TT with HD: Mark Bialek
[Ed. note: Mark Bialek's freelance photographic work can be found in various area publications, including the April 2007 issue of The Ann Arbor Observer. He can be contacted at ##markjbialek##AT##chartermi##DOT##net by modifying the address in the obvious way. Or pick up the phone and call him at 269-806-6888. As you can read below, he'll answer his phone, pretty much no matter where he happens to be!
Keep an eye out for the eventual unveiling of his Ann Arbor Nights project in some form or other.]
HD: It just struck me that there's this very lengthwise aspect to the teeter totter that's similar to the canoe [...]
MB: [...] You want me to actually pose it? [...] This'd make a great paddle machine, actually. Hook up a little pulley, and ...
HD: ... really? Are there such things?
MB: There is a paddle machine. There's a guy in Canada that makes one. It's a very specific machine--it's not like a rowing machine, you kind of sit like this [Ed. note: MB demonstrates the stroke], there's an actual canoe seat, it has probably this much paddle shaft--it doesn't have a blade. And then you would take it, and it pullies back, so you do these type of strokes.
HD: So you have resistance only pulling forward, ...
MB: ... only stroking this way, yeah. It'll come back naturally with the pulley. And then you can switch--you can do it on both sides.
HD: Have you ever actually tried this out?
MB: I haven't tried it out, but a lot of my paddle friends have one.
HD: Oh, really?
MB: They're expensive. Like 6-700 bucks, I think--a specific piece of machinery, you know?
HD: Mmmm, but as a piece of exercise equipment, that's not outlandish. I mean, you could spend over a thousand bucks for a treadmill, for example.
MB: Oh, easily--if you want a good one you expect to pay a grand. I like being in the water more.
HD: So this weekend you were out on the water racing?
MB: Yeah, we had a race in Oscoda.
HD: How'd you do?
MB: We got--are we balanced right?
HD: I think so. This is working.
MB: Should I take this [camera bag] off?
HD: Wait a second, I need to cantilever myself a little bit off the end ...
MB: ... I'm heavier than you ...
HD: ... because of all the camera equipment.
MB: I'll load off the bag.
HD: You brought your own ballast.
MB: Yeah. It's expensive ballast! A lot of lenses in there. I just figured I'd keep this on me in case something happened during the course of the session here.
HD: Fair enough. Occasionally squirrels will show up and rain nuts down on totterees. [Ed. note: HD is kidding. Totterees have never been put in immediate danger by squirrels.]
MB: Yeah, this is nice!
HD: So you were saying? Where was it you raced?
MB: We raced in Oscoda, Michigan.
HD: How do you spell that?
MB: Oscoda is O-S-C-O-D-A.
HD: And that's up north?
MB: Northeastern Michigan, just south of Alpena by about 45 minutes, right on Lake Huron.
HD: So the race was on the lake, or?
MB: This was on a little creek, a little tributary of the Au Sable, called Van Etten Creek. It was a short race--45 minutes--but the first race of the year. We got 10th.
HD: Out of how many boats?
MB: I think there were 31 C-2's. C-2's we call them. C-2 stands for 'canoe-two', a two-person canoe. So our lingo is C-2. Three didn't finish, so we got 10th out of about 28 finishers. Which isn't bad.
HD: Yeah, slightly better than middle of the pack.
MB: And I'm probably 15 pounds overweight and still not quite in shape.
HD: So were you in the bow or the stern?
MB: I'm a bow paddler.
HD: A bow paddler? So you never go in the stern?
MB: I never paddle stern.
HD: Why is that?
MB: There's reasons for that. The first reason is that when I first started canoeing, they put me in the bow. It's easier to start in the bow ...
HD: ... less responsibility for steering?
MB: Less responsibility for the overall course that the canoe takes. You basically have to sit up there, be stable, and just kind of set a nice tempo and paddle. The stern guy has a lot of responsibilities in a lot of ways. They have to match your stroke: when your blade sinks in the water, theirs must sink at the exact same time as yours. They've got to paddle right with you. And they have to do corrective strokes to keep the boat straight.
HD: Now, 'corrective strokes'--this would be like the J-stroke?
MB: Maybe a little draw stroke.
HD: So when you're in the bow, can you just sit there an paddle on one side only if you want? And just mindlessly grind out the tempo? Or do you have to switch sides?
MB: You have to switch about every five, six strokes. Maybe seven or eight strokes, you've got to switch.
HD: And why is that? Is that muscle fatigue or does it have to do with course?
MB: Well, it's an eighteen-and-a-half-foot ...
HD: Woah, woah, woah!
MB: See, I'm still heavier than you, aren't I?
HD: Hmm, maybe a little bit.
MB: We gotta get the totter straightened out here. I might scoot forward just hair.
HD: Yeah, scoot forward just a little bit.
MB: It offsets it, right?
HD: Yeah, I was afraid you were going to somersault backwards over the end and ruin the safety record, which would be ironic, because I would think that a canoeist would have some superior balancing skills.
MB: [laugh] Yeah, huh. I'll talk about canoe racing all day, you better be careful.
HD: Okay! [laugh]
MB: Yeah, it's an eighteen-and-a-half-foot long canoe ...
HD: ... right, and this is not just your average canoe that you can rent from Skip's Canoe Rental.
MB: Right. These are highly specialized, very light, made of high-tech carbon fiber.
HD: So, similar to your paddle there?
MB: Exactly. Yep. And the paddle weighs about eight ounces.
HD: So nuthin basically.
MB: Basically nothing. But very strong. You can actually grind through rocks and sand at the bottom of a river.
HD: Wow. When I picked it up earlier, my sense was that it had a fragile feel to it.
MB: It does come across that way, but it's actually very strong. They do break, but the idea is that when you're taking 50,000 strokes over the course of this one race that we do, the less weight for each stroke, the better.
HD: See, there's a squirrel, right on cue.
MB: You want a shot of him?
HD: No, that's okay. He'll be back.
MB: He's up there chowing down!
HD: So what was the reason again, that it's important to switch sides about every fifth or sixth stroke when you're in the bow?
MB: Well, we have a standard spec of our canoes. They can't be over eighteen-and-a-half-feet long. And they can't be any narrower than 27 inches at the widest part. So when you're limited like that, the canoe is still going to turn left and right. It'll veer--it won't go perfectly straight. Theoretically, if you had a twenty-foot-long canoe, you wouldn't have to switch hardly at all. But we do have twisty-turny rivers and you have to turn the boat, too. In which case we have to lean it to turn it, actually.
MB: Paddle on the same side. Say you're turning left, you lean right. If that makes any sense to you.
HD: Let me think about that for a second: lean right to turn left. And you're paddling on the right?
MB: Right. You're both leaning right and you're both paddling on the right.
HD: And that will turn the boat [left].
MB: Yeah. What it does is, it tips the front of the bow so that it cuts into the water, and it helps you turn. It's hard to describe.
HD: So does your canoe have a keel on it at all?
MB: There's no keel. It's a flat bottom.
HD: My one canoeing credential is that I earned canoeing merit badge as a boy scout ...
MB: ... oh yeah?
HD: ... and that limited credential is not sufficient to convince everybody in the household that the proper term for the thing you're holding is a 'paddle' and not an 'oar'. So when I go canoeing I have to listen to people say things like, "Hand me that oar. You're rowing on the wrong side." Things of that sort.
MB: Right. It's annoying, isn't it?
HD: It is annoying. So I just wanted to get some validation that that's just wrong.
MB: It's wrong, and I'm in the same boat with you. Everyone says that all the time: "Are you rowing today?" Oh yeah, I'm going rowing!
MB: They think it's a kayak, usually, and not a canoe.
HD: You mean from looking at your canoe, they parse that visually as kayak?
HD: But even a kayak, I mean you paddle a kayak, you don't row a kayak. So that doesn't excuse it.
HD: Well, I was wondering, there was this one picture from your [photographic] series Ann Arbor Nights, a water picture. There's a reflection of a lighted building on the water. Was that taken from your canoe?
MB: No, I took that from the bank, on the side of the pond there. What pond is that? Argo Pond is it?
HD: Um, there is an Argo Pond. But I was having trouble figuring out which building that was, actually.
MB: Yeah, me too. I just was down there one night and saw the reflection there. I had a tripod. Did about a 20-second exposure, I think.
HD: Oh really!
MB: Yeah. But I used a real low ISO speed.
HD: So did you take a bunch at different speeds, or did you just say, I'm going to try to take this one photograph, and I'll take it as it comes. Or did you take a whole series to get the lighting right?
MB: I took a whole bunch from different locations.
HD: But you didn't take just the same shot, varying the exposure over and over?
MB: I did that, too. Yep, for each spot that I picked, I made sure that I got several exposures to make sure that the light was just right. And generally if it's still scene like that, where you know nothing's moving--the water was very still and the reflection was nice on the water. You can basically shoot it at whatever shutter speed you want. So my idea was, Let's get good quality here! So I put it at the lowest film speed possible--which on my camera is 100 ASA, the highest being 1600.
HD: So that camera, even though it's a digital camera, you still speak in terms of film speed?
MB: Yeah. It has all the capabilities of a film body camera.
HD: Oh! So you can put film in it if you want?
MB: Well, no. [laugh] Aside from that.
MB: I mean, with regards to all functionality. For instance, it's got a bulb setting like the old cameras did. You can just set it on 'bulb' and push the shutter, and it'll stay open--you could take a 10-minute exposure.
HD: And can it also take moving pictures? I mean, my little twinkie digital camera that I use for the teeter tottering photos, it has this mode--I've never used it--but presumably, you could shoot like a 10-second MPEG video.
MB: That's interesting. You can't with this, though. That'd be nice really if this one had video. It's got a voice recorder on it. You can make little voice notes for each picture. Though I've never used it.
HD: So that picture was a completely still photo--buildings and water--but some of the other ones involved traffic, for example. The two I would pick as my favorites out of the series, one, the picture of the twin movie marquees: the Michigan Theater lined up with the State Theater, both missing the top letter. I assume that was the reason you were drawn to that image, that both of them had a missing top letter at the time?
MB: Did they really?! They both had a missing top letter?
MB: I know one did.
HD: Well, there's two sides to the State marquee visible, and one of them has the 'S' but the other one is missing the 'S'. So you have ICHIGAN and then TATE.
MB: [laugh] I didn't shoot it because of that. I just shot it because that was the first place that I went. I like the lights and it looked interesting. I imagine that that shot's been taken a lot over the years.
HD: But not with a missing top letter on both of them at the same time. I figured that was the draw, that was what made it unique.
MB: No draw, really. That was the beginning of my photo shoot and I was just trying to get into a ...
HD: ... into a rhythm?
MB: Get into a rhythm: find something, shoot it, move on, shoot something else.
HD: So that was completely accidental.
MB: That was accidental, and I have a feeling that a lot of people won't like that photo because of it.
HD: They won't like it??!
MB: That's what I have a feeling.
HD: I would think that's the thing that makes it a cool photo.
MB: Maybe. I mean, it is what it is, you know? I'm not going to go back and re-shoot it because they fixed the sign.
HD: So the other one that I like especially is the shot through the window at Borders of this older gentleman. If you look closely he's got one book closed on his lap, and he's got another book open, and he's wearing headphones. So you get the impression that he's maybe looking something up, or he's engaged in deep study somehow, not just sort of hanging out reading for pleasure. So I'm wondering, did you go inside and then check out specifically what he was doing, or did you just say, Okay, that was an interesting image.
MB: I didn't even check. I just thought, I have never seen this before! I'm new to this whole area, you know? I thought, People are walking by; it's a Border's sign--I didn't know if it was a bookstore or? It is a bookstore, right?
HD: It is a bookstore, but there's places to sit down and read.
MB: You can go and read there! I had never seen that. So you've got all this traffic on the outside, people walking down the sidewalks, and then this guy just looks totally comfortable in there. Older guy with his earphones on, reading. So it was kind of a photojournalistic shot of life--life at Borders Books in Ann Arbor. It was just a little slice of life there. Right outside there there's all this stuff going on, on the street. My goal is to eventually capture some real interesting weather-related stuff.
HD: Mmm, you mean snow specifically or?
MB: That be good. Or lightning. I'd like to have lightning in downtown Ann Arbor.
HD: Hmm. Well, these last couple of days, we're trending toward thunderstorm weather.
MB: I've got to find a good location to scout out. I like to scout out locations.
HD: So are you thinking maybe of finding someplace really high up so you can have the lightning against the almost aerial view of Ann Arbor?
MB: That would be nice. But it's almost more interesting to get in close to the buildings and stuff, and try to get it coming onto the buildings or around the buildings. It's difficult, though, because of the ambient light from the streetlights and buildings. You can only take so long of an exposure before everything starts to wash out. The sky generally will be too bright in the picture, if you use too long of a shutter.
HD: And those, you can't really take a series of alternate shots.
MB: It's hard. Yeah, Come on back, lightning! Usually you only have a couple of shots at it. You'll capture something. The question is, Will it be constrasty? Will it have a nice deep blue or blackish sky with a nice bolt coming through, and with a good scene around it? Or will it be all washed out and will the sky look like daylight? In a lightning storm, it's very easy to shoot a picture that looks like a daylight picture, because it brightens the sky up so much.
HD: So basically you have to wait until there's a lightning storm and then start shooting, and hope that one of the shots turns out, or?
MB: That's one way to do it, I suppose. The easiest way to do it is to use a tripod and to figure out where the lightning is coming from. You can figure the general part of the sky that the lightning is coming from, pick something interesting in the foreground--because otherwise it's just lightning in the sky, you want to have something interesting to juxtapose the lightning with.
HD: Yeah, otherwise it's just a weather encyclopedia entry.
MB: Yeah. So once you have that, I'd say maybe I'd start with a 5-second exposure. Or 10-second. And when there's no lightning, click it. You've got 5-seconds to wait for lightning. Lightning hits, then it shuts. You use long exposures.
HD: And this is at night.
MB: Right, so you've got like 10 seconds. Hopefully, something will record during that 10 seconds. With regards to that project, I don't know what I'm going to do.
HD: Are you thinking that could be a photographic exhibition, a show at some gallery?
MB: That's all I can think right now, possibly. I've never done an exhibit like that. But, I mean, if I spend a year on it, ...
HD: ... you'll accumulate a corpus of interesting Ann Arbor night shots.
MB: Yeah, if I come up with 20, 30 really good ones, hopefully 15, 20 really good shots, maybe it's worth putting it together for that. I don't know what it would cost.
HD: So your work as a free-lance photographer tends more towards photojournalism as opposed to sort of pure 'art', which is more what the Ann Arbor Nights project is closer too? Is that being fair?
MB: I'd say the Ann Arbor Nights thing is going to be more an Art-Meets-Slice-of -Life, because I want it to be candid, you know? I want to capture the candid happenings, whatever it may be. And if it gets to be a little arty, that's okay, too. I've never been one to actually go and create a piece of art using lines, and texture--the traditional things that artists look for when they compose a painting or a photograph. But that's certainly a part of it, I guess. It's hard to know. I like to capture the moment, though. The moments in time. Because at any moment, something interesting might happen. It's hard to see that, but you just have to be out-and-about looking. Maybe somebody's sitting on a step and reading, or gazing up at the sky, and there's something interesting going on in the background lights. Lights are a big part of it, because Ann Arbor's got some beautiful scenes.
HD: You mean beautiful scenes in terms of lights?
MB: In terms of lights. Street lights, car lights, building lights. It's an interesting downtown. Keep in mind I came from Kalamazoo, which is kind of boring. There wasn't a whole lot there to shoot at night. So it's a new place for me. My goal is just to kind of look at it with a fresh eye and see what happens. I'm improvising.
HD: So how long have you been living here in Ann Arbor?
MB: I've been here--actually Whitmore Lake--about seven months now almost.
HD: And the market for freelance photography is robust enough that you're earning a living?
MB: I'm making a living, yep. And I certainly need more work. A lot of free lancers always say that--they always need more work.
HD: Yeah, I suppose it'd be rare to find a freelancer in any line of work--photography, writing, computer programming--not happy to get more work.
MB: Right. And better paying work, too. I'm always looking for new clients to shoot for. But typically right now, I'm keeping busy enough right now with the magazine and newspaper shooting.
HD: So how long have you been freelancing as a photographer?
MB: I've been doing this as a living since about '97.
HD: So have you noticed any negative impact that online stock photo archives like Corbis and similar sites have had on free-lance photography? I mean, people who at one time might have hired a freelance photographer to go shoot something or other that they needed an image of--I don't know, like if they needed an image of two canoeists in a canoe--now they might say, let's go to Corbis and see what they've got. And then, Bam, 25 dollars later, or whatever it is ... [Ed note: phone rings] Why don't you go ahead and get that.
MB: Yeah, what's up? ... You're going to go early? ... You're going to paddle at 5:45? That sounds good. Don't leave without me, though. ... I can be up there by then. Alright. Thanks for calling. Bye.
I wouldn't have answered that if that was just a buddy from up north or something. This was the paddle guy.
HD: So the guy you're paddling with later today?
MB: Yeah, and there's actually a group, and he said they're paddling earlier. So I've got to keep that straight. That's a priority!
MB: Honest to god, it is.
MB: It's a big one. You've got to make money, pay the rent, and you've got to canoe.
HD: So that's Number Two.
MB: Pretty much. Maybe closer to maybe One and a Half!
HD: So where does drumming fit into the priority list?
MB: I haven't played drums with a band or a group in quite a while, so basically I just listen to music now.
HD: So what's your favorite genre?
MB: Jazz. I love jazz. My favorite artist is Maynard Ferguson, the trumpet player. Who just died recently.
HD: Oh, did he really?! I remember he achieved, I think, his height of popularity when I was in high school--early 80's.
MB: Oh yeah, he was pretty commercial then.
HD: When I think of him, I think of very, very high notes.
MB: Absolutely. He was insane. I'm into jazz, all kinds of jazz: The Elevens, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Count Basie. I listen to all the great drummers: Steve Gadd, Philly Joe Jones ... But the thing about Maynard--the reason he's my absolute favorite--is because he took his own route, you know? He was originally in Stan Kenton's band and then he went on to create his own big bands. And then he got commercial and he started playing disco and '70's music. He was looked at as kind of an outcast, actually.
HD: Was he really? Within the jazz community?
MB: Within the jazz community. He was looked at as a kind of cocky, like he wasn't a real jazz musician, just because he hit those high notes and he played that kind of music. I remember hearing that when I went to Interlochen. There were some snobby jazz people there, too.
HD: Do you think that had to do with the kind of music he was playing, or the fact that he was actually making a ton of dough off it?
MB: I don't know why he chose that route. He could have just as well been a traditional jazz player. But instead, he had a completely unique style on his own. It's a good question. I suppose there was money in it.
HD: I would have to think. The fact that I was aware he existed tells me that he achieved some degree of popularity, because I don't pay that much attention to music. The fact that he was on my mental horizon back in high school tells me that he must have been some kind of big deal.
MB: He did the Rocky theme back when that was big 70's-type hit.
HD: Oh, that was him?
MB: One of them was him. Battlestar Galactica. MacArthur Park was a big one, except about four octaves up! But I think he just loved that kind of music. He just loved to play, just loved to rip those notes. He used to solo on the upper register, like no one could ever do. My friends and I, it was like a religion for us. We had it on everywhere we went in high school. The question was, um, what was the question? What was the resentment from? Is that the question?
HD: Yeah, I mean, you seemed to suggest that it was more about the musical aesthetics of what he was doing, as opposed to the fact that he was commercial.
MB: It was about the aesthetics of his style. Because way back when, you weren't really considered a jazz musician unless you adhered to their 'jazz rules'. It's hard to explain, but the traditional jazz players would kind of play within themselves a little more, use the traditional scales for their solos, have a cleaner sound, maybe emulate someone like an early Miles Davis--one of the classic jazz trumpeters. Maynard, instead, said, Screw that! and just ripped notes as loud as he wanted to. He wasn't known for his beautiful sound.
HD: No, it was not a warm ...
MB: ... it was not a beautiful tone, but it was a big sound. And traditional jazz guys had more of a ...
HD: ... a mellow sound.
MB: More of a mellow sound, yeah. That was a big part of my life for a long time--music.
HD: So not so much anymore? Basically photography and canoeing?
MB: That's about it. I don't play, because I don't know where I would play. Maybe one day I'll play again with a group, I'll hook up with a quartet or something. It'd be fun to play in a rock band. I like that music, too. I like 70's and 80's music. I like a big range of music. I like some classical. But you have to agree with me that music has gotten pretty bad in this day and age!
HD: Well, there's plenty of bad music out there.
MB: As far as Top 40 goes, you know? Just flip the radio on, you're not going to get much anymore.
HD: Hmm, do you listen to the radio at all or is it mostly CD's?
MB: Sometimes I'll pop the FM on a little bit.
HD: Is there any particular station you gravitate towards?
MB: I don't think so.
HD: You just put it on 'seek' and let it find something that's actually tuning properly?
MB: Just try to find some kind of song that was written, that has a purpose, and that has a beginning, and an ending, and a bridge, maybe.
MB: I like songs with bridges. You know, songs that were written cleverly? Not just a jam song with two chords. I get bored with that pretty quick.
HD: So what are some specific examples of things you don't like. Or do you pay close enough attention to the bad music to even be able to cite specific examples?
MB: I'd say for sure not rap.
HD: You have no love left over for rap?
MB: It just bores me. Maybe some of the real early rap was okay, maybe to a certain degree. Is it true that Blondie wrote the first rap song?
HD: I couldn't tell you. That would have been what, The Tide ...
MB: ... Rapture, it was called.
HD: Oh yeah, Rapture. Seems to me that is often cited as the first rap song.
MB: Yeah, I don't know if it's true, but I liked Blondie.
HD: Didn't she make a come-back recently? It seems to me I saw her on TV for some reason or other.
MB: Yeah, I think she did. So I don't like rap. It just bores me. I like melodies, you know? And chords! [laugh]
HD: Well, they have melodies and chords on American Idol. Are you watching any of that?
MB: A little bit. Only when someone's on the phone with me and says, Put this on!
HD: Really?? So you have people calling you up saying, Hey, there's something cool on American Idol, you've gotta see this?!
MB: Yeah, I have that happen occasionally.
HD: Holy cow. [laugh]
MB: It's not right, is it? [laugh]
HD: Are these friends or family? It's okay, you can 'out' them!
MB: We'll get them out right now. It's my brother. He watches it a little bit. And my mom's crazy about it. She likes it, she loves it. She's been watching it every season.
HD: There's a woman from Flint who's doing quite well this year.
MB: Oh yeah, I've heard.
HD: It seems to me that this year there some of them who are wasting their time with the competition. I would say, Send them to the recording studio and let them make records! Because they're good enough that you enjoy listening to them for the entertainment of the song. You don't feel like you're listening to a competition song so much. Whereas in seasons in past, it seemed to be quite rare--for me anyway--to say, Oh, I'm enjoying this, I hope they keep singing as opposed to, Wow, let's just get through this as soon as possible! Of course, I guess I could just turn the thing off, but how can you look away, is my question?
MB: I don't know what to think about the whole American Idol thing. Other than there's some decent singers. But nothing that strikes me as, Wow, I've never heard that before, that's amazing! It must be pretty hard to find talent.
HD: At some point, you've got to think it will lose some momentum, just because people will ...
MB: ... they'll get bored. I was hoping they'd have an Instrumental Idol. But they probably won't--I don't see the market for that. But it'd be neat, like a Jazz Idol--saxophones and trumpets, it'd be interesting to see that.
HD: So if they had a Drumming Idol, is that something you could imagine entering?
MB: I don't think so! I don't the chops for that. With playing drums, you kind of have to be a teacher, become an educator, or you've got to be pretty phenomenal to make a living at drumming--to be a studio musician. So I never really quite got to that level. I kind of gave it up in college. I'd like to play again one day, maybe.
HD: Listen, is there anything else on your mind today?
MB: I dunno. We kind of veered off the subject for a while there. What were we talking about? We went from canoeing to ... ?
HD: We went from canoeing to photography. My bridge was the shot over the water. The reflection in the Ann Arbor Nights series.
MB: That was the bridge?
HD: That was the bridge. That was my idea of a segue, you know: canoeing, water, then right to the photography over the water.
MB: You've already interviewed a photographer, right?
HD: Yeah. What I like about having you on, though, is that you're balancing out the low-tech bias that Matt Callow had. He works with pinhole cameras and cheap plastic cameras a lot nowadays. On the other end of the scale is you. You've got this ...
MB: ... beast of a camera
HD: ... yeah, a beast of a camera.
MB: Well, it's just a tool, still. It's different from his camera. But it certainly has all the capabilities you'd ever need, pretty much. A good editor once told me back when I was using a film camera, It's just a box with film in it. It's just a tool--it's what you do with it, it's where you walk, where you look, it's what time.
HD: Do you take the camera with you in the boat on a regular basis? Or is that too risky?
MB: It's too risky. I think if it was a big, fat recreational canoe, maybe. I've taken it in that before. I've floated down the river and done river shoots, where I've looked for bald eagles and stuff. But yeah, it's too risky in the racing canoe. This is not completely waterproof.
HD: So where are you going to paddle today?
MB: We're going to paddle on the Huron. Somewhere in Commerce Township.
HD: Commerce Township. Where is that?
MB: That'd be the upper stretch of the Huron. Kind of the very beginning of it, actually. Near Wixom.
HD: And how many boats are there going to be? You said there was going to be a whole group?
MB: Yeah there'll be a group of boats. There'll probably be some C-1's a couple of C-2's. C-1's are one-person canoes.
HD: [laugh] Yes, I parsed that correctly based on your earlier explanation!
MB: [laugh] Yeah, and we'll do a typical two-hour training session. We paddle hard for a minute or two, and then kind of just more normal.
HD: So is there somebody calling that out, actually coaching the session, or is that just left to feel and whimsy of the people paddling?
MB: A lot of times it's left to the feel and whimsy, yeah. But there are certain days where we'll have a regimented session, where we'll do intervals--sprint intervals. A minute hard, a minute rest, a minute all out, a minute rest. We'll do that eight times. We'll do thirty second, 1-minute, 2-minute intervals. Sometimes we do time trials: 20 minutes as hard as you can go.
HD: So it's based on time then, as opposed to sort of a distance you might measure out on the water? You know, you might say, Okay we're going to go hard til that tree or something like that.
MB: It's all based on time. A lot of guys are using these GPS-based things now. They've become real common, because they're getting so cheap.
HD: That'll do distance automatically for you?
MB: That will do distance, so people are starting to talk more in distance than I've ever heard. And actually it'll give you the speed of your canoe, too, the GPS. So you can know that you're going 6-7 miles an hour.
HD: Is that typical for a racing canoe 6-7 miles an hour?
MB: Probably. Depending on current. Water depth is a big issue.
HD: So the shallower, the slower, is that the way it works?
MB: Generally, the shallower the water, the slower you're going to go. Should I describe for you the different kinds of water?
MB: [laugh] In canoe racing, we have very slang words we use for different types of water. Shallow water is basically 'shallow' I suppose.
MB: That one doesn't have a term!
HD: I was all set for some exotic word. [laugh]
MB: I'm about to bring those out! But yeah, I'm trying to think if there's a word for shallow.
HD: How about 'short'? That would be an interesting word to apply to water. Short water.
MB: Short water? There must be a term we use as slang for it. I dunno. But that would be a couple of feet deep. If you're just paddling relatively normally in shallow water, you're going to feel like you're not going real fast. It's hard to paddle.
HD: So you have to cut your stroke short?
MB: You'd have to pick up your stroke rate, I suppose. You paddle more strokes per minute, and then you would enable the boat to go fast in shallow water.
HD: Okay, I thought at first you meant 'pick up your stroke' as in you can't paddle as deep through the stroke. You have to cut the stroke shallower than you would normally--you can't dig as deep.
MB: It's basically the same stroke, but you would pick up the rate. But in any case, when the boat goes through water that shallow, a wave is created by the canoe, that wave travels downward, hits the bottom--the sandy bottom, or whatever it is--and that wave comes back up and hits the boat again. And it's that feeling that makes you think you're paddling in sludge. It's really hard to paddle in shallow water. If you get into kind of an intermediate water, then it's even worse. And deep water is great, because the wave just dissipates. The deep water is the easiest water to paddle in. We call the intermediate water 'suck water'.
HD: Suck water?
MB: Or 'trash water'.
HD: Oh, okay, I was going to say, 'shallow', 'intermediate' and 'deep'--I was not impressed with that as lingo. But 'suck water'!
MB: 'Suck' and 'trash'. that would be intermediate water, three to five feet.
HD: And deep water is?
MB: Sometimes they call it 'big water'--'big water' is a term for lakes, big deep lakes, which is really the easiest to paddle on. You feel like you're just gliding right through. And shallow water, which is actually hard to paddle in, but if you get going fast enough, you get ahead of that wave that the boat creates ...
HD: ... and that actually pushes you?
MB: You can actually get ahead of that wave and you don't have to be held back by it. So there's some technical issues with paddling. The faster paddlers, that's where they make their mark--in the shallow water.
HD: So they're able to get ahead of that wave and once you've crossed that threshold, then you just ...
MB: ... yeah, you just glide. It's called 'popping the canoe', 'popping the boat'. When you pop it, it means you've gotten ahead of that wave and it releases. You can actually feel it release and you'll actually go fast once you get ahead of that wave.
HD: So is that something you can achieve in a recreational canoe as well?
MB: You can. It'd probably be pretty difficult, though, because of the weight and the design. It's easier to do in a racing canoe. [Ed. note: the squirrel reappears ... as promised] Boy he's just right at home, isn't he?
HD: Yeah, that squirrel.
HD: No, I said that squirrel! [laugh]
MB: Oh, I thought you had a name for it: That's Girl! Hey, Girl! [laugh]
HD: [laugh][laugh] No, no, we don't name the squirrels! So I wanted to ask you, do you guys out there on the river, when you've got a bunch of guys in canoes, do you ever start singing the Hawaii Five-O theme?
MB: Ba ba ba ba baaaah ba, ba ba ba ba baaaah. That one?
HD: Yeah, that one.
MB: Not typically.
HD: Do you know this song--I learned this in the boy scouts, we always sang it when we were canoeing: My paddle's keen and bright, flashing light silver, swift as the wild goose flies, dip, dip and swing. [Ed. note: HD spoke these words.]
MB: I'll have to learn that one. I don't know that one. You know that would be entertaining, because they're always telling jokes. You hear lots of dirty jokes and lots of stupid jokes on the river. Stories about whatever. But no songs. That's a good idea.
HD: You should pioneer the idea of singing songs.
MB: We'll have to come up with a good song that has the word 'river' in it.
HD: Old Man River.
MB: [laugh] [laugh] An old jazz standard. That is a jazz standard, isn't it?
HD: I think so, I dunno.
MB: Old Man river, da dahh dahh da da. Is that it?
HD: Yeah, I think that's it. He just keeps rolling along. Or something. I think that's from a musical or something.
MB: Cry Me a River.
HD: Hmmm. River.
MB: It's a great way to spend a summer, though, let me tell you.
HD: On the river?
MB: Yeah, being on the water two hours a day and then more on the weekends. Just always on the water. Training. Sweating. Replenishing fluids. Losing weight. You feel better. Oh, it's great. Everyone's got to have some kind of sport like that to have some kind of physical activity that you're slightly passionate about. It gets you moving, you know, works the body. It's good for you, whether it be walking, or hiking, or ...
HD: ... or teeter tottering.
MB: Teetering! We're burning calories right now.
HD: A few.
MB: I bet we've burned 15, 20 calories.
MB: The edges are a little rough.
HD: The edges are a little rough.
MB: Right on the inside of the thigh.
HD: So yeah, I'm thinking that the next version, I might sand down the edges more.
MB: Thinking back to the photography, though, for a photojournalist in this day and age, we may be a bit on the--what's the term for a switch in trend?
HD: Hmmmm, 'watershed event'? That fits with canoeing.
MB: Remember when film cameras went to digital? Well, now it seems that we're going from digital to video now for photojournalists. All the newspapers are wanting to be TV stations now.
HD: Yeah, I've noticed that the Ann Arbor News website is now, it seems like they're going to be putting video up. At least the last I checked they have slots for it--a block that's labeled 'video'. They may have them actually loaded up by now.
MB: I don't want to be a video, TV photographer, though. But that's the route they're all going. Things are changing. And newspapers are losing circulation and advertising. But there's still work out there. I think there'll always be room for ...
HD: ... just straight-up still photography?
MB: Yeah, just straight-up, good still photography.
HD: You're a freelancer now, do you think the newspaper, print work for still photographers will eventually be almost exclusively done by freelance as opposed to staff positions at newspapers?
MB: I don't think 100 percent exclusively, but it's trending toward more freelance. It is. It's going to get more and more.
HD: So staff positions at newspapers are becoming more a hybrid still-photography--videography type deal.
MB: Yep. And they're using less and less staff photography. It's too expensive. With the advent of the internet. But someone's got to take those pictures. You know, they could have ordinary citizens send in pictures and many newspapers do. They run handout pictures all the time--'courtesy of' pictures. You know that'll do the job, won't it? It won't be as good. But it's not going to cost them. It's hard to know. But I love the profession. It beats punching a time clock. I could be doing something I hate. And I love shooting pictures.
HD: That's a good last word.