The week-long Rocky Mountain School of Photography “Western Traditions” workshop I taught in Missoula along with photographer Tony Rizzuto wrapped up Tuesday.   Our group numbered 14 and it was, as these groups often are, comprised of quite a mixture of backgrounds, ages, and photographic experience and ambitions. Our major working subjects in the field were the annual Arlee powwow and two different rodeos.

Everyone worked hard at what Tony and I tried to stress in our daily critiques and I’m happy to say each and every one of them improved. I believe they will continue to improve even more if they simply stay aware of what we talked about during the week; if they don’t let our voices fade totally away when they are out there making pictures. It was a pleasure for me to work with this group. It appears the “Western Traditions” RMSP workshop will not take place next year; 2013 is a possibility but that’s up to the RMSP.

It was nice to be free to wander about Missoula this Saturday morning, starting with a fried egg sandwich at the Hob Nob and then on to the Federal Express office to regretfully send my beloved Lumix GF-1 off to Bill Moretz at Pro Camera in Charlottesville in hopes he can fix it.

I somehow evidently banged it into something, creating a small dent in the bottom left edge of the camera body and although it will turn on, the monitor is not visible other than a number of diagonal streaks running from bottom left to upper right. I do hope it’s repairable for less than the cost of a new one, especially when I’m hearing that Panasonic is discontinuing the GF-1 in favor of the GF-2. I wish camera manufacturers would pay a bit more attention to the pro who finds a model he or she likes, feels comfortable with, and keep it available instead of coming out with a new, supposedly improved model and dropping the previous one. Obviously the manufacturing business does not work that way and probably couldn’t.

But I believe the typical pro, at least the ones I know, could well do without many of the bells and whistles camera manufactures seem compelled to build into their cameras as they seek acceptance in the amateur market. Ironically, one of the cameras that has not really added too many not-really-needed features is the Leica M9. Unfortunately, in these tight economic times, they have failed to make it attractive pricewise. Seven thousand dollars for an M9 body is a lot of bucks. Although I’ve never been one to really test various lenses as opposed to simply using them, I continue to believe the M lenses I have, and I have most of them, are among the most admirable optics in all of photography. I was recently given an M8 as a gift and although I’m trying to love it and do love the feel of the camera, it’s not a full frame camera, the shutter is loud for a Leica rangefinder, and my lenses all need filters because of the color characteristics of the sensor on the first generation M8. It still feels better in my hands, and lighter on my neck or shoulder, than any SLR, but the frame lines are not accurate and I find myself having to guess a lot on what I’m actually getting in the picture. I’ve never, ever, had that problem before and it really bothers me. My Nikon D700s are wonderful cameras and although they don’t show me 100% of what I’m getting, it’s better than trying to guess my framing on the M8. And the Nikon D3s shows me 100% and I can really frame my images critically, not by guessing.

Enough shop talk. I don’t do it well and it simply ends up making me feel bad that everything is getting so damn expensive and way too complex. I just want to make some good pictures, the best I can. I’m not trying to revolutionize my way of doing that.

The Missoula Saturday morning Farmers’ Market is a joy. This beautiful summer morning found it jammed with locals, tourists, and producers of a variety of nationalities. It’s not yet huckleberry time but there were all kinds of root vegetables, strawberries, baby spuds, reds and whites, the kind you like to possible cut in half and  lightly toss with virgin olive oil, a little salt and pepper and some rosemary before putting them in to roast with maybe a pork tenderloin you’ve also glazed with a honey/mustard/rosemary marinade. Overnight for the marinade is best and if you’ve got some Hutterite honey from a prime year…that’s what you want. And the pork cooked until there is still a slight swath of light pink in the center. It cuts like butter and melts in your mouth. And you rarely end up with many baby reds left over. They’re like potato chips and pistachios, it’s really hard to eat just a couple.

I left the market with three small cucumbers, a bag of salad greens, and some small sweet onions and all will go into my salad for dinner tonight. As I write this I have a package of deer steaks taken from the garage freezer thawing on the kitchen counter. Also a package of deer burger which I’ll use in a tomato pasta sauce tomorrow.

It’s hard to be downtown Missoula on a Saturday and not stop by the Antique Mall on Railroad Ave. W. I’m currently on the alert for inexpensive but in very good condition LPs to add to my recently rediscovered LP collection rescued from oblivion in our barn back in the Rockfish Valley in Virginia.

I came out of the Antique Mall with the sound track from Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Julie in what appears to be mint condition. The music was composed and directed by Nino Rota. I remember photographing Franco Zeffirelii in the Lima home of writer Mario Vargas llosa in 1995 while doing a story on Peru for National Geographic. I paid $5.00 for the album and from the same dealer I found a two-record set of TV and movie themes conducted by Henry Mancini, some of which were also composed by Mancini. The dealer had it priced at $10.00, I paid $5.00. The cover of the Mancini is not mint but the grooves appear good.

To end my morning I stopped at another antique shop out on 3rd Street just short of Reserve Ave. There I found a box full of LPs for .75 each. To add to my rather eclectic collection I picked up an album called “Harmonica Gold,” starring “the great Johnny Puleo,” somebody I’ve never heard of so when I got home I went to Google and discovered he was born a dwarf in 1907 went into show business with a variety of acts, appearing on The Ed Sullivan show many times. He died in 1983. This record was pressed in 1986. There’s a ton of songs listed, many traditional ones that have been around for a zillion years. It may be more schlock music than not, we’ll see. I do love the sound of a well played mouth harp. Charlie McCoy’s work in Nashville always seemed special and I used some of his music in a slide show I did in the ‘70s.

Another .75 find is a Lacy J. Dalton album, “16th Avenue,” the cover in very nice shape and the record looking not abused. Dalton has a gritty, very Nashville kind of voice and this record was produced sometime in the 1980s by Billy Sherrill, one of the legendary Nashiville producers. Photographer Norman Seeff is credited with the portraits of Dalton, who looks great with her tousled hair and a kind of the girl-next-door-who-happens-to-sing gritty-country look.

Now, here’s the real sleeper in the .75 find: The United States Military Academy Band and Cadet Glee Club playing and singing an “Airborne Salute.” A number of compositions depicting the history and traditions of paratroopers falling from the skies over Corregidor, Leyte, Anzio, Salerno, and Bastogne. The U.S. Military Academy Band dates back to serving with Continental troops as early as 1776; the Cadets Glee Club was formed in 1928.

Some, but not all of these songs are listed as “parodies.” The liner notes tell us that “Many famous airborne songs have become popular by poking fun at disaster or scoffing at the troopers’ natural fears.” It’s noted that such a song is “Blood on the Risers…a tragic parody sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The verses tell the sad story of a trooper who forgot to ‘hook up’ properly before jumping and fell to his death.” Sounds like a fun song, doesn’t it?

Well, for .75 each I may have found something special in harmonica music, Nashville country (real country, unlike the over-produced same-old, same-old stuff called country today), or parodies about falling to one’s death over hostile country.

On the other hand, because I don’t have a turntable here in my writing room in Missoula, I guess I’ll have to wait to find out just what I’ve got. Maybe if I get to a really good yard sale….just maybe there’s an inexpensive but really good turntable waiting for me.

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  1. Sean Walker says:

    I just watched a show here in Australia on you and was inspired. I know nothing about photography but I could see many things in your photos but the most powerful was emotion. I loved the light, angles, contrasts, space and the way you have filled your photos with different elements. You must feel over awed at times with your ability to connect to people in this powerful way. Makes me want to learn more about taking photos in a hope I could one day connect with people in this way.

    • Thank you for your comments and observations. I don’t know what “show” you saw in Australia but I’m glad it meant enough to you to write to me. It’s hard to examine one’s work in ways that are analytical and I don’t really try. I simply have loved making pictures for a long time and feel rather blessed in that way.

  2. Matt Bailey says:

    I agree with your comments about cameras and complexity. Also, sadly, camera makers, even Leica, have embraced the short cycle time, new-product-development ethos of seemingly all manufacturers. Commercial shooters often have little choice but to upgrade every two years if they want the best resolution, speeds, etc. Photography for many has become a technological race, rather than a creative adventure. I recently bought your retrospective and I love the feel of the older, film based images. In fact, I’m starting to process my own film again!

  3. John Krumm says:

    Ah, gear talk. Supposedly Panasonic is coming out with a “pro” version of the GF camera by Christmas to make people with the GF1 happy (those who don’t like the dumbed-down GF2. Going against reasonable advice I bought an Olympus E5 last year, really love it, and know they won’t release a new model for several years, if ever. Kind of takes the upgrade pressure off.

  4. Matthias says:

    Hi William,

    first of all: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your wonderful books like “vanishing breed” or “Five Decades”. Your work is allways very inspirering!

    I’m working with Canon DSLR most of the time but want to use my Leica M9 more. Unfortunatly in my opinion Leica Camera Technik is not up to date. I think Leica M’s are more and more cameras for enthusiasts not professionals.

    • I’m always sorry to hear comments such as yours because Leica has for so long been the gold standard in photography with superb optics. I don how how the problems can be improved, at best solved. I wish Leica the very best of a future in the photographic world. It would be a shame not to have Leica as part of that world.

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