorial history of our families. I think about this whenever I view digital images. Where will those images be in 20 years or more and how will they be viewed? Wouldn't it be great if we could preserve these digital images somehow? Wait...you can! Gamma Tech has found the perfect process and it will amaze you! Your digital images can be converted to film, archived in labeled binders, and stored on a shelf. Each binder will neatly contain a rich volume of your family history. In the likely event of a computer hardware failure, they will always be available for recovery.
Or, you could just shoot film.






Recently, I shot and scanned several rolls of Kodak Ektachrome film that had just expired. I enjoyed watching the results appear on my computer screen. The colors where rich and vibrant, and the images had a soulful feeling. I posted one of them to the Sunday Street page on facebook as the cover image. A short time later, I read on the Kodak web site that Ektachrome film had been discontinued.




I was stunned and, initially, could not believe that what I read could be true. Ektachrome was used for decades to bring us the amazing images found in National Geographic. It is the film my father-in-law shot in the 1960s in Austria,  in which he document the life and times of his family. It is also the first slide film I ever shot. Now it was discontinued. The loss was palpable. I was simply not prepared for the sun to set on this film.


I checked my refrigerated film stash and verified that I had 9 rolls of 35mm Ektachrome 100VS left, but none in medium format. What I had on hand was insufficient to fulfill one of my vision
quests: capturing iconic images from the US National Park system. I placed an order for more and held my breath that it was not too late to increase my supply, locate a 1958 Chevrolet Nomad station wagon, and talk Dave Wyman into joining me as we freeze time once more.



I now have 80 rolls of Ektachrome in my freezer (at this line, my editor got up from her desk, apparently to check something in the kitchen) and am starting to plan the Ektachrome National Park Road Trip. Who wants to go with me?



Thanks for stopping by.

Bob
You can follow Bob's film image quest on twitter (@BobKidd), facebook (robert.b.kidd) or Sunday Street, his blog.




Wednesday, March 28, 2012

To Slay the Beast 


As I headed out on Olympic Boulevard from my home early Sunday morning, with clouds darkening the sky over Los Angeles presaging a hard rainstorm, I thought back to the year before. That was when my ex-cardiologist said to me, "It's too bad your heart attack happened in your left artery instead of your right artery."


And he said, "You'll never crank up Fargo Street again like you did before your heart attack."


Fargo Street. It's only 1/10th of a mile in length. It's also the steepest street in Los Angeles, with a 33% average grade that reaches 36% near the top. If snow ever blanketed the street, it would make for an expert ski run.


I've participated on the Fargo Street Hill Climb, an event sponsored by the Los Angeles Wheelmen bike club, almost every year since 1978. The only person who's participated in the event more than me is my brother, Dan, who first witnessed the event in 1977. He brought me with him the next year, and we keep coming back. We were young men when we made that first ride. Now we're old men.


Of the hundred or so people who tried to pedal up the hill that day so long ago, less than half of them succeeded. Most humans don't have the strength or the stamina that's required to summit the hill.  I was so nervous just before my turn at the hill that my body tingled. Dan and I, though, completed the climb.


I'm not sure why I've come back to the hill, year after year, although, as I've probably mused on this blog before, it may be to prove to myself that I'm still alive. The hill has always served, in a way, as the great Other, a thing greater and more dangerous than myself, a leviathan, the great white whale, a Frankenstein's monster that I need to face and slay each spring, renewing and proving myself in the process.


(To the right: My brother Dan, who rode straight up the hill this year, makes it look easy.)


Yet at other times, the hill at times has also seemed like an old friend, welcoming me back, letting me connect with it in an intimate way, transmitting the feel of its rough concrete, with its bumps and little indentations and cracks, up through my tires, to my legs and my arms.


Most years, just once up the hill is enough is enough to slay the beast, to renew our acquaintanceship. For a while, though, I was king of the hill, with more runs up to the top of Fargo Street in one day than anyone else.


Last year, twelve days after my ride up Fargo Street,  a clot formed in one of the little stents, which are tiny tubes holding my coronary arteries open where surgeons had cleared out a dangerous build-up of plaque.


I thought I might die, as I lay writhing on the ground, 30 minutes or so after I'd enjoyed a ride on my bike. Luckily, I made it to the hospital fairly quickly, and the blocked stent was cleared of the clot, and my heart attack was halted. Not before the lack of blood did some serious damage, according to my ex-cardiologist.


"You'll never crank up Fargo Street again like you did before your heart attack." Not only did I not want to hear those words, I knew I would challenge them in a year's time.


The earth has circled the sun once after that visit with my ex-cardiologist. And so it was time for another ride up Fargo Street, on another Sunday in March, time for another annual rite of passage, the rite that affirms my belief in myself.




I know I can't live forever. And I feel I done most if not all of what I've been put on earth to do. Yet I was a little worried my ex-cardiologist might have been right, that I wouldn't be able to push myself up Fargo Street as I had in years past. And I was a little worried that the effort might just kill me. My mood wasn't helped by the storm clouds that were building to the west, either. 




My choice of bike could have been my mountain bike, with its very low gearing. That would have made riding up the hill, if not easy, a certainty. It wasn't certainty I was after, though. It was the challenge, with the possibility that I might not be up to it. So, exactly as I did the year before, I chose to pedal my road bike, with it's gears much higher than those on my mountain bike.  Just in case I failed in my first attempt, though, I asked my brother to let me borrow his mountain bike for a second try. 


There's not much to say about the ride itself. My body wasn't tingling. I had to dig deep within myself to keep pedaling. And when I reached the top, I knew I'd been on a serious bike ride. Until I reached the top, Fargo Street this year was more foe than friend. 

One time up the hill was enough for me. And once again, and for the next year, I am king of the hill, at least in my own mind. 

I never like to be told what I can or can't do. That's as good a reason as any that I'll continue to try to ride up Fargo Street. I'll come out to Fargo Street until I can't get on my bike any longer. That day, whenever it arrives, the beast will have its victory, a friendship will end. In the meantime, I've got an appointment with my new cardiologist scheduled for later this year, and a lot of miles and a lot of hills to ride to stay in shape for my my next trip up the steepest street in the City of Angeles. 

And now you know why my cardiologist is my ex-cardiologist. 


Note: click on any image to see a larger version.


Below: Marco Pantani on the climb to Courchevel, during the 2002 Tour de France, with a song about Pantani – Rimini – by Les Wampas.





Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Self-Portrait

Got My Fix – If Not My Kicks – On Route 66

This past Super Bowl weekend, I traveled to the edge of the frontier in the company of a talented and enthusiastic group of photographers. The challenge, among others, was to photograph the perceived "nothing" the lies along a portion of historic Route 66, the 20th Century "Mother Road" of American dreams.

The Industrial Age lives at Tom's Welding in Barstow

Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles, was officially proclaimed in 1929, during the Industrial Age. When the road's official status as a U.S. highway ended, the U.S. had was firmly entrenched in Age of Technology.  Model T's had given way to T-Birds. From east to west, Route 66 was supplanted by the four lanes of Interstate 40. 




Route 66 didn't entirely disappear. The route that led people out of the Great Depression, though buried or bypassed, still flows here and there on narrow rivers of concrete and asphalt. Chunks of the route can still be followed in reverse, from the Santa Monica Pier, through Los Angeles and Pasadena, to climbs up between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, into the Mojave Desert. 

Bike chain ring and chain, Newberry Springs   

Taking off from the high desert city of Victorville, Route 66 points north and then east, to reach the quintessential railroad/gas stop town of Barstow. That's where our group met on a sunny Friday afternoon. We came from California, from Maryland and New York, from Washington, from as far away as Malaysia. After introductions were exchanged, and we enjoyed an entertaining and informative talk from Ken Rockwell, we headed out to visit Tom's Welding and Machine shop, where the Industrial Age still lives.

Truck cables, Barstow 

Barstow is a nexus for the rail lines that head east to Las Vegas and Chicago and New York, emanating from the great ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The  trains carry the t.v. sets and cars and bicycles and toys and furniture and everything else that comes from China and Taiwan and Vietnam and Thailand. Here is where the Interstate highways meet and cross, the I-15 and I-40, and here Highway 58 departs for the west. Eighty years ago, the Depression-era Okies took Highway 58 from Barstow to look for work in the Great Central Valley.


Irrigation device, Barstow

Barstow has a few nice restaurants and some pleasant hotels, new car lots, the Route 66 Museum, the beautifully restored train depot, and lots of friendly people. Barstow, though, and communities like Newberry Springs, Yermo and Amboy are frontier towns. Just beyond their borders  the natural world holds sway, the natural world of mountains and sand dunes and cinder cones, of frigid winter nights and hot summer days. 




Mary
Out along Route 66, out beyond Barstow, there are people who came to the desert a long time ago. Maybe they were teachers, or short order cooks, or they worked for the railroad, or out on the salt flats. They fell in love with the desert, or felt an affinity, consciously or not, for the land beyond the frontier. 

Gilbert

A legal alien 

Underwater salt piller south of Amboy



Sunset at Roy's Motel and Cafe


The teacher, the cook, the railroad worker are still out there, on or beyond the frontier, in another world than the one from which they came. Our group plugged into their world for a few days, recording it on our cameras not just as it was, but as we thought it was or wanted it or imagined it to be. We photographed a world of lost and forgotten and overlooked dreams. And in so doing, we plugged more deeply into who we are. Then it was time to return to our own world, tucked safely behind the frontier, to the land of our own dreams.

 
Last Light at Roys


Note: Click on a photo to view larger-sized images.