Twelve years ago this week, I packed up the car with my most valuable possessions – lots and lots of CDs, a brand new computer installed with Windows ME and Napster, my best band hoodies and sheltered small-town Midwestern sensibilities – and drove ten hours north. I was headed off to college in the big city. FREEEEDOMMMMM.

I knew that everything was about to change. What I didn’t know at the time was how deeply in love I was about to fall, and that my first true love was going to be a city. I recently headed back to Chicago to begin work with a new client, and I totally had butterflies for two weeks beforehand. I do a lot of business travel, but there’s always something special about going back to Chi-town — the anticipation, flying in over the lake, seeing downtown stretch out. The Hancock tower rising on the north end. The Sears tower on the south. It feels a million miles away from Brooklyn. And it always feels like I’m coming home to welcome arms.

It was one of those perfect weeks. Warm sunshine and golden light during the day, a cool breeze at night. None of the stifling humidity or pavement-melting heat that you grow to expect in the Chicago summertime. The last few times I’ve been back, it’s been perfect. Eighty degrees in October for the marathon, a warm spell in February, and now this. The year I moved there, it snowed the first weekend of October and didn’t stop until March. Chicago, why you tryin’ to woo me back?

This trip, I stayed downtown on State Street and made some time to take photographs and commune with the city a bit — I don’t know if that makes sense, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I do the same thing in New York. Walking around alone in contemplation, observing the ebb and flow of the urban landscape, wandering aimlessly. Watching the way light plays off the buildings, off the sidewalks, catching commuters’ long shadows in the intersections between concrete caverns. There’s something spiritual about the experience, and for me it’s an incredibly important part of being connected to the places you live and love.

I’ve always thought that Chicago is one of the — if not THE — most beautiful city in the US. The compactness of downtown, the consistency of the architecture thanks to the Chicago School, the river that winds slowly through the city and the beautiful industrial bridges that pass over it. Though I’ve never called downtown Chicago my home, in my first year of school I used to stay over a lot with a close friend who lived at the top of the Marina Towers (the corncob buildings above). I spent many hours sitting on his balcony on the 59th floor (or was it the 61st?) just staring out over the city, even in the freezing cold.

Chicago seemed endless. The city stretched out for what seemed like miles, and I could see forever. The sun cast long shadows to the west in the mornings as only the tallest buildings basked in the thin light. At midday you could look straight down and see the precise urban grid bustling with activity. At sunset, the flat western suburban plains turned golden and the colors of the sky melted into Lake Michigan.

And then at night, the lights came on. Oh, who am I kidding. I’m still in love with you, Chicago.

Tomatoes Forever

August 17th, 2012 | Posted by Jill in garden - (0 Comments)

A month ago, I wrote about how nicely our garden has been filling in this year. A few weeks later, it’s now become a crazy jumble that needs a serious pruning. The zinnias are popping up as fast as the weeds, and everything is in full bloom. Of the edibles we planted this year, the tomatoes are really stealing the show. Green zebra heirlooms, San Marzanos, golden cherry and grape varieties – it’s a bonafide tomato party!

Our decision this year to plant the tomatoes in MUCH BIGGER self-watering planters has really improved the process. The tomatoes are much more productive, we’re watering less frequently and they’ve managed to survive more weekend trip neglect than ever before. Though we really don’t have a lot of space in the front garden to grow produce and the footprint of the new planters dominates the available space, I still think it was a good choice. Not only have our recent hauls been satisfying, they’ve been really colorful too:

an afternoon harvest

green zebra heirloom tomatoes

And what’s an edible garden without loads and loads of herbs? We get so much direct sunlight all day, every day and the herbs are loving it. As usual, we’ve grown lots of basil from seed to go with the tomatoes (and delicious, delicious fresh mozz). This year we decided on a few different kinds — sweet basil, spicy Thai basil, and a new-to-me Japanese lettuce leaf basil that features huge aromatic leaves perfect for pretty much anything. I’m still hoping to try my hand at making lettuce wraps with them!

Rounding out the herb garden are two types of rosemary, creeping and English thyme, Italian and golden oregano, common sage, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and summer savory. This year – it’s second year – the lavender also went bonkers. Planted right by the stairs for all passers-by to enjoy, it has been showing off its graceful purple blooms for more than two months now. I’d love to learn how to shape it into a dried wreath this fall.

lovely, lovely rosemary
lettuce leaf basilsweet, sweet lavender
golden oregano
growing thyme from seed

Last, but certainly not least, are my strawberries. I’ve never had a lot of luck with strawberries but each year aspire to try something different to improve my haul. Marie’s are always so much more fruitful and jealousy-enducing, but thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s produce. Or something like that. Anyway, my plants are FINALLY putting out runners, so maybe I’ll encourage them to propagate into new pots so I can try again next year. Womp, womp.


I can’t wait to get out and do some work this weekend. Time to pull out the pruners and clean it up a bit.

Do your weekend plans include any gardening? I’d love to hear!

Holy moly. How the heck is it already the last day of July?! Where did the summer go??? The days are noticeably shorter, the light more golden, and prospects of days at the beach dwindling. There are only four more weekends left until September, people! Every year about this time, I start wishing that summer lasted forever. I love the other seasons, but I can’t help myself. I’m a summer baby. Bring on the heat and humidity!

In hopes that this summer will never end, I present some of my recent favorites from our Flickr group. We recently surpassed FIFTEEN THOUSAND PHOTOS of Brooklyn and I am just constantly blown away by all the talented folks we have in this very fine borough of ours. You guys rule — I love seeing summertime through your eyes!

“Coney Locals,” by Adam Lerner:
Coney Locals

“CO,” by mkc609:

“Endless Summer,” by Matt Logan:
Endless Summer

“DNALSI YENOC, mermaid edition,” by Barry Yanowitz:
DNALSI YENOC, mermaid edition

“Coney Island,” by Reuben Radding:
Coney Island

“Rachel,” by Michael Tapp:
Stranger 23/100 | Rachel

“Petanque,” by Scott Lynch:
Bastille Day 2012, Smith Street, Brooklyn, Petanque

“K,” by Jonathan Percy:

Why I Shoot Film: Format Love

July 29th, 2012 | Posted by Jill in why i shoot film - (10 Comments)

It’s no secret that I’m a film evangelist. I’m always on the lookout for photographers I can convert to the grainy side, and I’m happy to say I’ve made some new believers over the last few years. Someday I’ll have to tell the story of my journey back to film and share all the overly-romanticized details. That someday is probably going to have to be AFTER I get all the piles and piles of my negatives organized. Not exactly what I was talking about in my last post about anticipation, haha.

I grew up shooting 35mm film before entering the world of digital in 2004. Truth be told, I wasn’t really aware of any other options besides 35mm film — no one in my family was anything more than a casual photographer, and I’d only seen someone shoot a large format camera once or twice in my life. When I got sucked into the digital realm, I couldn’t really understand why anyone would continue to shoot film on the convenience factor alone. Why make something harder than it has to be?

But that was all before I discovered medium format. In early 2009, I stumbled across the work of a few great photographers on Flickr and I could hardly believe my eyes. The depth, the richness, the emotionality of their photographs really appealed to me and I was having a lot of trouble getting what I wanted out of my beginner dSLR. I couldn’t really afford to upgrade to a professional digital camera, but when I started researching some of the gear I knew these photographers were using, I was shocked. Whole camera systems for less than the price of a new lens for my Nikon? SIGN ME UP.

elik + irgh

So, in the late part of 2009, I started my search in earnest. The object of my desire: the Mamiya C330f. All I knew was that it had interchangeable lenses and was in my price range. I’d seen people like Ansel Olson make magic with this camera, and I just had to try it out for myself. I obsessively watched eBay listings for six weeks or more, gun-shy to pull the trigger because of the sensitivity of the camera’s bellows. I wanted to check it out for myself in person.

I remember showing sample shots to my brother over the Christmas holiday, and I’m pretty sure he thought I was crazy. But even he — a videographer — couldn’t deny the depth and richness of the images. Back in Brooklyn a week later, I stumbled upon a Craigslist ad for the exact camera and lens combination I wanted from a guy that lived just up the block from me in Park Slope. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I probably should have taken heed to the seller’s warning. He told me he was unloading the Mamiya because his wife had said it was either her or the cameras. He had to get rid of gear — or else. I didn’t know it at the time, but thus began my long, slow descent into the rabbit hole of gear.

From the first roll I shot with the Mamiya, I knew medium format was a new beast. The way it handled light, the reverse image, the waist-level finder — the whole experience of using the camera was so much different. I loved it. I also loved the 6×6 square images it created. They were a whole new compositional challenge.

customer parking only

Over the last several years, I’ve kept coming back to the 6×6 format as I add cameras to my collection. Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of new formats thanks to friends who shoot other medium format sizes or large format cameras. The multitude of options and flexibility of format sizes are both key reasons why I still shoot film. The experimentation of working with different formats (and films for each format!) appeals so much to my curiosity. How will the roll turn out? How will I adapt or change my style to suit a new format?

A few weeks ago, I decided to check out Film Biz Recycling in Gowanus for the first time. I went looking for lamps — I SWEAR. But I did run across a few Polaroid cameras which piqued my interest, and I wondered if much camera gear made its way through the shop. As I was leaving the store, I spied a leather lens case with a $80 price tag, marked half off for that weekend only. I opened it up and the lens was massive. It was a Pentax lens, so I figured it might fit my old Pentax at home. But it didn’t make sense. Its rings were too large.

Deciding to take a chance, I brought it to the counter and paid my $40 and change before heading out to run a few errands. Back at home, I realized my find had the potential to be major — it was a 35mm lens for the Pentax 645, a medium format system. I’d never heard of such a wide lens for a medium format camera, and if the lens performed as I hoped, it was worth over $1000!

So like any normal photographer who can justify almost anything for the sake of more gear, I decided I needed to buy a Pentax 645N camera body to test out my new $40 lens. And another lens to provide the control in my experiment. And a couple of film backs. And maybe a couple of lens filters. Shhhhhh.


I kept an eye out until I spotted a great deal on a couple of weeks ago. And after a week of shooting photos with both the control lens and the 35mm I found, I can say with confidence that it was indeed a great deal. The solid lens is sharp as a tack, and a total pleasure to use. It’s so wide I might need dramamine to operate it. Case in point: these shots from the hilariously-suburban Capital One Bank drive-thru in Williamsburg.

Though I’m so happy that the purchase I made on a whim paid off, that’s not what makes me the most excited. I am so psyched to try my hand at a new format since the medium format 645 is so much different than the squares of my Mamiya. It already feels much different, and the more modern features of the camera definitely make the operating experience a total pleasure even if it’s a bit heavier. I won’t lie: it’s kind of weird to use a camera from this century!

Learning more about the 645 and experimenting with its settings are definitely shaping up to be one of the highlights of my summer. I have a few weddings coming up and the Pentax has definitely earned a spot in my camera bag. The control lens I bought – a super-sharp 150mm – is a perfect portrait lens and has lovely bokeh. Even the guys at Adorama this week concurred it’s a great camera.

And while I’m so satisfied to play with this new camera, I can’t help myself. I’m already dreaming about a 6×7 camera. And a 4×5 large format. And maybe learning how to make some pinhole cameras with a kit I have at home. Must. collect. them. all!

What formats are you feeling these days??