Saturday, December 29, 2012

That's a wrap!

It is Saturday 12/29/2012. The New Year is nearly upon us. The weather is cold, the holidays behind, and the future wide-open ahead. In a way...
While I love taking photos, trying "new" old cameras, different films etc. I am woefully (seriously, I am nothing if not full of woe) guilty of being un-organized when it comes to filing and storing my negatives, prints etc.
Sometimes even developing... As a testament to this last point, the color images featured here today were shot using my 1950 Kodak DuaFlex camera, in January of this year (nearly a full 12 months ago) and I just got around to developing them a couple weeks ago.

Burlington-Northern pulling out of Corona, CA. Kodak DuaFlex 100asa Color 120 film. ©Mike Vega 2012

So for me, even with the new year ahead, I have film from this year anchoring me to the past. Sounds dramatic eh'? While melancholy it may sound, I know that when I do finally start getting things organized it will include much careful pouring over each negative, filmstrip or print, trying to recall dates, places, cameras, and details of each.

Dragon Ride and vintage Ferris Wheels. Parking lot carnival, Riverside, CA. Kodak DuaFlex 100asa Color 120 film. ©Mike Vega 2012

I am making a resolution for 2013 to get more organized with my film and photo archives. Sleeves and binders will be purchased, time will be made, and the hard work of sorting and cataloging will be done. Make no mistake, with my other commitments, this will easily take the better part of the year.

El Rey Theatre (and moon)  Los Angeles, CA. Kodak DuaFlex 100asa Color 120 film. ©Mike Vega 2012

I plan on working backwards through the material and I hope to post some of the images that I somehow skipped over when I originally shot and or developed them. 

As this will be the last blog post I do this year I'm going to include more photos than I normally do.

All that remains of what was once a home... Mira Loma, CA. Kodak DuaFlex 100asa Color 120 film. ©Mike Vega 2012

The black and white images featured here were shot in December of 2012 in and around Southern California.
Disneyland is at once, a favorite place and least favorite place to shoot. The scenes can be wonderful, the crowds can be unforgiving... 

The Tower of Terror. Disneyland's California Adventure, Anaheim, CA. Tower 120 100asa B/W film.

The Golden Zephyr. Disneyland's California Adventure, Anaheim, CA. Tower 120 100asa B/W film.

The above photo of the Golden Zephyr is a hand-held long exposure (approx. 5 seconds), using 100asa black and white film. Amazingly, this time it turned out exactly as I imagined it. This was the 4th attempt at this shot over 3 visits to the park. I really like it.

El Rey Motel. Historic Route 66. Fontana, CA. Tower 120 100asa B/W film.

I am always a sucker for old neon-signs, lit or not, still featuring the neon tubing or not...
In the mid-century when these signs became wildly popular, they were used as weapon in a battle for customers in the "auto-age" post WWII. 
Automobile vacations were the thing to do, and all those happy but road weary travelers would need lodging. One motel is as good as the next, no? Sometimes, it seemed that the only difference was the neon sign by the roadside.

Bono's Historic Orange. Route 66 Fontana, California. Tower 120 100asa B/W film.

The last photo today will be of Bono's Historic Orange. Even with it's two strange and uncharacteristic light leaks, I like it.
This particular "orange" was originally built in 1936. It was saved from demolition in the 1990's and moved to its current location in 1997.
These giant Oranges served as beverage stands in an age of non-air-conditioned automobiles. To learn more about their legacy, follow this link: .

While it is rare that I actually plan a specific photo outting (other than a general direction to head in with my cameras) I do have something specific in mind for next year that I am very excited about. It is going to take a bit of planning and if it goes well, I'll deffinetly be writting a blog post about it.

Thanks for reading.
See you next year!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is more than a city, more than a county. Los Angeles is some kind of sprawling mess that has, since its humble beginnings, encompassed varied lifestyles and personalities. People from all over the world come here to imprint their identity onto it's landscape (sometimes literally), for better or often for worse.

Mural. Central Los Angeles, CA. Canon AE-1 28mm f1.4 100asa Legacy 35mm B/W film ©Mike Vega

There are so many unique neighborhoods that make up Los Angeles, but all are tied together, bound by the network of concrete arteries that traverse the landscape.
It's when you dare to get off of these arteries and venture into the unknown that you can discover the gems of individuality that keep drawing people here.

First St. Pool Billiard Parlor. Boyle Heights, CA. Canon AE-1 18mm f1.4 100asa Legacy 35mm B/W film ©Mike Vega 

Some of the attraction is steeped in celluloid history. So many images of this area, and more specifically, Hollywood have been seen by people the world over that when someone comes here for the first time they have an almost innate familiarity with the place.

Hollywood "Walk of Fame" star for legendary and controversial Silent Era Director/Actor Erich von Stroheim. Los Angeles, CA. Canon AE-1 28mm f1.4 100asa Legacy 35mm B/W film ©Mike Vega

There are of course equal numbers of legions of people who despise Los Angeles as there are those who adore it. Often though, even those who claim to detest the place come here. They come for the weather, the entertainment, and sometimes it's the very audacity and restlessness of the city that draws them in...

Tourists on Hollywood Boulevard. Los Angeles, CA. Canon AE-1 28mm f1.4 100asa Legacy 35mm B/W film ©Mike Vega

With its jumbled mix of fame, fortune, poverty, fantasy and stark reality the city is alive to those who choose to step out of their cars, and walk the streets, turn the corners and be open to discovery. On virtually any corner in the city you may find an architectural gem, a work of art, a famous face, a scene of urban blight, or mess of humanity... Anything.

Capitol Records building (modeled after a "stack of vinyl records"). Los Angeles, CA. Tower 120 110mm lens 100asa Arista B/W film ©Mike Vega

Do I love or hate Los Angeles? Yes.
Spend any amount of time here and you'll find that it can simply not be one or the other. It is too complex a place to assess in such simple terms. Find a rock or a gem, a flower or a weed, it is up to you.

Mels Drive-In Diner. Los Angeles, CA. Tower 120 110mm lens 100asa Arista B/W film ©Mike Vega

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Clarus MS-35

A couple of weeks ago I posted to my FaceBook page that I'd acquired a 1946 Clarus MS-35 coupled rangefinder. This camera is wonderful to look at, a brick to hold(!) and has a somewhat checkered past...

Clarus MS-35 rangefinder. ©Mike Vega

The Clarus company was based in and manufactured it's cameras in Minneapolis, MN. in the good ol' United States of America. The Clarus MS-35 was the ONLY model of camera the company ever produced.
Originally designed in 1940, it didn't go into production until 1946 due to financial difficulties. The camera features a parallax focusing system, a cloth shutter, no light meter, no ISO/ASA setting and, unusual for an early rangefinder, interchangeable lenses (35mm, 50mm and 101mm).

The Mad Hatter, Main Street U.S.A. Disneyland, CA. ©Mike Vega

Due to several small design flaws, the MS-35 quickly earned a reputation as an unreliable camera. That coupled with a price tag of $122.00 ($1,200.00 in 2012 dollars!) made for slow sales and ultimately in 1952, ended it's production run.

Sand and Sage Motel Pomona, CA. @Mike Vega

Due to it's dubious reputation, suspect quality and pleasing aesthetics, this camera has become a oddly collectible.
While all of that is fine and good, what matters to me is ultimately the images produced by the camera. So, what else to do but clean it up, run a few tests and load it with film! The above color image of the camera was taken using my iPhone. The black and white photographs were taken with the Clarus.

Travel Motel, Pomona, CA. ©Mike Vega

It turns out that while the optics are not bad (these are taken with the 35mm lens), the color is well faded from the parallax focusing system and therefore it is very hard to focus in good light and next to impossible in low light and/or darkness.

Tea Cups nighttime long exposure. Disneyland, Anaheim,  CA. ©Mike Vega

I love looking at the camera, and it was interesting to shoot with, but it's definitely not a "daily driver".
So, welcome to the family MS-35. You are an oddity among oddities.

Rubidoux Drive-In Theatre. Rubidoux, CA. ©Mike Vega


Friday, September 7, 2012

What's old is new again...

A couple of months ago, my wife Monika presented me with a gift. It was one of those sweet "just because" gifts.
It was a 1950 Tower 120 medium format film camera. Manufactured for Sears and Roebuck, it is a very simple, very basic "box" camera. It's design is elegant in it's simplicity and I was thrilled to receive it. I cleaned it up and gave it the once over straight away. I was especially excited to shoot with it because it features a 110mm fixed lens and being a box camera and not an SLR or TLR, looking through the primitive viewfinder offered what I imagined would be only an approximation of what the lens would capture...

Downtown Los Angeles 8-2012 ©Mike Vega

Unfortunately, I was all out of medium format film and it would be a few weeks until I had the opportunity to buy some (I try not to pay for shipping on things like film when possible, this hobby is pricy enough as it is!). 
As it turned out, Monika and I were lucky enough to have a relatively "free" day (no derby bouts) and we took the time to head up to Los Angeles to purchase some film (okay, a LOT of film...) and spend the day shooting around downtown and enjoying the eateries and shops.

The cooolest Ducks in town. @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA. 8-2012 ©Mike Vega

Based on the internals of the Tower, I was initially under the impression that this camera would produce a square negative, but was puzzled by the vertical rectangular viewfinder... As it would be revealed when the film was developed, it in fact produces HUGE rectangular negatives!

The Rosslyn Hotel. Skid Row, Los Angeles, CA. 8-2012 ©Mike Vega
As this first roll was a "test" roll, I took a lot of chances with my exposures and composition, and was more than pleasantly surprised at how well the little box camera performed (even during a hand held long exposure using a slow film in low light as pictured above).

Ponies. Mira Loma, CA. 9-2012 ©Mike Vega

Every now and then, you come across something that simply and strangely "fits" the way that you, as an individual, do things. Sometimes it is something like a tool, or a motorcycle, or in this case a "new" vintage camera. I have been lucky in this way most of my life. To find things to integrate into what I do that allow me to do them more naturally and closer to what I imagine them to be. 
Thank you to Monika for introducing me to this gem, which is sure to have a regular spot in my ever cramped camera case.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Magic Kingdom...

I talk to many people who tell me that they don't "get" Disneyland, and how people can be "all into it'.
As someone who grew up in Southern California that is kind of hard to imagine.
For me, going to Disneyland was as much a part of growing up as going to Grandmas house, or the beach, or shopping for school clothes...
That said, going to Disneyland now isn't about re-living my youth.
I take my daughter to the theme park to experience just that, the theme(s) of the place. The Imagineers at Disney go to pain staking lengths to ensure that every detail of an attraction is well thought out, and sorted before anyone sets eyes on it. It is that attention to detail that allows the visitor to become immersed in the experience.

The Columbia ©Mike Vega 2012
400asa B/W 35mm film

I wouldn't call it escapism, but spending a day or evening at Disneyland with family or friends can be somewhat of a re-charging experience. You are in a place where your only requirement is to enjoy being there. You are free to experience as much or as little of the entertainment as you like. That coupled with the myriad images and scenes created and re-created with exacting detail can be captivating.

Point Mugu Tattoo Gift Shop
Disney's California Adventure
©Mike Vega 2012
400asa B/W 35mm film

These things coupled with the right attitude can make for an oasis in the middle of the sprawling Southern California suburbs today, just as it has for decades.
Whether you are seeking thrills, or stepping back in time, the park is what you make it.

The Riverboat Mark Twain
©Mike Vega
400asa B/W 35mm film

Some of my favorite times at the park are spent between hustling to rides and deciding what to do next... 
Those moments when you see the people and the park as one entity, inseparable and complimentary.

Paradise Pier at Disney's California Adventure Park
©Mike Vega

400asa B/W 35mm film


Friday, July 13, 2012

Urban Struggle

So, in my line of work, I spend a lot of time in urban environments. Most of the time, this can be pretty depressing... Ugly buildings, ugly streets, ugly advertisements everywhere... So, when I come across something unique I try to capture it in an effort to isolate it from the miles and acres of crud...

The Sands Apartments, Gardena, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

The Sands apartments in Gardena, CA. features a wonderful mid-century entrance of blue tiles and amazing metal stars. I chose to shoot it with black and white (100 asa) film in order minimize the poor light and blight of the scene...

Water truck Riverside, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

While on a school expansion site, I came across this hideously beautiful water truck. Equipped with over sized tires to tackle any terrain, "safari" windshields (they are hinged and "flip" upward and out of the way to allow for air circulation (I'm SURE this beast doesn't have any air-conditioning!) and a killer faded yellow and green paint scheme...

"FE5KA" Fontana, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

While I am not an advocate of most graffiti, I do make exception for pieces on train cars. I'm not exactly sure why, but they do not offend me the way painting on walls, signs, dumpsters etc. I am especially drawn to the colorful or whimsical pieces...

"DIAR FOREVER!!" Fontana, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

WWII Air Raid Siren, Gardena, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

With Los Angeles being the largest Southern California city (population) and nearby Long Beach and San Pedro being ports for U.S. Navy warships during World War II the area was thought to be a natural target for the Japanese Naval fleet.
As such, the greater metropolitan area is littered with now defunct "air-raid" sirens. The one pictured here sits among the low-rent apartments of South East Los Angeles and is nondescript enough that I'd wager that people who've lived in it's shadow for years have never given it any thought.
Whenever I am in older (non-gentrified) neighborhoods, I keep an eye out for them. When renovating neighborhoods, the city usually removes the sirens...
I chose to shoot it with black and white (400 asa) film in order to define it from the grey building and grey sky...


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Night VS. Day...

To a photographer, light is everything. Though I know that to be true, there are times when I am overwhelmed, visually, by what the light reveals and I long for the night.
The night conceals the ugliness of the urban sprawl. The darkness hides away the blight of the strip-malls and cookie cutter storefronts. The darkness also distills the urban landscape and allows the rare and magnificent to be identified from what in day-light is clutter and chaos.

Bordered on all sides (literally) by ultimately forgettable storefronts and architectural clutter by day, Leonardo's in Los Angeles, CA. becomes a gem after the sun sets...

"Leonardo's" Mike Vega © 2012

There are things that seem mundane and forgettable in daylight, that only reveal the truth of their existence when they allow themselves to be seen.
Below is such a place. In 1978, Tom Waits released Blue Valentine and on this album is a track called "A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun". In that song is the lyric "now there's a place off the drag called the Gilbert Hotel, there's a couple letters burned out in the sign..."
The "drag" in his song is Hollywood Blvd., and the Gilbert Hotel is very real, and still there today. There is in fact, as of this post "a couple letters burned out in the sign" as well (I chose to shoot the side of the building that had all of the wonderful letters lit...).
For a music fan like me, seeing and photographing something like this is very special. As the darkness of this shot suggests, the hotel is off the drag, and as lonesome as the song suggests.

Gilbert Hotel Los Angeles, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

Some things or places have an identity that, like a person, changes after nightfall. Places and things are often "invisible" to us in the bright light of day, yet late at night, they can radiate like a lighthouse and draw us in like moths to a flame...
Los Angelenos know this to be especially true with Pinks, the iconic eatery is open during the day but comes alive late at night, when the patrons of concerts, bars and clubs pour out in the streets of L.A. and search for comfort food.

Pink's Los Angeles, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

Now that isn't to say that I am "anti-daylight", I just find that when surrounded by the ugliness of the modern urban landscape defining the interesting and unusual can be more of a chore. There are moments though...

Roadside flowers can seem ordinary, but upon closer inspection and with a little luck, the become very interesting...

©Mike Vega 2012

It's no secret that I love parking lot carnivals, day or night. Though it is often difficult to isolate images among the tightly laid out floor plan of a carnival, and the lighting is often not ideal, but when you do it can be very rewarding...

"Paratrooper" Fullerton, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

I was at this carnival one day before it opened, it was cool and gray and quiet. The carnies were asleep in their motorhomes and except for a few seagulls, I was all alone with the rides and stands. I imagined for a moment the noise and smells and sounds that would pervade this place once they opened for business and enjoyed the quiet all that much more...

©Mike Vega 2012

So who wins? 
I guess it's the one who takes the time to find the extraordinary among the ordinary.


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Process...

I often hear or read quotes from artists such as film makers or musicians saying that for them, the reward of a project is in "the process". That is to say, that the work of doing something is enough for them, and that the product of the work is irrelevant to the point where some never see/hear it.

El Cortez Hotel San Diego, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

As a photographer, I enjoy the making of a photograph. Whether it is something that I organized, or if it is capturing something in the moment that I happen upon it. 
There is something about the finality of shooting film photographs and the knowledge that if it's wrong, you won't know it until later when you develop the film. This permanence of the image adds to the excitement of that moment. 
The camera, settings, framing, film type and speed, lens choice etc. etc. this IS the process. You take of these pieces and put them together in your mind and hope that 1+1=2.
The process is wonderful, but...

The Donut King II. Gardena, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

The product has a relevance all it's own. The result of the process can be wonderful or disastrous, or worse, mundane.
Regardless of what lens you chose, or how long you waited for the sun to be in just the right position, or the subject to give you just the right look, the image has to stand on it's own or in my opinion, what is the point? 

Napoleone Pizza House (once the employer of one Tom Waits) National City, CA. ©Mike Vega 2012

Perhaps one day, results won't mean anything to me (I hope that never happens...), but for now I will enjoy the satisfaction (or disappointments) of seeing the results of thoughtfully preparing, staying aware, and working to improve.

*All of these photos were made using my trusty 1985 Canon AE-1 with Legacy Plus 100 B/W 35mm film (processed at home).

Friday, February 24, 2012


People are often heard saying that "time flies as you get older". We know it's not that they believe that time is actually accelerating as they age, but that our perception of the passage of time changes.

The more things that you are forced to cram into one day, the less time it leaves for each. That's math! Likewise, the less time that you are devoting to each project, task or activity, the more likely that the quality of that endeavor is going to suffer.

Vintage Ferris Wheel. Parking lot carnival. Fullerton, CA. © Mike Vega 2011
Kodak 400 ISO B/W film

I know full well, that we are all adding things to our daily agenda (without the balance of dropping other things), as a matter of necessity. But what as a result is being squeezed so hard that it breaks? 

"Space Invader" (France) piece. Los Angeles, CA. © Mike Vega 2012
Canon AE-1 Redscale 100 ISO 35mm film

I think that for a lot of people I know, it ends up being creative things. Art projects for example. Things that you are inspired to do, but that are not a "necessity". I think that if you reflect even on a single year, the things that will stand out as particularly important, will be the things that weren't necessities in the traditional sense of the word, but that in hindsight are actually the most necessary of all.

The "Art Deco" Olive Motel. Los Angeles, CA. © Mike Vega
Canon AE-1 Redscale 100 ISO 35mm film

Things that capture your imagination, be it a concert, a painting that you created, a trip to a museum exhibit, a road-trip with friends, something that full-filled the notion of "doing something", and not just the necessity of doing what needs done.

Mid-Century Tahiti Motel. Anaheim, CA. © Mike Vega
Kodak 400 ISO B/W film

The photographs in this update are all images or scenes that I happend upon while doing something else, and by having a camera with me I was able to make the most of these small opportunities and capture something that I found unique, inspiring, or at the least, interesting.
One of the joys (and frustrations) of choosing to shoot film over digital images, is the delay between when an image is captured, and when it is finally revealed through processing. Sometimes the developed image looks nothing like what you were trying to capture... sometimes, you see the image and get an amazing feeling of realizing that you managed to capture exactly what is was that made you lift your camera to your eye that day (or night). These moments are the ones that become the something, they are what is necessary to keep you shooting, or painting, or printing, or writing, or creating...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


having grown up in southern california, but also having traveled the U.S. quite a bit i have come to realize that commercialism and franchising is quickly taking a toll on the individuality of the cities of this country.

when i am out, shooting or otherwise, i always take notice of the unique. be it architecture, signage (I love unique signage!), landscapes, found objects, what have you.

Sandy Vitale Dance Studio Gardena, CA.
© Mike Vega 2012

it is these things that i am attracted to, and what i choose to photograph. not merely to capture them, but to preserve them in some small way because they are rapidly disappearing. the quirky diner down the street is razed to build a mc donald's, the mid-century apartment building with 1,000 square ft. units is bull dozed to build a boring modern structure with "living" spaces 1/2 the size, at 2x the rent...

Preston and Simons Mortuary Riverside, CA.
© Mike Vega 2012

so i try to capture what interests me, in the way that i perceive it. this, to me, means using film photography.  for several reasons -- it's warmth, it's flaws, and the tactile experience of it. loading, composing, "metering" (more on that later...) adjusting, selecting cameras, lenses, film types, etc. i love all of it.

Preston and Simons Mortuary Riverside, CA.
© Mike Vega 2012

so, if any of this makes sense to you, welcome. if it does not, maybe someday it will, when every corner of every city in the country looks exactly like the next or last.