What would Rembrandt do? / by Bill Frakes

Late last night I was roaming the back streets of ancient Zurich. 24 f 1.4 on a D300s, just appreciating a lovely early autumn time in one of Europe's treasures. Freed of technical limitations--that camera can literally see in the dark-- and it's so small and light, and with that lens attached I feel a connection to an earlier group of photojournalists working the scenes with fast 35 millimeter lenses attached to the smallest film cameras of the day. Romantic maybe, but those who have been on the ground doing this work can feel what I am feeling.

I was thinking about an earlier time in my life--my second trip to Europe--I was in my early 20's and had 18 hours in London enroute to a meeting with a baby orangutang in the Hague. (The trip with the small primate is a story for another day.)

My father was in the Army Air Corps during the second World War, stationed in Sherwood Forest, and always spoke so captivatingly about England.

I was determined to see all of old London town, and capture it on film. So I refused sleep. All night, strolling the city, making long, slow exposures on transparency film and the venerable, omnipresent TriX loaded in my Nikon F2, pentaprism--no meter, no motor drive--with a 24 2.8 attached. Having to make each exposure count--no blasting away hoping. It was about thinking first, knowing the limitations of the film, and then making it work as best I could.

I thought it might be my only chance to see one of the Capitals of Europe--as a young newspaper photographer in the South, visions of globetrotting were not yet on my horizon.

Half a lifetime later, 8 million miles flown, thousands of trips taking their toll on my back, so many visits out of the US to places relatively near and far that I lost count long ago, and I am still restless. Driven to photograph, to get what's in my mind and my heart captured on something--film, a sensor, paper--so that I can share it with the world.

I used to look at things twice, once especially for my Dad. Now I do the same, but now the second look is for Havana, my daughter who always reminds me to take a picture of what I see just for her.

While I was taking that slow walk in this wonderful Swiss city, soaking in everything around me I started thinking about the distant past. The great painters, DaVinci, Bruegel, Rembrandt, and I wondered what they would do with the tools we have now. What could they see, what would they record, where could they drive the art?

Or more recently, Gordon Parks. Imagine what he could have done with these tools. I know I would read his blog every day...........

I love the technology. And I am determined to use it to not do things more easily, but to do things better. To go further.

And those thoughts just pushed me to keep going, and looking. Enjoying.