Curbed Enthusiasms

Havana, 1998Recently I’ve Been Feeling A Lot Like This Guy

The source and nature of inspiration has always been an interest to me – where it comes from, how it manifests itself, where it goes and why. Photographic inspiration particularly. I’ve been fascinated by photography since I was a kid; it’s one of two long-standing interests in my life, the other being motorcycles. Yet even the strongest enthusiasms occasionally wane. Given some time, and a respite to clear my head, my interest returns, stronger than ever.

I’ve noticed that my photography and cycling interests are interrelated. When one waxes the other wanes. My photographic interests have been fairly constant – except for those times I’ve been accommodating my interest in motorcycles. I’m either obsessing about black and white film photography and photographers and photographic tech – or I’m dreaming about racing motorcycles – power to weight ratios, reciprocating mass, fuel injection mapping, favorite tracks etc. I’m rarely dong both at the same time. Apparently, both speak to the same need, a need that manifests itself in me in differing ways – aesthetics vs. speed. When the need is fulfilled in one manner the other becomes dormant.

Havana, 1998

I am currently experiencing a complete lack of interest in things photographic. Complete. I’ve not written for some time because I am totally devoid of things to say. This is highly unusual. I’m typically in a frame of mind where I can effortlessly crank out semi-intelligible thoughts marginally relevant to the subjects we discuss here. Often, when I’m a bit more inspired (my wife would say ‘manic’) I can write 3 or 4 posts in a day. Likewise with ‘seeing’ photographs. When it’s there it’s there; it’s a gift that comes unbidden on its own terms. I see what look like compelling photographs everywhere, seemingly the most mundane things transformed aesthetically via grey tone, film grain and 2×3 format. It’s an incredible blessing, making even the most banal aspects of daily existence pregnant with possibility.

The converse of this is that inspiration can leave as quickly as it comes. It’s why the Greeks talked of a ‘muse’, a spirit we all had access to that inspired us in a time and manner of the muse’s choosing. Apparently, my muse has decided I need a break from ‘thinking photographically.’ One thing I have learned – it’s best to respect the coming and going of one’s muse, and certainly not try to force her hand.


My latest interest – a KTM RC390 (highly modified, more to follow)

Sometime around the new year I started getting an acquisitive itch. Had to buy something. I’m not too proud to admit that I often suffer from the vulgar desire to buy things, things that I know, deep down inside, will not make me happy. I had some money in my pocket, I’d been a good boy for some time, and now I wanted to indulge myself, damn it. My first inclination was to buy a camera ( as if I needed another camera). I thought of a Monochrom. Why not? I could write about it on Leicaphilia. When I tired of it, as invariably I would, I’d sell it to a reader. And then I fixated on an M262, the digital M without the screen. Very cool, very old-school but without the hassle of scanning film etc. I’m certain I could find some high-handed way of justifying the purchase in spite of my claimed aversion to digital capture – I’d think of something.

And then I ran across a local craigslist ad for a KTM RC390.

I’ve ridden motorcycles for as long as I’ve photographed. I bought my first bike, a 900cc Kawasaki Z1, in 1976 when I was 18, but my older brother had numerous motorcycles – a Benelli 50, Honda 160, Honda 450 – that I’d sneak out of the garage when he wasn’t looking, so I basically grew up riding bikes. Marriage and the inevitable compromises of life temporarily halted my riding, but after a divorce I rediscovered my love of bikes in the form of a fascination with Ducati racing motorcycles. The mid to late 90’s found me with 6 Ducati’s in the garage, a few I raced, others I brought to track-days and ran on the backroads, usually illegally. Like all my enthusiasms I went in all the way, starting a company that made titanium parts for Ducati’s, the profits of which funded my racing. I also ran with a bunch of hooligans half my age who lived for doing crazy shit. Running from hapless police was an especially fun affair. Wonderful times, lot’s of testosterone fueled foolishness, a bunch of broken bones and one airlift to a trauma unit. It was all incredibly crazy fun and daring…life lived at the limits.

Falling off a bike going 140 mph and getting up and walking away can make you think you’re immortal. Of course, eventually the bill comes due. In 2011, my riding buddy killed himself on a group ride, losing the front end on a sweeping backroads curve at about 120 mph – nothing that hadn’t happened before and that he had walked away from, except this time he didn’t. Totally his fault, a result of his own recklessness, but that didn’t make it any easier. Pulling off a man’s helmet to find him dead is a sobering experience, certainly when it’s a 34 year old ‘kid’ – a genuinely good guy with a full life ahead of him. Shortly thereafter, after coming within an inch or two of killing myself and someone else on another group ride, I sold all my bikes and promised the people who love me I wouldn’t ride again. Looking back on it now, I’m amazed I’m alive.

And then, a month ago I bought another bike, the one you see above. I’ve compromised – it’s 373cc, and won’t go faster than 110 mph. But damn, you can have a lot of fun getting it there. I’ve ordered a set of BST Carbon Fiber wheels – reducing reciprocating mass is critical for the performance of smaller bikes – and have signed up for some track time. Hopefully the wife has forgotten my last track day – a nasty ‘lowside’ and a broken wrist. Of course, I’ve also been shaking it down on North Carolina backroads, fake plate, riding like a maniac. What can possibly go wrong, right?

As for photography – I’ll keep you informed. I intend to start posting again on a regular basis, and the work proceeds with getting a final copy of Car Sick out to the printer and into your hands. In the meantime, you can find me running the backroads on a seriously tricked out RC390.

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19 thoughts on “Curbed Enthusiasms

  1. Rob Campbell

    Nice to see you back, if only briefly, it seems.

    As coincidence would have it, not five minutes ago I posted intimations of my own complete disillusionment with photography on my only other regular destination, Luminous Landscape:

    “… It’s also an Italian thing, the lack of faith we have in fortune staying faithfull. In the end, poveri cornuti, tutti!

    I suffered from the same kind of visual depression for years, and the only cure was finding myself totally wiped out of desire to do anything that I can currently do. Oh the calmness that settles!”

    As with your writing, the problem comes when you realise that you can pretty much do anything you want to do within your normal world, and the only thing left you really want to do is something that circumstances deny you. Realising that renders doing the accessible but unimportant things pointless.

    I’ve spent a couple of hours a night recently watching Jay Leno’s car videos. With the collection that he has, I can’t escape the impression that he is suffering from a little bit of ennui, however enthusiastic he tries to appear. It comes through to me from watching several end to end: he seems to have little new to say, and endlessly repeats the same few time-filler words.

    Do the úber rich just die of boredom if disease doesn’t get them first?

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Nothing worse than too much of a good thing. No doubt Leno get’s less satisfaction from his entire garage of cars than he did when he had that one car he’d dreamed of and worked for. It’s human nature.

      As for ennui, it tends to hit me in the Winter. Just a vague lack of satisfaction in things that normally keep engaged. It goes away, when I don’t know, but it always does.

  2. Rob Campbell

    I usually look forward to winter because sunshine here is the norm, and I do like black/white most of all and rain helps set mood. Sunshine seems to reduce everything to pretty. Like colour and war.

    How did the paper you were doing on photography pan out?


    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Thanks for asking: it turned into a full-time job. My assignment (from the Curator o f Photography at Harvard’s Fogg Museum who taught the seminar) was to put together an exhibition proposal alng with all the specifics – textual introduction, photographers, photos, exhibition rooms with section introductions, etc ec. It all left me with a profound respect for what curators do. It was a ton of work.

  3. Stephen J

    Yes Tim that bike of yours must be the model of discretion as it flies around the back lanes of Raleigh, I am sure nobody would ever notice it! In the meantime, the “sad” state of mind seems to be endemic in late middle age, buying stuff sometimes smoothes the hard edges that comprise life’s rich tapestry, but nothing beats the lengthening days!

    I bought the M-D Type 262 of which you speak. it is easy to justify, I can’t remember how just at the moment… I chose it over the latest version, because the new one is too involved with software, whilst my one just produces .dng and the great big ISO dial on the back is very pleasing.

    I can assure you that it isn’t the same, even taking into consideration the lack of digitalness, the sensor is just so much less limited than that roll of film, and iin my view it is the limitations that teach the most.

    I have a very specific fund for camera purchases and sales, and its topping up depends on many factors, some of which are beyond my control, however, this camera was on my wanted list before it even existed, and I was disappointed at the new cost, splurged on another digital camera that I never liked, the Leica CL…. I should have bought the M262 in the first place, I would have spent less.

    So I still have to get my monochrome, probably an M4 or maybe one with a light meter, like an MP, I have read some great reports on the monochrome, but to me that really doesn’t sound right.

    Whilst out on my “knuckle dragging” perambulations the other night, I snapped a roll of pushed HP5+ at Parliament Square on my old CL/40…

    Merry Brexmas!

    Anyone have any particular favourite for a wide angle lens? I have been looking at 18/21/24/25 from Zeiss or Leica. Certainly the 38mm Biogon as used on the SWC camera has a very good reputation, so its 21mm equivalent seems quite attractive both for price and performance?

    1. Nick

      Color-Skopar 4/21mm. Small, light, cheap and it does the job. Make sure you get the matching viewfinder!

    2. Gavin Lowe

      Voigtlander 21 f4. Just remember to keep your index finger out of the way so that is doesn’t get in the shot – I have lost count of the times I have done this as I tend to forget. 21mm is very wide and the lens is tiny. Otherwise, Leica elmarit 24 f2.8.

    3. Leicaphila Post author

      Stephen: the VC 21/4 is a cracker of a lens at a great price. the viewfinder is a good one too

    4. Leicaphila Post author

      The problem with the current bike is twofold: its loud as hell having what is essentially a straight pipe exhaust and 2) it’s got only 43hp. Practically speaking, this means every cop within a 10 mile radius knows where you are and you dont have enough hp to outrun them.

  4. Rob Campbell

    ” In the meantime, the “sad” state of mind seems to be endemic in late middle age, buying stuff sometimes smoothes the hard edges that comprise life’s rich tapestry, but nothing beats the lengthening days!”….. Stephen J.

    Yes, late middle-age is about right: it’s the season of man when reality begins to make its insistent little whisperings ever more strident. Incredible that just a season before one was buying sports cars. I much preferred that season.

    But ever the optimist, I buy that lottery ticket each and every week; I look upon it as the equivalent of less than three coffees at a local bar. And less harmful, too. If there’s a downside to winning, it’s in deciding which car I want the most. The only certainty is that it won’t be an SUV or a truck. A champagne Cayman might be nice, but so would a silver or turquoise SLK. Larger cars leave me cold. A light blue M3 wouldn’t break my heart either. That said, having a shiny black ’59 Coupe de Ville moored somewhere in the grounds could be an attraction of sorts; fortunately, I’ve grow out of loving boats that go on the sea. Tempest Gloria recently showed me the folly of those things!


  5. Stephen J

    Many thanks for the advice regarding wide angle, I once had the 25mm version of that in ltm. It is not linked to the rangefinder, but has excellent contrast, a lovely little lens. I had the plastic viewfinder.

    On the Cameraquest website there is mention that the 21mm might not be best on a digital M, but I don’t know whether that is fair comment or rumour?

    A straight through exhaust…. I remember having one of those on my my Mini Cooper when I were knee high to a GH.

  6. Lee Rust

    Only 110 mph? That will surely set your wife’s mind at ease. How about another book that integrates your cyclical & visual obsessions? You’re just one person, so it’s all in there somewhere.

    Lately, I find myself in possession of several Bolex cine cameras plus lenses and other shiny Swiss gadgets. They are fascinating machines, but as a lifelong still photographer I’m still scratching my head about exactly what to do with these things.

    However, they do make a wonderful sound when I wind them up… rather like your new bike.

  7. George

    I get the motorcycle thing. I sold my Suzuki SV650 when I realized that my girlfriend (now wife and mother of my child) loved to ride on the back – and statistics of riding motor bikes in LA conflicted with the odds I wanted her to have of remaining alive. (This was at the start of the texting while driving epidemic.) But in some hypothetical scenario where I’m not responsible forother people, I’d have some cafe racer bike to bomb around with or a BMW touring bike to do road trips with.

    As for digital Leica – that’s a tough one. I really like my M240. Everything about it is great. I’ve tried both original flavors of the Monochrom and both left me feeling like the photos had no soul. It’s hard to explain. When I nail a b/w photo on Tri-X, it has it’s own life. When I capture something digitally (color or converted to b/w), it’s a just really good file. Why do you think vintage lens prices have shot through the roof? We crave a thick barrier between our created images and the reality that we focused the lens toward.

    I’m currently attending a weekly class at the LA Center of Photography on finding a purpose in photography and it’s been great with a ton of assignments. For that, I’ve immediately gone to both my M240 as well as my dusty Canon 5D3. They just deliver with no fuss or muss of processing and scanning. I realized what a great camera that 5D is in an objective “deliver the goods” way.

    So – as far as photo gear purchases: If you don’t have content to deliver, keep enjoying film. Maybe buy a stack of CineStill film and fuck around to shake things up. Or buy a use Monochrom 246 only to sell it 6 months later (for about the same price) after realizing that everything from it looks really good in a plastic-chrome way. Or, let the M5 take a nap for a few months and enjoy that zippy new bike.

  8. Rob Campbell

    I bumped into a musician friend this morning when I went for coffee. He asked me how my photography was doing, and I replied that I hadn’t shot any pix in ages. He told me that I was nuts, that it’s essential to keep doing what you used to do.

    He has Parkinson’s, and very shaky hands. He tells me that he still practises on his alto every day, and that he composes songs on the computer. He said it was funny trying to do that with a shaky hand on the mouse, trying to put the notes on or between the right lines…

    But hey, he’s three years younger than I!


  9. Richard Richter

    Good post, I’m not only lost in what to do with my camera’s but also in words.

  10. Dan Newell

    I get revisiting the cortisol addiction. I ran production bikes in the 60’s and 70’s and it’s a high worth having. Track days are the way to get some yaya’s but, for me, street is way too nuts. Gave it up 5 or 6 years ago after watching a couple of real hairball crashes by obviously medicated four wheelers.
    As a suggestion….I go to the TT every other year and watch that insanity and it seems to satiate the cortisol push. Not completely, but it helps. Interesting place to shoot as well…..

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