Everysince stumbling on Imogen Cunningham I've been turning my camera on to black and white most of the time. Instead of just some of the time. Anyway, here are a couple of photos and a video.

Light's Shadow


I must admit this video is inspired quite a bit by Light Music by Lis Rhodes (1974). My old post on Brutalism has a bit of it that you can see.


The Grand Cena

I hadn't had a bite to eat or a drop to drink all day so I was treating myself to a bit of a feast. At least, it was a feast according to the standards defined by my limited means. There were no beautiful slaves to put the food in my mouth for me. Just the gruff taberna owner who gave me the stink eye when I asked him to leave the jug of wine. While I was waiting for the mains I sat back munching on some bread — wheat because emmer's for chumps — and olives and thought back on what lead up to this.

I had woken late that morning. My head was thick and achy. I was supposed to be at work at dawn to relieve the night shift, but when I opened my eyes the sun was in the sky. I was up and out the door in a flash. I normally tuck something dense and tasty in my uniform that I can sneakily have bite now and then throughout the day. If it comes to that, I usually have a meal before I leave the house. But this morning I was in such a panic that I did none of it.

I got to the pole. Lucius Laelius was placid as ever. He's a pro. But I know him pretty well by now; I could tell he was fuming. Luckily it was still early enough that there was no one around. I stripped off my hood and cowl — they make us cover up the uniform when we're not on duty. "Never let the punters see too much." my boss always says. I tucked away my kit and put on my white beard and my stringy white hair. This is the worst part of the job, by the way, it's so itchy. I think it's made of horse hair.

Anyway, after a quick look round to make sure there was still no one around, and properly attired in my crazy old hair and my loincloth I shimmied up the pole. Lucius Laelius pulled me up with an air of hatred. I'd been apologizing under my breath the whole time and I did so louder now. He gave me the worst look. I don't know what I had been keeping him from, but he obviously didn't like being kept from it. I promised I'd make it up to him but I know he'll be holding this one over me until we're both dead.

In a sense though that made the day go by easier. Sitting on top of a pole all day looking contemplative is much easier if you actually have something to contemplate. Still, by noon, the lack of food was starting to take its toll. I began to contemplate the meal I was going have that evening. I'm sure the people passing on the road below could hear my stomach rumbling. I shouldn't wonder if it couldn't have been heard all the way back in Rome. But I know it wasn't as loud as all that. If it was my boss would have heard it. He'd have been at the bottom of that pole in a flash, screaming about how I was supposed to be beyond hunger and did I want these punters thinking I wasn't up here communing with God so they didn't have to?

Eventually, the sun began to go down. After what seemed like years. Lucius Laelius came back and we traded places. I repeated my apology, but it's going be awhile before he's talking to me again.

I was so tired and so desperately hungry I almost forgot to put my hood and stuff on. I think Lucius Laelius hissed at me from the pole and I came to my senses. As hungry as I was I couldn't go out to eat in this stupid horsehair beard. I shlepped up the insula stairs to my tiny little room, hardly more than a cell really, an had a quick wash and brush up. In regular clothes I felt better. I went straight back down to the taberna on the ground floor.

Which brings me back to the start. The grand cena.

The proprietor brought over a heaping plate filled with eggs, fish, roast pig and a young fruit compote for after. He is prideful of his cooking, but this was my day so I asked him bring me some extra garum. He didn't like it, but he brought it and I liberally sprinkled it on everything. I considered really letting myself go and asking for some un-watered wine. But then I remembered that that's what got me in to this mess in the first place and thought better of it. Life as an ascetic is truly hard.

Some photos.

Just a random assortment of photos today.

night light
sun slur


Literally vs. Figuratively

Literally vs. Figuratively is very important. Back when I was a stick up kid I stole a bag off this dude on the train.

He told me I didn't want what was in the bag.

I told him fuck you and I have the gun.

He said if I opened that bag I would literally enter a world of hurt.

I left, found a quiet spot and opened the bag. It was a portal to hell and it sucked me in like magic.

That was a bad time. I'm only here to tell you about it because I'm so clever and resourceful. I found my way back out of hell again.

But it just goes to show, if somebody says "literally" you better know if they literally mean it.

Imogen Cunningham

It started when I stumbled over the iconic photo of Imogen Cunningham: Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite, yet again. It happens a lot. You've probably seen it many times too. That photo is by Judy Dater, and as beautiful as the nude Twinka is in that photo, the most interesting thing in it is Imogen.

Since finding out about Imogen's work, just a few hours ago admittedly, she has become my favorite photographer.

Imogen could capture depth where others could only capture surface. Take for instance the case of Joan Blondell. She was a Hollywood actress in the 30s. Do an image search for her. She was beautiful right, but in that Hollywood way where she almost didn't seem real. Now compare those stills and promotional photos to the photo below.

Joan Blondell, 1933

Here Joan is a real person, in a room with a light, a camera and Imogen. And she's more beautiful than a fleet of Hollywood producers ever managed.

But that's not the only thing to love. Imogen studied the chemistry of photography, and you can feel the process in her work. You can almost still smell the developing fluid on Gas Tanks even though it's just a jpeg.

Gas Tanks, 1927
Even very early she was playing around with process. I am in love with this pair of prints. They're obviously made from the same negative. The line between night and day is decided in the darkroom.

Morning Mist and Sunshine, 1911

In Moonlight, 1911

And this Magnolia Bud. Can you not just feel the room around it?
Magnolia Bud, 1920s

Most photographers would soften that light, to hide it's source. They wouldn't want you to think about the light, they'd want you to think about the Magnolia.

But Imogen lets it shine through. We still think about the magnolia, but then we do think about the light. Maybe it's a normal desk lamp, an anglepoise. From there we think about the room. The curtains are drawn so that lamp's voice will shine bright. A black cloth is draped behind the subject. Pointed at the table is the camera on it's heavy wooden tripod. And bustling around all of it, adjusting, checking and finally capturing the image is Imogen.

Like the portrait of Joan Blondell we can feel Imogen's presence in her photos, regardless of the subject. Most photographers try their best to remove themselves from their photos. Imogen has put more of herself in Magnolia Bud than most photographers ever manage in self portraits. And that's what makes her so special.

I'll leave you with some more of my favorites.

Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather 3, 1922

Her and Her Shadow, 1931

This portrait of Man Ray reminds me more of Nude Descending a Staircase than that Man Ray picture.

A Man Ray Version of Man Ray, 1960

Oil Tanks, 1940

The lady herself. One of many self portraits.
Self Portrait, 1933

The post to end all posts (not really)

Last week was somehow nuts without anything happening. No, that's not true. I watched some really good films (more below), lots of good tv (poor Chetna! poor Richard! OMG, Frank's soul! Henry Parish/Jeremy Crane/The Horseman of War is so mean! That was spoiler by the way, don't read that), broke my toe chasing after the cat, and had Chinese food delivered for the first time in the casa.

Hell yeah
It was proper Amero-Chinese takeaway and I don't know why we haven't gotten it before. Probably because we got burned so many times trying this in seattle.

Actually, to be honest, I've been a bit blocked by trying to write about La Dolce Vita. Watched it a week ago plus. And there's so much to say that it's going to have to wait a bit longer. I will just show you this as proof that it's worth talking about.

Consider this a preview

Then there's the forthcoming bluegrass post. Flatt & Scruggs are obviously top of the class, so maybe I shouldn't make the comparison. But recently I've added The Dillards (The Darlings from The Andy Griffith Show) first album to my lineup. They sound so dead. Why is that? Overproduced? Too technical minded? I need to listen to a wider range of their stuff maybe, before I can formulate a complete thought and/or extrapolate a life lesson from it.

Born Day

Yesterday, in celebration of the anniversary of my birth, rakka made for me a medieval feast. She's done a really good write up already, of course. But I'm gonna do that thing too. Mostly as pictures. Mostly the same ones.

Thanks for the card jrhyley!

Before the medieval thing started (this was actually a couple days ago), there was princess torte.  It only dates to, like, the 30s. And it's for princesses, which I'm not. But it was on bake off and we were intrigued.
Princess (peach) torte in all its glory
It's a really complicated cake. Three layers of cake, one of jam, two of custard, and a big pile of whipped cream on the top, then the green marzipan layer.
Inside the cake
It seems crazy but it's totally worth it. Each bite is like a journey through the layers. It starts with the cream, moves through the jam and finishes with the almond from the marzipan. So good. Also, did you know that fresh made marzipan actually tastes really good? Like almonds. Like concentrated almonds. This is new knowledge for me.

Now we start the medieval stuff.

zabarbada of fresh cheese and black bread

Spinach, fig and mushroom pies
Cod poached in wine and a green salad.

alows de beef

Braised apple and goat cheese
All of this stuff was incredibly good. Especially the apples. And the beef. And the mushroom pies. And the spinach ones. Oh, and the fig ones. Oh my god the fig ones. And the fish. And the cheese stuff.

Not pictured, a baked chicken. We were going to do it in front of the fire, rotating on a string. Proper roasting. It also was going to be cold and rainy, but it was like 75F. That's a little too hot to light a hot ass fire and have it burn for like a hundred hours. Seriously, the log was huge, it would have gone for days.

The games we play (I mean I. The games I play)

First, the random

So, as you might have noticed, it's Gilmore Girls day at casa rakkaleff. Because netflix just got rights and is streaming the whole thing starting today. The early years were nice but I'm not sure I'm that ready for a full steam rewatch. Everysince I realized that the dialog has the same cadence as that in Dragnet I just can't help think of all the parts being played by Jack Webb and that guy from M.A.S.H.

Aside: Why isn't there a British show about the Korean War called B.A.N.G.E.R.S.?

More stuff.
When I work from home, Ms Peel sometimes insists on playing Cat and Mouse

Larb Gai that rakka made for me. Just the right amount of fish sauce!
Aside: When eating things with fish sauce do you ever think about the relationship between Classical Rome and East Asia? Did garum travel on the silk road? If so, in which direction?

The Games

I've been wanting to talk about games. I go in phases with video games, and I've been in a fairly heavy phase this last few months. There are a lot of really neat games out there these days. Me, I've been playing a lot of early access stuff. Which can be frustrating, true, because they're all buggy. But it's also fun to watch them evolve. Anyway, here's a few screens.

Beautiful but deadly cold in The Long Dark

My actual town so far in Banished
I've been playing a shit ton of this game 7 Days to Die, which I like because you can easily build a house/fort/whatever. But it's in alpha and it hasn't gotten as far as letting you make stuff that can move.

Here's my roman villa (pretty old, the UI has moved on). It had a courtyard, of course.

Planet Explorers is in alpha too, but it has a 3d editor that lets you design vehicles and stuff (you can also make buildings but it's not quite as robust). In story mode you still have to acquire materiel to make the stuff or it wouldn't be a challenge. I needed an air vehicle but I didn't have much stuff.

LAV Flying Table MK1
LAV Flying Table MK1 in Planet Explorers
The Flying Table is practical early game when they give you a rotor but withhold landing gear and such. But it gave me an idea.
LAV Flying Banquet X1
LAV Flying Banquet X1 in Planet Explorers
The Flying Banquet is still in the prototype stage, but it seats seven and comes with an elegant silver table service.

A couple more random ones.

Detective Grimoire is short but fun
Lifeless Planet starts of really well. Creepy. But I got stuck on a bug and haven't been back.

I'm also playing the Half Lives. I never have, and the Orange Box was like five bucks on steam. No screenshots though. You've probably seen it already if you want to.

There's a lot to talk about

Let's start with...

The Food

This is the smažený sýr that rakka and I made over the weekend. It's fried cheese, Czech style. When it's served as street food in Prague it comes as a sandwich as mayo. I missed my chance to try it when I was there this past February, so you know I gave it a go. I'm duplicating rakka's post a bit here, but this stuff deserves it.

smažený sýr sandwich

For cheese we used a pretty decent gruyère. After battering in breadcrumbs and we fried it in the new pans. Did I mention the new pans, btw? Stainless steel with aluminum core, and flat bottomed so they work on the stupid glass top stove. Fantastic. Good tools are where it is fucking at.

Look how shiny that pan is! It cleans easy too.

I won't bother to go into more detail because rakka already did and it's part of my new blogging policy to not bother linking stuff all over the place. It gets in my way and you have access to a wide range of search engines. 

So it's on to the pickled eggs. To be honest, I didn't do much for these (just shelling). Pickling is usually my thing but rakka is doing more nice things for me than usual because my birthday is coming up. Also, she used a british pub recipe so when these are ready we can feel like we're in over there.

Eggs and Brine, a natural combination

The creepy egg face is probably just a refection
And we're not done there. Rakka also got us tapenade stuff. So we made that. People at work were jealous of my homemade muffaletta today. I'll tell you that.

The Shows

Also watched a bunch of shows. Outlander continues to be good though not as stunning as last week. Sleepy Hollow though! Holy shit! Frank! Henry! Franklinsteins Monster!

Then there's the ongoing project to watch all the old Doctor Who in order. This weekend was The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The Daleks motivation doesn't make any sense, but then when has Terry Nation ever let story stand in the way of fantastical set pieces or dramatic tension? The answer is never.

The set pieces are pretty fantastical though, conceptually. In practice they're let down a bit by the budget; you see them mostly in reaction shots. They put most of the money into the dramatic tension. The image of a destroyed Battersea and the location shots in bits of London that were still bombed out was money well spent.

If you need a refresher, btw, I made this some time ago. It may help.

If that doesn't work there's also the silly one.

And I was going to talk about some games I've been playing, but imma save that for later.

Banished to the rainy land of depressing novels

Light was nice the other day (yesterday? who knows). It's gone to shit since, but I have this photo to remind me.
Aaaaaaaaawwwwwww. reverbrbrbrbrbrbrb.
I've been reading The Catcher in the Rye. Or re-reading it? Who can tell. If I read it before I was forced to for school, and therefore did my best to not get anything out of it. I used to be really good at that. I'm getting lots of things out of it this time.

But one of them is depressed, so I took a break and read Troublemaker, the 3rd Dave Brandstetter novel. Yeah, because that was going to be so fucking uplifting. No. That didn't help my spirits much either.

But it was better than watching the slow death of my village in Banished, the medieval hippie commune simulator. Well, it's a town simulator, but the people are so obliging. They just do what's best for the community without ever getting revolty. And there's no money. See, hippies.

This image from shiningrocksoftware.com because I'm too lazy to switch to windows and get a screenshot of my own town
It's fun, but (or because) it's a very tetchy simulation. Easy to mess it up. Hard to notice that you have. I've driven a number of villages into the ground.

So all my leisure activities are depressing. And now it's the rainy season. I'm set. For what, I don't know. But damn if I'm not set.

Beard Update

The big news this week is, of course, you guessed it, I'm going to say it right now, Sleepy Hollow season 2 started! It's the kind of show that people usually pretend not to watch. Or pretend like they're watching it ironically.

Fuck that. Just admit that SH is fun as hell (even if they have only gone as far as Purgatory). Yeah, I know, it's totally over the top, but the rapport between Abby and Ichabod is just sublime. Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison could do a reality show about ditch digging and I'd watch it. If Lyndie Greenwood (Jenny Mills) and Orlando Jones (Captain Frank Irving) made guest appearances I'd buy the dvds.

I am not on #TeamIchAbby though. I do not ship them. If you need time traveling love triangles, Outlander has that shit locked down.

That was a pretty good wedding episode [Outlander s1e7], I must admit. The fantastical setting leads to a pretty unique set set of emotions for our hungover bride. You've seen it right? Ok. She's still married to Frank, but he and Jamie are never alive at the same time so technically it's not adultery. She loves them both even though nobody believes that she loves Frank. That's gotta be confusing.

Jamie's hair was terrible though. Even I know that.

The show did a surprising good job of showing us Claire's confusion too. Having her and Jamie tell each other (and us) the story was a brilliant move, because it simultaneously told the story of them breaking the ice and becoming an actual couple. It was a good call to spend the whole episode on it.

In Other News

As I've gotten older, my beard has become evil. Not that I grow it out much, but I skipped trimming for a couple weeks and it made itself known. But being evil, it refuses to be photographed. To help you understand what's going on with it, I've produced this simulation.
Simulation of Leff's Evil Beard

And Now: Unrelated Images Seen At Work

Seen at work: Hemp Farts
Honesty in Marketing: Hemp Farts

Eaten at work: Ramen with stuff in it
It's hard to transport soft cooked eggs, so these are hard boiled, like my heart

La Grande Bellezza

I've been sick all week, and that sucks, but I did manage to experience some beauty. The Great Beauty as a matter of fact. 

Rakka has been telling me about this film for months but I've been putting it off. It's not a film you just watch and forget. You have to have time to process it. I couldn't sleep that night. I just lay awake thinking about all the threads. 

This is the same shot everybody uses. Know why? Because you just have to watch the damn movie.
I loved this film so much I'm not going to tell you anything about it. I understand now why rakka wouldn't say details. Anyway, just follow these two rules when you watch it.
  1. If it seems a bit frivolous at first, wait for the music to slow down. 
  2. Don't have anything scheduled for the morning after.
It might be a good idea to watch it with somebody too. You'll want to talk about it. Of course, you can always drop me a line if you need to.

I ain't gonna work tomorrow. And I may not work next day

It seems that I've brought home a cold and given it to Rakka. It could be Enterovirus D68, which is in town. I've gotta stop being a slave to fashion; I'm tired of catching all these trendy diseases.

At least my dentist was nice enough to not charge me for skipping out on my appointment tomorrow. I can't have a sandblaster in my gob and a fever at the same time. I just can't.

Sick or not, reading still has to happen. This weekend it was The Unorthodox Engineers, a collection of short stories from the 60s-70s. It's premise is that the farther you travel (in space) the less you can take, so you have to wing it. To prove it, it pits some figures drawn on cardboard against some silly, made up physics. Total pulp. At least it managed to not be actively sexist; which is a feat for sci-fi (especially older). But it only achieved this by being passively and exclusionarily sexist; not even a mention of a female in the whole thing.

But it was a quick read, and I was already coming down with this cold, so I read it all. If that doesn't sound like a recommendation, then you've been paying attention.

Anyway, it was better than that Jonathan Gash novel I was reading. I abandoned it. Lovejoy is better on tv.

Also this weekend. The Reign of Terror is missing a couple episodes, but they found the audio and animated them. It is jerky to the point of nauseating. They did a better job with The Invasion, which we'll get to later.

Looks great in stills though

In other news, people are moving out of Seattle. Wize. Very Wize. I can't wait to join them. http://www.planetizen.com/node/71243

I saw the light hun, I saw the light

Sometimes good things have bad consequences. Sometimes it's the other way.

Like today, on my way home my sinuses half cleared up for once so I could smell things. This happens once every month or two and for a few hours it's like a whole new world.

It kicked in when I was sat right next to someone with a bag overflowing with the smell of dying. Every time the bag opened. Hospital smell. Hospice. Death bed. Except the one time. Chocolate muffin. Factory muffin. Lifeless. Overpowering.

As it passed under my eyes, the Jonathan Gash novel also felt a bit like dying.

Eventually I got up and roamed around.

I saw the light.

I photographed it.
On the clouds (phone pic via twitter)

Over the navy yard and up the blackridge mountains

Under the big sky (and over the fire)

The fire

Seagull conference




Sometimes bad things have good consequences.