It is all here in black and white – and early digital shots |

It is all here in black and white – and early digital shots

Mike Drummond, Columnist
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

As I take keyboard in hand to hunt-and-peck this missive your way, it is a picture-perfect day here at Clear Creek Ranch. We are talking massive, glossy panoramic prints, nothing dinky or wallet-sized about today. Glorious sunshine, blue skies, a warm breeze and a hillside of fragrant pink dianthus in full bloom.

There are several ways I can ensure that such a day will be etched in my memory. I can scribble about it in my journal, but try to decipher that later! I can start a home improvement project – destined as so many others to end in a cloud of smoke and blown fuses.

Or I can repair to the ranch wine cellar/darkroom and emerge swathed in camera straps and light meters. F-stop FitzDrummond, ready to give famed Yosemite photographer Ansel Adams a run for his money. With my hair rapidly thinning, I sport my own Half Dome.

We have an entire bookcase dedicated to photo albums documenting our two-decade “back to the land” movement. There are several thick volumes depicting my home improvement failures and a single slim one trumpeting my triumphs.

Twelve feet of shelf space holds most of our cat photos, except for the thousands of duplicates, negatives and “current photos awaiting their own album” which fill two filing cabinets and a couple of suitcases in the spare room. When the subject comes up, my wife and I agree everything has been filed, up to the date of the Bush inauguration. What goes unsaid is that it is Bush Senior to whom we refer. No photos of the Bushes in our albums, but lots of other vegetation: tomato rows, strawberry patches, alien crop circles.

Photography snobs look at my cumbersome old camera with the 18-inch telephoto lens and wonder why I haven’t gone to one of those “no-brainer” point-and-shoot cameras. It has to do with quality. When point-and-shoot prints come back from the drugstore, I generally point at them and say something that almost sounds like “Shoot.”

And why haven’t I gone digital? I did, a good 20 years before anyone else. Every photo in our honeymoon album features the blurry tip of my ring finger encroaching on the edge of the lens. Now, with my big telephoto, both hands (and their wandering digits) are occupied well away from the business end of the lens.

Slide shows? A thing of the past. Why dupe a few soon-to-be-former acquaintances into an evening of ennui watching your life flash before them on the living room wall? Especially when the same photos can be scanned onto a computer file, complete with text and sound, and e-mailed with a few keystrokes to everyone you’ve ever (or never) met.

Some motion pictures have to be seen several times to absorb everything on the screen. Our family albums are like that. Not that I am an auteur or master-of-composition. But the foreground subject matter (us, the cats, the vegetables) becomes less interesting than what is in the background.

As we leaf through albums of decades-old photos, my wife constantly asks things like, “What ever happened to that vase on the piano?” (I usually blame the cats). Or I exclaim, “So that’s where I left my reading glasses!” A time machine would pay for itself in a week here at the ranch.

But why waste any time indoors reliving the past on a Technicolor day that even Ansel Adams, with all his artistry, couldn’t properly capture in black and white.

If you need me, I’ll be outside, carpe-ing the diem.

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at

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