Jiufen is magical.
So is CineStill 800T.
Jiufen is magical.
So is CineStill 800T.
If you take the 1062 bus out of Taipei and are lulled to sleep by the the winding, hour-long ride, you’ll wake up in the charming mining town of Jiufen.
Located on the northeastern shoulder of Taiwan, Jiufen was a mining town whose gold rush began in the 1890s and declined after World War II. After a 1989 movie, City of Sadness, was filmed in Jiufen, interest in the town was renewed, and it’s since been a popular tourist attraction. Rumors that its architecture was the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away make Jiufen particularly appealing to Japanese tourists.
Famous for its narrow, winding streets lined with shops, its wide array of tea houses and food stalls and its vast views of both Taiwan and the ocean, Jiufen was a great day trip out of Taipei, even if it was a little more touristy and less historical than I’d hoped.
It was extremely overcast, even foggy, the entire day. We hoped the skies would clear for us to get the iconic shot of the A Mei Tea House (above) with all the paper lanterns lit up at dusk. But some strange combination of the higher elevation, the ocean gusts and the mountain terrain kept the clouds lingering directly over Jiufen, even as the sun was shining on the bay several miles away. It was pretty disappointing, especially since I’d been looking forward to making that photo.
For the rest of the week in Taipei, whenever it was overcast or drizzly (which was every day), we’d sigh, “It’s probably sunny in Jiufen.”
After wandering the outskirts of Jiufen, we returned to the main stretch, where again the weather disappointed us. Unfazed, my uncle Doug led us down the famous Jiufen stone steps, through a short, narrow tunnel and to Yu Zai Fan Shu Tea Stall (九份芋頭蕃薯), where he educated Jeff and me a bit on Chinese tea culture.
We also had a killer view from our window seat:
After drinking so much high mountain tea that the insides of my mouth turned dry and puckery, we left to roam the streets of Jiufen once more. I’ll have CineStill photos from Jiufen in my next blog post.
When you’re planning to visit Taiwan, the first thing anyone talks about is night markets. I’ll have an entire blog post dedicated to night markets later, but suffice it to say that Taipei has a pretty active night life, and I knew early on that I’d want to capture that on film.
Some quick research introduced me to CineStill, which reworks ECN-2 motion picture film so it can be shot and processed for C-41. They’re working on production of medium-format film, but for now, only 35mm is available. It’s not a perfect film — it’s particularly known for halation — but I loved the examples of urban night photography I’d seen, and wanted to give it a try. Thanks to a Canon EOS A2 loan from Tyler Rippel, via FIND in a BOX, I was able to shoot CineStill in Taiwan.
Honestly, it was nerve-wracking for me to use new-to-me film with a new-to-me camera at night in a country I may never be able to visit again. But I trusted my light meter and went for it. The results certainly aren’t perfect — they’re gritty, grainy and grungy — but that’s exactly what I wanted. Here are a few photos from our nocturnal wanderings, with more to come:
To get to Huiji Temple on Zhishan — a small, lesser-known temple on the top of a jungly hill in the middle of Shilin District in Taipei — you must take a short but very steep hike up this step path…
…or you must take a short but very steep hike up this step path.
I am enamored of red paper lanterns, which you’ll see in future blog posts as well. When I was researching for our trip and saw this beautiful path lined with tasseled lanterns, I knew we needed to see it for ourselves.
The temple itself is a smaller one, and much of the front was shielded by construction scaffolding as it was undergoing renovations.
So, despite the stifling humidity and swarming mosquitoes in the jungle-like conditions, I spent most of my time on the lantern path. We’d arrived at the temple just before dusk, so light was fading fast, especially in the thick foliage beneath the temple where the path was.
When Jeff and I travel, we usually plan our trips around where we want to eat. For our Taiwan trip with my uncle Doug, I planned daily excursions around where I wanted to photograph. This included, among other places, temples and “touristy” destinations that Doug — who lived part of his childhood in Taipei — said he normally wouldn’t consider when visiting Taiwan.
Luckily for us, the long MRT ride into Beitou District, the far reaches of Taipei, was worth it: It was a beautiful, sunny day — the only sunny day we would get, it turned out — and the blue skies were perfect for the Guandu Temple.
This was the first of three temples we would visit during our trip, and the first I’d ever been to. Worship at the site began in the 1660s, and a temple was constructed in the early 1700s, making it the first temple in Taiwan dedicated to the goddess Mazu. Partly Buddhist and partly Taoist, it’s quite a large complex, with many sections that we didn’t explore because we wanted to move on to our next temple, located in Shilin District.
We easily could have spent another hour or two at the temple, but light was falling and we needed to move on to Shilin District. But first, a quick look at the residential streets we walked through Beitou to get back to the MRT station:
During our week in Taiwan, we didn’t visit or even travel through all 12 of Taipei’s administrative districts, but I did get the impression that while many districts share similar characteristics and industries, several boast fairly distinctive qualities.
For example, parts of Xinyi District look like anywhere else in the city…
…while some areas pay homage to Taiwanese history as the modern era looms nearby…
…and finally, other areas could be considered the Wall Street or Times Square of Taipei.
In my earliest, most coherent memory of my grandparents, they were visiting my family for a few days in Houston, and I brought my grandmother a small vase of flowers for their room.
When I was in fourth grade, my grandparents retired from a life of diplomacy and public service (read: constant moving) and bought a house 20 minutes away from us. It was then that they became a regular presence in our lives: Every week, Sunday meant a big family dinner, and Western holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent at their house. Once summer came around, though, they returned for a few months to Taiwan, and it was up to us to keep their plants watered and mailbox empty until they returned in September.
This summer, my grandmother returned to the Taipei apartment she and my grandfather have owned for decades. When Jeff and I heard my Uncle Doug was planning a surprise visit to coincide with her birthday, we invited ourselves to come along for the week.
Needless to say, my grandmother was surprised to find the three of us at her door early one morning a few weeks ago, but soon enough, we were all off to breakfast together.
My grandparents’ apartment is located in the Da’an District. Here’s some film from the general vicinity:
I’ll share plenty of more film later, soon!
My grandmother is returning to the United States today after spending the summer in Taiwan.
Jeff and I, with my Uncle Doug, planned a surprise visit to Taiwan for her birthday a few weeks ago. In the week we spent there, we explored and ate a lot in the Taipei area. Even better, I learned a lot more about my grandmother and the storied life she’s led.
The daughter of a newspaper publisher and the wife of a lifelong diplomat, my grandmother raised three sons, worked for a time as a translator at the United Nations and had a professional relationship with Madame Chiang Kai-shek. I’ve always known her to be proper, dignified and reserved — no surprise, given her role as a diplomat’s spouse — but as we spent time with her, she let slip a playful, almost whimsical side that was new and delightful to me.
Case in point: The below photo, which I took after her birthday lunch outside a Japanese-style teahouse.
I’d asked her to stand next to the bicycle for her birthday photo. She suggested she pretend to ride it — even though she admitted she’d always been terrible at riding bicycles.
This is easily my favorite photo I’ve ever taken of her.
I’m really glad we got to spend so much time with my grandmother in Taiwan, and I look forward to seeing her on U.S. soil soon enough.
More film from the trip to come.
Once I decided to bring film on our most recent Texas trip because of our Franklin Barbecue/Austin, Texas excursion, I determined to find something else to photograph so I could make the most out of bringing my Pentax 6×7.
So, on a sweltering Saturday afternoon before our Astros game, Jeff, my younger brother Geoff and our friend Hannah agreed to indulge me by going to the Sugar & Cloth color wall.
It’s basically one long warehouse wall painted in eight different colors, with each paint color extending out onto the pavement below by six feet. This makes it extremely Instagram-friendly; in fact, I’ve seen on Instagram numerous photos of engaged or married couples and of seniors against the backdrop of the wall. Because my parents live just on the outskirts of Houston, we don’t often go “into Houston,” so it was a treat, albeit a sweaty one, to spend an hour at the color wall.
It’s now tradition/a mandate that whenever Jeff and I visit Texas, we go to a local-ish barbecue joint.
Previous outings have included Gatlin’s BBQ in Houston, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano, Roegels Barbecue Co in Houston and The Salt Lick in Driftwood. Separately, I’ve been to Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, and Jeff has eaten at Pecan Lodge in Dallas.
So we were long overdue to eat at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, which is perhaps best known for the line that forms 4-6 hours before it opens at 11 a.m.
With my younger brother Geoff, we left Houston at 5 a.m. one hot Friday morning and arrived at Franklin at 7:40 — just in time to snag the last spot in line with almost full shade cast by the building.
Here are some frames, courtesy of my Pentax 6×7, that I took of our long-awaited pilgrimage to Franklin, and of our walking tour of Austin afterwards.
Like many other local newspapers, my newspaper’s prep sports department, GameTimePa.com, has long recognized high-performing student-athletes as “all-stars” at the conclusion of each sports season. For my first three years on staff, the photographers had little to no involvement in the production of the high school all-stars presentation, which consisted mostly of round-ups and submitted headshots of each athlete being honored.
Then, in fall 2014, I saw that our sports editor had placed assignments for all-star team photo shoots in our photo schedule. It took me maybe six seconds to decide to claim ownership of the project — that is, every single photo shoot — because otherwise, three different photographers would end up being assigned and the presentation wouldn’t necessarily have a cohesive look.
After Jeff and I researched and compared lit portraits featuring three or more athletes, I decided on the aesthetic I was most interested in (and that could be feasibly accomplished with a large group of teenagers). With Jeff’s invaluable on-site assistance and support from various GameTime staffers, we managed to produce good-enough work in the 2014-2015 school year that, by the time May rolled around, I knew there was no way we couldn’t do it again for 2015-2016.
For the 2014-2015 school year, we staged all the photo shoots on the fields, courts and mats where the athletes competed. For the 2015-2016 school year — largely for logistical (weather) reasons and to emphasize that they are student-athletes — we staged all the photo shoots inside schools.
I’d like to thank the principals, administrative staffers and athletic directors of Central York High School, Dallastown Area High School, Hanover High School, Northeastern High School, Red Lion Area Senior High School, Spring Grove Area High School, Susquehannock High School, West York Area High School, William Penn Senior High School, York Catholic High School and York Suburban High School for welcoming us into their schools for the past two years of photo shoots. I’m also grateful to Jeff for his assistance at every single shoot, to my photo and GameTime editors for letting me own this project and to the hundreds of our all-star athletes who brought their game face to the photo shoots.
When I wasn’t chasing landscapes with my Pentax 6×7 during a recent weeklong visit in the Bay Area, I was chasing my niece and nephew with my 5DII throughout their Fremont home, San Francisco and everywhere else.
Fortunately, their mother and my sister-in-law Emily has never known me to be without a camera in hand, so here are some pictures of Layla and Henry, and occasionally Matt and Emily:
Jeff and I are suckers for national parks, so almost immediately after we booked our flights to California, he reserved a campground site in Yosemite National Park. We budgeted only two days and a night for the park, but, accompanied by my brother Matt, we definitely made the most of those 30 hours.
As we drove into the park, the sunshiney day turned to spitting rain, and we barely got our tents up in time. We then immediately started heading toward Glacier Point Road, with a few stops along the way. Pentax 6×7 the entire time, of course — I left my 5DII at Matt and Emily’s house in Fremont:
Then onward and upwards:
As we continued on Glacier Point Road and gained elevation, the temperature dropped precipitously. While we’d enjoyed low 70s in Yosemite Valley, we suddenly faced upper 20s and snow:
When we arrived at Glacier Point, we found Half Dome and much of the rest of the view obscured by clouds. So we decided to hike the Panorama Trail to Illilouette Falls Bridge, in hopes that the sun would eventually overcome the clouds by the time we returned to Glacier Point.
We spent maybe five minutes on the bridge, and then went right back up the Panorama Trail to return to Glacier Point.
As we made our way up the Panorama Trail’s gradual incline, the clouds slowly began giving way, and the quality of light changed before our eyes. Unsure if we’d reach Glacier Point by sunset, we stopped to grab photos of Half Dome as it was bathed in a beautiful glow.
Then we hiked for maybe 10 more minutes and realized we were basically back at Glacier Point. So we hurried to the overlook and waited for the sun to finally come out. This frame — my only one of Half Dome lit by the sun — was the last on my roll for the day:
The next morning, over breakfast burritos, we decided to hike the Yosemite Falls Trail.
This trail is notoriously steep, with an elevation gain of 2,700 feet over 3 miles, and it was definitely a challenge for me. Worst of all, by the time Jeff and I got to the top of Yosemite Falls, we found it difficult to enjoy the vista simply because of the time of day — it was just past noon, and half the valley was cast in dark blue haze.
So here’s one more photo of the upper falls, taken on the trail’s downhill section after Columbia Rock:
The next day, Jeff and I flew out of San Jose, marking the end of our trip. Despite my occasional misuse, it was an excellent test run for my Sekonic L-508, and I’m excited to use it for future outings!
Of course, our Bay Area visit last month wouldn’t have been complete if we hadn’t made a Golden Gate Bridge expedition.
It was at this point in our trip that Jeff actually complained about our having blue skies every day. I knew he wanted that iconic San Francisco fog for photos, but the picture-perfect day combined with Ektar was all I needed to make me happy.
We’d walked most of the length of the bridge with Matt, Emily and the kids when Emily decided to take the kids back towards San Francisco. Matt, Jeff and I continued on to Battery Spencer for probably the most popular overlook of the bridge:
On our way back across the bridge, we saw two couples of gray whales breaching beneath the bridge. While I didn’t attempt to take any photos on film, seeing whales in the bay was definitely a highlight of the day, as you can tell from my tweets.
We reunited with Emily, who provided much-needed pastries, and went on to Baker Beach, but only after Jeff and I paused in a sandy woodland area for quick portraits:
Then onward to the beach:
Anyone who knows me knows I strongly dislike beaches. I’m not a fan of hot sand or dirty ocean water or greasy sunscreen or salty, humid breezes. It turns out, however, that I’ve just been on the wrong coast this entire time. Baker Beach, at least when we were there, was delightfully cool and crisp, and even the wet sand didn’t cling to my feet.
Plus, Atlantic beaches don’t get the sunset, nor this view:
Coming up next: YOSEMITE!
I hauled both digital and film cameras on our trip to California last month — digital for my very active niece and nephew, and film for everything else. I did manage to capture the kids on film, though — in Livermore.
Matt and Emily live in Fremont, so Jeff and I never considered going to Napa Valley when Livermore is practically in their backyard. Accompanied by them, as well as their friends who have Livermore wine connections, we went to BoaVentura de Caires Winery, McGrail Vineyards and Winery, Page Mill Winery and Wente Vineyards. Here’s some Ektar from BoaVentura, which featured two very friendly dogs and a (fenced) yard of chickens clucking near the wine-tasting room:
Especially in Fremont and Livermore, I noticed beautiful, soaring rosebushes everywhere. Emily said roses are grown in vineyards because the flowers are susceptible to the same diseases as the grapes. While each vineyard we visited featured rosebushes, BoaVentura boasted a wider array of flowers, which I loved.
A number of friends have moved to California (SF, LA and everywhere in-between) over the past few years, which means I’ve heard “west is best” more than once.
I admit, after visiting the Bay Area for the first time last month, I might have to agree.
After my sister-in-law, Jeff, the kids and I visited Muir Woods National Monument, we took the very winding drive up into Mount Tamalpais State Park and then the very winding drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. I’m embarrassed to say the wildly curvy roads gave me an uncomfortable case of motion sickness, which lessened my enjoyment of the scenery, but here are a few frames out of the Pentax 6×7:
Plus, the hazy day didn’t lend itself well to photos of the far-off vistas of San Francisco or the coastline, except when we came to this spot off the Pacific Coast Highway:
Gotta love Ektar for those ocean blues. We’ll see more Ektar blues in a future blog post, but next up is a wine break in Livermore.
The first day we walked around San Francisco, I fell in love with the trees. All the trees.
I love what trees do for a place, and for photos. When my parents had to have one of their three large oaks removed because the roots were threatening the house’s foundation, I was pretty upset. Jeff and I got married in an orchard of 100-year-old pecan trees. The first thing I want to do when we get a house, if the yard will allow for it, is plant a tree.
As much as I loved the trees in San Francisco itself, I somehow didn’t take any photos of them. But here are some fabulous trees further out in the Bay Area, all captured on my Pentax 6×7:
Yes, Muir Woods is where the forest moon of Endor was filmed in Return of the Jedi. No, we didn’t see any Ewoks.
Later that evening, we met our friend Esten (with whom we roadtripped into the American West in 2009) in Oakland. I had two frames of Ektar in my camera that I wanted to kill, so when Jeff and I emerged from the Jack London Square parking garage and I saw a stand of trees against the fading twilight, I immediately took out my meter and camera.
When Jeff texted Esten to let him know why we were running late, Esten responded back in astonishment that I was still shooting film when a digital exposure at that hour would call for something upwards of ISO 6400.
Well, this is Ektar rated at/pushed to 400, at f/4 and probably 1/8 or 1/4:
Coming next on the blog: The coast.
Jeff and I visited my brother and his family in the Bay Area last month, marking my first entry to California since I was 11 months old. We spent a full week gallivanting, wining, dining and adventuring with various combinations of my brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew and old friends. And, of course, we brought cameras.
I took my 5DII strictly for the kids — Layla is a very active toddler, while Henry is a very active crawler/soon-to-be walker — and my Pentax 6×7 for everything else. Along with 18 rolls of film (12 of which I used), I brought a new-to-me toy: A Sekonic L-508 meter, which I happened to misuse for the entire trip. (One day, I accidentally kept the meter set for spot when I wanted incident, and I looked through the wrong lens/side for spot-metering the entire trip. The good news: Now I know better, and all my mistakes only meant I was overexposing the film, which is not a terrible thing.)
I’ll break up the film blog posts by topic, and will soon share the digital photos of the kids. First off, the city of San Francisco:
Check back for more blog posts over the next few days!
The last time I blogged photos of my niece was almost two years ago. Much has changed since then — most notably, Layla now has a baby brother. Jeff and I got to meet little Henry when he was only a few weeks old at our wedding last May, but perhaps you’ll understand why I didn’t photograph him the way I have with Layla at the time.
The next time we saw Henry was in Houston for Christmas — the first time my two brothers and I were together for Christmas since 2010. Henry was then a solid 9 months, while Layla was just over 3 years old. Having everyone under one roof made for a riotous house, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Jeff and I will be visiting Matt, Emily, Layla and Henry in California this upcoming week, so it was high time I edited and shared these photos from Christmas:
Late last summer and early fall, we took a number of short trips: New York City, Rochester, Niagara, Corning, Rehoboth Beach, Bethlehem. Wherever I went, so did a few rolls of Portra 400 and either the Mamiya or Pentax. I’ve been sitting on these scans from Film Box Lab (which is now closed) for far too long now. Enjoy.