Photography · Travel

Harriet and Dred Scott and the fight for freedom in St. Louis


St. Louis was one of the first stops on our cross country road trip this summer. When we went to purchase tickets at the courthouse to go up the St. Louis Arch, I was pleasantly surprised by the historical exhibits on the Dred Scott court case, which had originated in the very same St. Louis courthouse.

In 1846, Harriet and Dred Scott each filed petitions with the St. Louis circuit court to sue for their freedom, as they had traveled and lived in parts of the United States where slavery had been abolished. The series of court cases took over a decade, when a decision was rendered by the United States Supreme Court in 1857.

Chief Justice Roger Taney, writing for the court majority, infamously remarked that even a free black person, “whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a “citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.” Therefore, he concluded, Dred Scott did not even have the right to bring the case, much less to demand his freedom (Harriet’s case had been dropped, and any decision rendered to her husband would apply also to her).

The case, Scott v. Sandford, is one of the most well-known cases in United States history. It rendered obsolete the Missouri Compromise that had outlawed slavery in some territories of the United States, and arguably played a significant role in paving the way to the Civil War – which concluded with the adoption of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the 14th Amendment extending citizenship to all persons regardless of their race, and the 15th Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for all citizens (lest I fall subject to criticisms of historical naïveté, it’s important to note that these amendments have been interpreted narrowly and have had far less impact than a historical reading would suggest – but the significance of upending and overturning the Scott decision is far from trivial).

Although Harriet and Dred were separately granted their freedom around the time the decision was rendered (the woman who enslaved and profited from them had married an abolitionist politician from New England who feared the public backlash), it’s difficult to imagine the pain they endured before and during the years of the trial, as white lawyers debated their humanity. Yet, despite this, their contributions to the struggle for liberation in the United States have been immeasurable, surely greater than they ever imagined or themselves enjoyed.

Today, Harriet and Dred Scott are remembered in exhibits like the one in St. Louis, and in statues like the one pictured above, standing in front of one of the same courthouses that once denied them their basic humanity.

Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Impulse buys, a 1959 mechanical beauty, and learning to see as the camera

Zeiss Ikon

Last spring, overwhelmed with work, I’d take little breaks and venture off into cyberspace reading about music and photography. At some point I discovered Goodwill auctions, and decided I’d explore the listings for cameras. Maybe, I thought, I’d find a steal of a deal on a good lens.

When I saw the Zeiss Ikon Contina pictured above, I was immediately allured by the mechanics and glass of the storied German company (as it turns out, the lens was not produced by Zeiss). I couldn’t find out too much about the camera (other Continas I identified online looked different), but I put in a bid anyway. Then I won despite the absurdly low price, and immediately regretted the decision.

Why was I spending money on something I didn’t need? What if the camera was garbage, as many things on Goodwill auctions turn out to be?

When it arrived, I was surprised at how clean it appeared, packaged in a leather case inside another leather case, with all the original manuals included. I had read online that selenium meters (the bubbly thing on the left) burnt out over time due to light exposure, but when I tested the built-in meter against an iPhone app, it was spot on. All the more impressive as I finally identified this particular model as the Zeiss Ikon Contina III, which was manufactured between 1959-1960. Here was a camera pushing sixty and it looked and appeared to work like new?

Of course, I would have to take it out for a spin. So I popped in a roll of Fuji Superia 400, following carefully the included instructions.

Hannah painting, her escape from work last spring.

The camera posed two challenges for me: 1. I had no experience zone focusing (focusing based on estimated distance rather than an image through a lens); 2. I had no experience operating a fully manual and mechanical camera.

Trusting that sixty year old selenium meter, though, I quickly adapted to the shutter/aperture dial around the lens. Focusing was at the same time more challenging because of what I couldn’t see, and more liberating because of, well, what I couldn’t see. I could either stress about focusing, or I could do my best to make images with the information available; I chose the latter.

A view of Lake Washington from Seward Park.

I shot most of the roll down in Seattle’s Seward Park, and it sure was fun. In a lot of ways, I felt like a kid with a new toy.

When the roll was done, I wound it up with the camera’s knob and stored it away to develop later. Then our summer started, and we traveled to Iceland, journeyed across the United States by car, and prepared to go back to work. Finally this past month I sent the film off for processing and, only seven or so months later, finally have the images from that 1959/60 mechanical wonder.

They are sharp, the color rendering is pleasantly retro, and despite the information limitations I made more good shots with this camera than the rolls I just got back from my 1980s SLR. Consider me fully impressed.

My beautiful best friend.

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I think a finger may have slipped in front of the frame on this and the next shot. Still, I’m impressed with the detail rendered by this camera.


Photography · Travel

Shipwrecks and Thor on Videy Island


We’ve finally returned from a long series of trips that took us to the east coast, Iceland, and on a cross country trip with stops in Pittsburgh, PA, St. Louis, MO, Salina, KS, Denver, CO, Vernal, UT, Salt Lake City, UT, Boise, ID, and Hood River, OR, with lots of great stops in between. I have yet to work through the photographs from our road trip, but do have some to share from Videy Island.

Although many folks rent a car when they visit Iceland, we decided against it. Maybe it’s thriftiness, more likely it’s learning to travel when we were college students relying on late night bus connections and regional trains, but we thought it would force us to slow down and enjoy smaller bits of Iceland at a time. As a compromise of sorts, we instead purchased a Reykjavik City Card, which gave us access to public buses and national museums, as well as a nifty little ferry (read: small passenger boat) to Videy Island.

Classic rock and peace activism enthusiasts alike are most likely to recognize Videy for Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower. The tower itself is close to the small dock, and a short five minute walk upon arrival on the uninhabited island.


Unfortunately (depending on how you think of it), the sun only kind of sets in Iceland in summer. While the sun technically falls below the horizon, the country is still well lit right up until dawn. Because of that, we saw Imagine Peace Tower’s base, but not its towering light.

The tourism folks in Iceland have really figured out how to make something like an uninhabited island extremely interesting. Videy Island, as it turns out, is historically significant, once important for worship and small industry. Before boarding our little passenger boat across the bay, we picked up a map that indicated dozens of interesting points, including public art by Yoko Ono (above) and Richard Serra (below); the site of a shipwreck; Thor’s headland, thought once to have been a worship site of the Norse god; and a now abandoned village.

Serra framed beautiful views of Iceland with his stones.

Richard Serra’s Afangar (“Standing Stones”) features sets of two tall stones throughout Videy Island, each framing separate – and beautiful – views of Iceland.

The island isn’t all public art and peace, however, as this monument (below) to a shipwreck attests.


We loved our visit to Videy Island, and spent many hours exploring there – including an attack by a horde of Arctic tern (small beautiful defensive birds that dive-bomb trespassing heads).

Photography · Travel

Happy fourth! (off to Iceland)


My godson chasing bubbles. Shot on Nikon D5300 and 35mm f/1.8.


Not totally unexpectedly, this blog is most active when I’m most busy. Photography and blogging are largely a way to center myself when the world gets too hectic. Now that things have (temporarily) slowed down, so have my posting habits.

But there are photos on the horizon! Hannah and I are off to Iceland this evening, and I hope inspiration strikes.

In the meantime, how about that curious smile on my godson? We only get to see him about twice a year right now, living on the other side of the country. I love the time I get with him when we are back in Buffalo, though.

Photography · Seattle

Picture This: Seattle in bloom

105mm f/2.5 @ f/5.6

Summer is truly, really here. Just look at the gardens!

I got out of the apartment yesterday with nothing but my camera and that vintage 105mm f/2.5 lens I like so much. I didn’t find a whole lot I wanted to make pictures of, but there were a lot of beautiful flowers in the neighborhood gardens.

Does anyone know what kind of flower this is?

Picture This is a Daydreams in Analog feature focusing on a single photograph.

Photography · Travel

Picture This: Waterfalls, retreating glaciers, and a honeymoon


Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls (Juneau, Alaska)
Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls. Shot on Nikon D5300 with 18-55mm kit lens.


My wife and I both teach. Consequently, this means we both give up fun things like travel, hobbies, and sleep during the school year.

When we were planning our wedding, we knew it would have to be outside the school year. We also had to do almost all of the planning the summer a year before the wedding, with all the final details taken care of in the month right before it.

Planning any wedding is overwhelming, as many will surely tell you. For us, that we had to plan it in a confined space of time was even more stressful. So when we were thinking about our honeymoon, we chose something that required the least amount of thought on our part: a cruise out of Seattle to Alaska.

I’d never been on a cruise before, and Hannah had only been on one when she was young. Having now been there, done that, I think the description I heard from a fellow passenger best sums up the experience: cruises are “fat farms.” The best free entertainment on board is the endless variety of foods. And boy did we take advantage of that…

So it was always with great relief that we would come to shore and explore the beautiful Alaskan landscape.

When we were in Juneau, we hopped a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls (pictured above). We made a short hike to the falls, which really were beautiful. It’s hard to imagine, but the falls are significantly smaller than the glacier. This is true despite a 1.25 mile retreat since 1929 (wow).

Picture This is a Daydreams in Analog feature focusing on a single photograph.