The Death Of Prince And What It Taught Me About G.A.S.

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Prince’s Yellow Cloud Guitar (and Tito Puente’s Timbales) on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Shot in 2007 with a 5D Classic and 28-75mm Tamron lens.

Breaking News: Just as I had published this, I heard of the sudden passing of yet another music icon Chris Cornell. My heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones. You will be missed Chris!

Update II: Chris Cornell’s death has been reported to be suicide. Damn, such a waste of talent. Whatever was troubling him, I hope he is at peace now. RIP.

Here’s a little Throwback Thursday to ponder on…

Just recently music fans paused to remember the first anniversary of the death of music icon Prince who died on April 21, 2016 of an apparently accidental overdose.

Music is my other lesser known passion and as a person whose childhood and adolescence were rooted in the 80’s, Prince was a huge musical presence in my world.

Just like folks who grew up hearing of Sinatra, or the folks who grew up on the Beatles or  Elvis, I grew up hearing the name of Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few.

PAISLEY PARK

So what does Prince have to do with cameras or G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) ? Not sure if Prince was into cameras as there are precious few photos of him actually holding a camera. The only ones I saw were of Prince holding a Nikon. As you know, Prince was almost always in front of the camera being one of the most famous people on the planet.

I actually thought about this article over a year ago, at the time of his passing. What sparked it was seeing reports on television, after his death, which showed the inside of his huge Paisley Park compound. Within these walls were a very large and incredible music studio. This studio must have been filled with everything imaginable for perfect recordings. There were stages where he would put on shows for friends or fans he invited in. Film production studios. Just to name a few things known to be in this once (and still) mysterious building.

Also in his posession were an awesome collection of unique guitars, wardrobes, and I’m sure lots more.

So once again, what does this have to do with me or cameras? Well, it really got me thinking. Just like many of you, I have ravenously bought, sold, and collected some really awesome cameras and lenses through the years.

When money was good, I went through it like there was no tomorrow, most of it spent of whatever photographic gear I was chasing at the time. I did this until I went flat broke and had to sell them off. Then when times were good again, pattern repeat. When times got bad again, pattern repeat again.

"Camera Legend's Lair" Just a sampling. It is rumored that there are many more interesting items in the vault :-)

“The Camera Legend Lair” Just a sampling of the cameras and lenses that have come through the lair! Rumor has it that there is a secret vault with even more goodies 🙂

Sure there are lots of famous (and not so famous) people with expensive houses and lots of expensive toys and possessions. But what struck me about Paisley Park and why I’m using it as an example is because Paisley Park was built for, and around a singular individual and that was individual was Prince. Once he was gone, it’s hard to imagine the feeling of emptiness that must’ve been felt in that building. The spirit of that building died with him.

WHAT THE DEATH OF PRINCE TAUGHT ME

When I heard the news that Prince had died, it seemed surreal. How could this seemingly healthy, larger than life figure, only 57, be gone in a flash? Sure, we now know the official cause of death was apparently from a self inflicted, accidental overdose of a powerful prescription drug. That does not matter now. I see life as unpredictable. Anything can happen at any time. Accidents, crime, a deadly disease, natural disasters. Anything can take us out in the blink of an eye.

When Prince died he left all those posessions behind and without a will, he left a bit of a mess for his family and lawyers to figure out.

Prince’s death reminded me that one day there will indeed be no tomorrow. I had been thinking about my own mortality a lot since my Dad’s passing in 2011 and now even more so as I continue to grow older by the day. Prince’s passing just once again proves that old adage…”You can’t take it with you when you’re gone.” Except for his musical brilliance. He took that with him and it will be a long time before we see another one who has that combination of musical genius, charisma, and showmanship again.

Sure, he may have (in my opinion) taken the look from Little Richard, the funk from James Brown, and even some showmanship from Elvis, but he put it together in one package and backed it up with musical ability. While Michael Jackson may have been the “bigger” of the two stars, Prince actually wrote, played, and produced most of his music himself while Michael mostly had songs chosen for him and top musicians playing for him, not to mention Quincy Jones producing for him.

As for G.A.S. I’m in no way saying that Prince had G.A.S. and I do feel he had the power, the means, and the right to do whatever he wanted with his money. But we can look at this in two ways…

One. You could say he lived his life to the fullest. I’ve heard it said somewhere that it’s not how many years one lived, but how he/she lived those years. If so, you can certainly say Prince lived a full life and did everything and more than most people ever will in his 57 years than most people could, even if they lived to 100 years old.

Or two, we need to think more about the fact that one day we will all die. We should do our best to make our decisions based on this fact, be conservative and save our money for our children and for their future.

For me personally, it’s a little bit of both. One, I feel that life is to live. Since as far as I can tell, we only have one life, we should live it to the fullest. Then again I do have a family, and God forbid, I could drop tomorrow and my family wouldn’t have a clue what to do with the mess I left behind.

Sadly (or maybe not, depending on) Prince did not have any living children to think about, which may have given him additional “freedom” to use his money in whichever way he wanted. But if you do have kids or close family, then you should probably take them into consideration when you ponder on your next photographic splurge. Is that $6000 Leica M or $5000 pro Nikon or Canon really worth it?

Now if you had your heart set on buying some new expensive gear, don’t let me bring you down. I’m a sinner, so I’m not one to preach. Go ahead and buy that Monochrom or Nikon D5 or whatever strikes your fancy! I’m just expressing how I feel about it now. Fellow gear hounds and hoarders, I’d love to hear how you feel about this!

 

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Time Machine Part I: Portraits Then & Now

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From left, Zoe in 2008 vs Zay in 2016.

For your Throwback Thursday, we take a ride in the Time Machine.

First we go back to 2008. At the time I was smitten by the Leica 50mm f/2 Summar, an old Leica ltm mount lens. I had just gotten it off ebay for under $100. The glass was advertised as having some light haze, but otherwise ok.

When I received it, I was not expecting much as the Summar is known to be a “soft” lens in the Leica lineage. I know Leicaphiles are a passionate bunch and I can hear some say, “Oh no, my Summar is not soft, it is very sharp!”

Hey, I am not debating you. When I say the Summar is “soft” I say that in relative terms. It may be sharper than other lenses of that era or it may be sharp stopped down, but that’s not the point. In general use, wide open or shot near a strong light source, the lens does not have modern coatings/corrections that would prevent abberations from showing up. And as a Leica fan myself, I actually like the fact that it’s a “soft” lens.

But the fact that it was a near seventy year old lens at the time I got it, I had realistic expectations. However, when I tried it on my Epson R-D1, I was awestruck by the beauty of the images it provided.

Sure, if you’re not careful, the lens can flare and produce a soft veil of haze around your subjects, but if some care is taken with regards to your light source, it can produce images that I would say had that distinct but undefinable Leica “glow.”

Since that time, I have come to rely on a 50mm f/2 Summicron as my go to lens for Leica. However, I will pop the Summar every now and then for portraits.

Flash-Forward to eight years later, 2016…

The photo of Zay was taken with…an iPhone 6s Plus! The baby smiles instinctively, unaware of any camera, regardless of brand or type, and even unaware of the Gerber baby food all over her mouth 🙂

While I will admit that the iPhone 6s is perfectly capable of much better images than this one, nonetheless, I will stand by what I’ve told people for a long time. If you want to make nice portraits, and you want to do it cheap, all you need is a good 6mp camera and a 50mm lens. It doesn’t have to be a rangefinder like the R-D1. Just get a Nikon D70 or Canon Rebel and a 50mm f/1.8 and you will have a very fine portrait machine.

So what have we learned in eight years? Well, for one, the phone cameras today are amazingly capable. In 2008, I don’t think I’d rely on my first generation iPhone for anything but snaps. Heck even today, I just use my 6s for snaps, but I do know if I needed better than snaps I can do it with this phone. But my main use of the iPhone today is to take HD videos for my own records.

So many wonderful things you can do with today’s phone cameras! However, the one thing they can’t do well, due to the laws of optics, is they can’t produce a lot of good bokeh, simply due to the smaller sensors inside. However, it seems the new iPhone 7 aims to change this by “creating” Bokeh in their “Portrait” mode. I’ve seen some samples and some look great, some so-so. I’m not sure though if I really like the concept of fake bokeh. Not that it wouldn’t be useful to some, but for me I think that once you have fake bokeh as a norm, what’s next? Fake backgrounds? Fake locations? You get my drift? Soon the whole photo will become fake and what’s the point then?

Anyway back to the topic at hand, I’ve also learned that I still love my old school gear such as the R-D1, which today would be considered “Classic Digital” and of course a Camera Legend.

I’m fascinated with time, time travel, “Time Machine” and anything else having to do with our perceptions of time, so look out for more “Time Machine” installments.

I’ve also learned that two babies can definitely be very different from each other! Sure we all know that as kids grow up, they become their own people with unique personalities. What I didn’t think of was that even at the baby stage, my two girls are as different as night and day, but at the same time, beautiful and similarly sweet.

Have a great Thursday folks, the week is almost over. If you’ve gotten something for your tax returns, maybe time for some new toys 🙂