Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mors Kotchanski Interview, 1975

Most Kotchanski is a very well respected wilderness survival and bushcraft expert. This is a short interview with him from about 1975. It appears to have been done for a TV show and it is intended for an audience which has no knowledge of bushcraft. The information is basic, but still worth seeing.

Part 1

Part 2

POV: FP Magazine: Talibanistan

Foreign Policy Magazine has featured an interesting photo/graphical essay on the war in Afghanistan. It's titled Inside Talibanistan, and effectively makes the point that our "enemies" are not a monolithic entity, but a combination of disjointed groups with different agendas and ideologies.

According to our media and politicians, who have the talent of diminishing everything down to simplistic terms in the hope of further dumbing down its viewers, listeners, constituents and readers, we are fighting against the "Taliban"...the problem is that the Taliban (as defined by our talking heads, politicians and their cronies) doesn't exist as such. 

In FP's feature, I've counted 10 groups ranging from Al-Qaeda to some group called Haqqani Network, and added up the estimated members of these groups. Most of them are obviously estimates, but a total of 100,000 seems to be a reasonable one. Possibly included in these numbers are insurgents fighting against an occupying foreign force propping up a deeply unpopular corrupt government....and others who want nothing but power.

To put this in perspective, here's Cost of War which runs a counter for how much the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing us. It's an estimated $1.1 trillion to date.

We would have been so much better off by creating jobs, building modern infrastructure, state of the art trains and airports, new schools, invest in medical research, in alternative energy sources...and taking on China's growing economic power. My politics are diametrically opposed to the Republican Party and its legitimate and illegitimate spawns, but this ad by one of its affiliated group did strike a chord with me....yes, it's obviously over the top but there's still a kernel of truth in it. We are losing ground very quickly to China.  (The video is via FP).

Next Week On The Travel Photographer

For the week starting Monday November 1,  the following posts are in the pipeline:

1. A photographer's lovely portraits of Sadhus attending the Kumbh Mela earlier this year.
2. A interesting web documentary (multimedia) on the drought conditions facing East Africa.
3. The work of a photographer documenting musicians of the Mississippi Delta...with my kind of music...really hard core Blues. It was promised for the past week.
4. Another interesting web documentary (multimedia) on Women.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

El Rey: East Los Angeles' Mariachis

This is a delightful short documentary featuring Mariachis musicians in East Los Angeles produced by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari. The piece features Mariachi musicians who gather on corners of the streets of East Los Angeles looking for work, whether in birthday parties, in cafes, restaurants, quinceañeras, weddings and the like.

To my delight, the main singer belts outs out the famous Mexican song "Volver Volver", initially without the accompaniment of musical instruments. I used to hear it played often in the zocalo of Oaxaca...just delightful.

According to Wikipedia, the term "Mariachi" is said to be an adaptation of the French word for marriage or wedding "mariage" as this type of musical formation plays at these events.

via The Click

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tool Kit of Otzi the Iceman

In 1991 two tourists in the Italian Alps discovered a mummified body. After an investigation, it was revealed that the mummified man lived sometime between 3350 and 3100 BC. The iceman is estimated to have been around 5 ft 5 in in height and about 110 lb. He was around 45 years at the time of his death, making him old by the standards of the time.

Otzi lived at the beginning of the copper age in Europe, so his discovery, along with the artifacts present on his body offer an interesting glimpse into the tools and equipment available to the traveler during that time.

The Axe

The first tool he had with him was certainly the most valuable at the time. It was a copper axe. The axe blade was 3.7 in long, and was secured to a yew handle. The handle was 24 in long. The blade was attached using birch tar and string, and more than half of the blade was inserted within the handle. The blade was made of almost pure copper and was worked using cold-hammering after casting.

The Knife

Another tool he had with him was a small flint knife. The knife measured 5.2 in in total length. The handle was made of ash, and the sheath of woven lime wood bast. A string was attached to the back of the knife.

The Retoucher/Pressure Flaker

The iceman also had a tool designed for flint knapping. It consisted of a piece of lime tree branch, which was pointed on one side. On the pointed side a hole was drilled, into which a bone plug (stag antler) was inserted with which the knapping was done.

The Arrows

A quiver of arrows was also discovered alongside Otzi. It was made of leather, and held 14 arrows made of viburnum sapwood. Two of the arrows were completed. They had flint tips, held with birch tar and bindings. The other 12 arrows were unfinished. In the quiver several pieces of antler were also discovered. Their use is still debated.

The Bow

Otzi was also carrying an unfinished yew bow. The stave was 72 in in length. As I am unfamiliar with bow making, I can not tell you what size bow would customarily be made from such a size stave.

The Birch Bark Containers

Two birch bark containers were also discovered, possibly used to carry some other items. They were about 5.9 in to 6.0 in in diameter and about 7.8 in in height. They were stitched together using tree fiber. Tests have shown that one of them contained maple leaves as well as spruce needles and charcoal. It is possible that this was a method for carrying an amber from the last camp site.

The Backpack

The backpack was very deteriorated at the time of discovery, but it appears to have had a frame consisting of a bent hazel branch about 6.5 ft long, held together by two 15.7 in larch wood pieces at the base. The pack was probably about 3 ft in length.

The Net

A net was also discovered, made of tree bast. Such a net was probably used for catching rabbits or birds.

The Belt

Otzi had a long belt with a pouch on the side. In the pouch he had several flakes of flint, a 2.8 in long bone awl, and a small drill. The majority of the pouch was filled with tinder fungus. Some traces of iron pyrites were also found, indicating that he was perhaps using a “flint and steel” method of fire lighting.

I find it very interesting to see how closely his kit resembles what many bushcrafters carry today. The only difference is that he is not carrying any means of quick shelter, and would have to rely on his clothing and the surrounding environment.

It is also interesting to see that the small amount of copper he possessed was used on the axe, and not the knife. This once again points to the significance of the axe to people who truly rely on their tools to survive in the wilderness.

France Television: Portraits Of A New World

Here's a superb multimedia presentation guaranteed to knock your socks off.

It's part of a collection of 24 multimedia documentaries produced by France Télévisions. Portraits Of A New World is a narrative of the world of the 21st century, and the upheavals which transform and influence our destinies.

Unfortunately, it's only in French with no subtitles, which sadly reduces its internationalization and its appreciation by non-French speaking audience.

Having said that, take a look nevertheless at Journal of A Concubine which, in my view, is the segment that most beautifully merges the techniques of photojournalism and videojournalism.

In the era of pre-Communist China, wives and concubines lived under the same roof; in full sight and knowledge of everyone. The practice was legal and widely accepted. In 1949, it was made illegal by Mao as being a relic of feudalism, but has reappeared with a modern twist in the 1990s with the economic resurgence of China. Concubines are now viewed as a sign of wealth especially in business circles.

This being a French production, the nuanced difference between concubines and mistresses is explained. The latter do not expect gifts nor monetary rewards. Concubines do.

Seen on the incomparable Duckrabbit

My Bali Book

I've decided to self-publish a book of my photographs of Bali. I've hesitated for a long time, since I have no patience to fiddle endlessly with layouts, fonts and the myriad of other variables necessary to produce a book, but I recently discovered that Blurb has introduced a new interface called Bookify. This is essentially a tool for people like me who don't have the mindset to spend hours on a project of that nature.

Lo and behold, I received my mock-up book a few days ago. The book is large landscape (13x11 inches) format, with an image wrap hardcover and the photographs are black & white. The mock-up revealed some slight variations in tone, a few photographs were reproduced "soft" and others were "muddy" requiring some more adjustment in Levels.

But I am pleased by what I saw, and I'll work on refining the current photographs, add some meaningful text, and add a few dozen more photographs. These will probably be from my 2005, 2007 and 2010 trips to Bali.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sami Family in Norway c. 1900

Note that the gakti are still being made out of leather at that time and lack the decoration to which we have become accustomed.

Detroit Publishing Co.
This image is available from the United States Library of Congress.

Masr: Javier Morgade

Masr is the Arabic word for Egypt...and it's also colloquially used for Cairo. So in Arabic, Egyptians are called Masr'yeen...which is confusing for non-Arabic speakers, but that's how it is. Egypt was borrowed from the Latin Aegyptus and from the ancient Greek Aígyptos.

Javier Morgade was filming in Egypt for an airline company, and was left with surplus footage for this short movie. It's a documentary made with a Canon 5d Mark II and a Glidetrack HD. It was edited in Final Cut Pro and graded with After Effects. The song is by a contemporary Egyptian singer and is titled ah men al forak, which loosely translated means "lamenting separation".

In my view (and I should know), Javier managed to capture in this short movie the essence of the Egyptian character, the kindness, humor, hospitality and generosity...even their occasional legendary intrusiveness. It saddens me to see the poverty in the alleys of old Cairo, but as always, it's mitigated by the Egyptian talent for being able to share setbacks, poverty, sorrows, and life troubles. No Egyptian is an island...and while they find enormous solace in their extended families and friends, neighbors and even casual acquaintances...they deserve better.

Charlotte Rush Bailey: Kutch Classic

Charlotte Rush Bailey joined my Tribes of Rajasthan & Gujarat Photo-Expedition ™ earlier this year, and has just published her photo book titled Kutch Classic: Portraits from Northern Gujarat of her photographs made on that trip, which is a wonderful visual compendium of this magnificent region of India.

The book is full of photographs of Kutch tribals; most are portraits, some processed in the photographer-author's signature style. Charlotte chose purple as the predominant color for her book, basing it on the lovely woman's veil on its cover. I also happen to think that Charlotte will follow up with another book, possibly titled Portraits from Southern Gujarat, on her return from another photo expedition next January. We'll see....

Published and available through Blurb, the link above provides a preview of some of the book's pages.

For more of Charlotte's work, visit her website.

I really wish that many more of photographers who join my photo~expeditions publish their work in book form. That would be so gratifying! I may be mistaken but I only know of one other photographer-participant who does that. It's not an easy task to prep and publish a book, but the eventual satisfaction is just sublime.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Husqvarna Hatchet Review

Here is another hatchet tested in the pursuit of quality tools with reasonable price tags-the Husqvarna Hatchet. It is hard to explain how impressed I am with this tool.

Axe Head Weight: 1.21 lb.
Axe Length: 13 inches
Axe Head Material: Undisclosed Swedish steel.
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: It can be purchased at most places online for under $40.00.

The Husqvarna Hatchet is not what I would call cheap, coming in at almost exactly $40.00. Compared to other hatchets however, it is the clear winner when it comes to price. A similar Wetterling Hatchet costs about $75.00 and a Gransfors Bruks Hatchet $110.00.

Just like with other hatchet reviews, I will be comparing the Husqvarna Hatchet to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, a well known standard in the bushcraft community.

Here you can see the Husqvarna Hatchet next to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

The handle of the Husqvarna Hatchet is an inch shorter than that of the Wildlife Hatchet, coming in at 13 inches as opposed to 14 inches.

The grain of the handle on the Husqvarna Hatchet (left) is as close to perfect as you can get. The example I have has better grain than the Gransfors Bruks (right). You can see that the grain is very straight, and it runs the length of the handle.

The head is heavier than that of the Wildlife Hatchet. It comes in at 1.21 lb, a quarter of a lb more than the Wildlife Hatchet, which has a 1 lb head. The weight of the head falls right between the Grannsfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet and the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. The head is attached with a wooden wedge, very similar to the method used by Gransfors Bruks, except that no metal pin is used.

While the heads are close to the same size, and have a very similar edge profile, the Husqvarna Hatchet is less concave near the eye, giving it an advantage when splitting wood (not counting the weight difference).

The Husqvarna Hatchet is of very high quality. It was shaving sharp and ready to use out of the box (I know that is important to some people). Both the head and the handle were well finished.

In testing, which included chopping, splitting and carving tasks, I found the Husqvarna Hatchet better suited for me than the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet because of the additional weight. Even though both tools are equally sharp and have a similar grind, the added weight of the Husqvarna Hatchet required me to use less force in my swings. This of course is a personal preference and the choice will depend on one’s body size and method of use.

The leather sheath is held securely and resembles the Gransfors Bruks sheaths. It was a bit dry when I got it, so it required a light oiling.

In all honesty, other than the weight difference, which was a chosen design characteristic, I was not able to find any difference between the quality of the two hatchets. Other than the large price difference, all other characteristics matched up exceptionally well. In fact, I was so impressed by the performance of the Husqvarna Hatchet, that I have replaced my Wildlife Hatchet with it as my main chopping tool.

I can not explain why the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet is three times more expensive than the Husqvarna Hatchet, but it is in no way three times better. In fact, I can not say that it is better in any way. The two hatchets seem identical in terms of quality, and very similar in design. I am very glad that I had a chance to use the Gransfors Bruks Hatchet before buying the Husqvaran one, because otherwise I would have never believed that the two would be of the same quality, or that I would end up choosing the $40.00 hatchet over the $110.00 one.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Traditional (Multipurpose) Axe (2.55lb head; 25 inches in length).

LCD Viewfinder (Meike)

One of the accessories I decided to get for both my Canon 5D Mark II and the new Canon 7D is a LCD viewer. which would be handy whenever I wanted to shoot video on either of these cameras.

Having looked at the B&H et al, I had the choice between the LCDVF at $170 or the much more expensive Zacuto Jr at $252, but thought these prices were too high for an add-on I would not use frequently. Some quick research led me to a post on the delightful Cheesycam website and another one here which suggested a much cheaper LCDVF clone ($59 including shipping et al) from eBay.

I deliberated for about 2 minutes, and ordered the clone from the vendor. Within less than half a day, I got an email with an acknowledgment, and a USPS tracking number. It was shipped from the vendor in Guangzhou (China) on October 20, and delivered to my door on October 26. Not bad, eh?

The amusing thing is it took 3 days to get from Guangzhou to Queens (more than 8,000 miles), and another 3 days from Queens to Lower Manhattan (less than 4 miles) where I live. Yes, I looked the distances up.

The boxed Meike LCD viewfinder and its accessories were well wrapped in a thick envelope, and the mailing address was perfectly labeled. The vendor is clearly professional and was understandably well recommended on eBay. I affixed the metal frames to both my cameras, and will test it soon. My immediate impression was that the camera was much steadier when videotaping with the viewfinder on. It steadies it against one's face.

I examined the LCD viewfinder for signs of poor workmanship but found none, and it comes with a useful pouch and a cleaning cloth as well. Oh, and there's a red plastic thingie around the top part of the viewfinder that matches the red line on Canon's L lenses...color-coordination!

One thing I know for certain: I'll never be a product or still life photographer....ever.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lumberjacks in Canada c. 1895

Big tree; big saw; big axes.

Image is stored at the McCord Museum.

Christian Bobst: Tibetans In India

Photo © Christian Bobst - All Rights Reserved
Christian Bobst is a Swiss photographer based in Zürich who originally studied graphic design, and became interested in documentary photography.  While working for advertising agencies, he won several national and international advertising awards.  At this time, he works as a freelance art and creative director as well as a documentary photographer.

Dharamsala, or more accurately Mcleod Ganj, is the home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government. The Tibetan settlement of Dharamsala began in 1959, when the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet, and was allowed to settle in Upper Dharamsala or McLeod Ganj. It's sometimes known as 'Little Lhasa' after the Tibetan capital city.

Christian's photo gallery of the transplanted Tibetans who live in Dharamsala explores the Tibetans' way of life in this small town in north India in their homes, stores, at the doctor and their places of worship. Even if you've never been to Dharamsala, these photographs will give you an excellent insight on the small Tibet enclave in north India.

The above photograph is a classic street photography gem. The Indian woman in the traditional shalwar kameez eying the passing Tibetan in her own dress.

My Work: Dharamasla Matriarch

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
Here's an environmental portrait of a Tibetan matriarch in one of the alleys of Dharmasala in northern India. It's been over 5 years ago since I've been to Dharamsala, and my photographic style has evolved noticeably.

I would have photographed this woman differently now. She would have been most certainly less rigid, and I would have spent much more time making her more comfortable before any photographs were made. I occasionally revisit my photographs of a few years back to trace back my photographic evolution; a gradual evolution moving from simple portraits to more complex scenes...moving from travel "pretty pictures" to the less pretty ones, towards more of a documentary style.

I am always attracted to interesting physiognomies...what photographer isn't?...but I now see them more in the context of their environment, of their surroundings and of the story they emanate just by their being there .

Monday, October 25, 2010

Flint Knapping: Articles, Tips, and Tutorials from the Internet

This is a compilation of information and resources on flint knapping. It was put together and edited by Michael Lynn, and is one of the best resources on flint knapping that I have been able to find. The information is on point and well illustrated.

As far as I am aware, this information has been released into the public domain, and a copy can be obtained here and here.

Beatrix Jourdan: Clash of the Titans

Photo © Beatrix Jourdan-All Rights Reserved
Here's somewhat of a change of gear from the norm for The Travel Photographer blog, and is about Laamb, which is Senegalese wrestling and a type of folk wrestling practiced in Senegal. It allows blows with the hands, the only of the West African wrestling traditions to do so.

Beatrix Jourdan (Bea Mészöly) is a Hungarian-born photographer currently based in Dakar, Senegal. She's a freelance graphic designer and photographer, and produced catalogs for the Museum of Modern Art in Gent, photomosaics in Budapest and Hajduszoboszlo, numerous posters, book and magazine covers, and brochures. She also She was one of the winners of the André Kertész international photo contest.

Beatrix informs us that Laamb is also a spiritual activity, and wrestlers must engage in various rituals before the contests. No wrestler, regardless of strength, physical or technical abilities, would ever dare to enter the ring, much less fight, without his "marabout" or JuJu Man.

via African Lens (larger photographs available on its website)

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have been invited by Chocolate Craft, an artisan chocolate company based in Old Alresford, Hampshire, to try their Christmas Pudding Truffles with Courvoisier VS Cognac.

These beautiful Christmas Pudding Truffles contain fruits, nuts, spices and Courvoisier. They are made from 70% plain chocolate and 33.6% cocoa solids milk chocolate. If you think you and your guests won't have any room left for Christmas Pudding these are a great idea, and they certainly haven't been mean with the Cognac!

Chocolate Craft are an award winning artisan company making handmade chocolates with Hampshire cream and natural ingredients. Their handmade chocolates can be purchased either online or from selected retailers and you can see the list of stockists here.

Thank you David.

Rodrigo Cruz: Women Warriors

Photo © Rodrigo Cruz-All Rights Reserved

The reason I go out onto the streets with my camera is simple: I want to tell people's stories in an intimate way through powerful imagery. -Roberto Cruz

Rodrigo Cruz is a freelance photographer with a particular interest in abuses of human rights, especially against women and children in his native Mexico. His work was published by National Geographic and The Washington Post, and by NGOs such as Amnesty International. He was shortlisted for the 2010 Anthropographia Award for Photography and Human Rights; received an honorary mention in the photo contest ‘Global World: through the lens of human rights’; and was selected last year to participate in PhotoEspaña’s Descubrimientos in Guatemala City.

I met Roberto at the inaugural Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Mexico City in 2008, and he was one of the indispensable members that made it such a success. Many of the photojournalists, whether instructors or students, relied on his knowledge, contacts and assistance for their projects and classes.

Have a look at Rodrigo's Women Warriors and Dance of Mice; these are two unusual traditions practiced in Guerrero in southern Mexico. One of his audio-slideshow projects especially relevant at this time when illegal immigration is being targeted in our southern states is The Promised Land.

For further details on Rodrigo, his projects and talent, drop by Canon Pro Network.

Next Week on The Travel Photographer

For the week starting Monday October 25, I planned posts on:

1. A photo essay on the Tibetans living in India, that was supposed to be on last week.
2. A remarkable web documentary (multimedia) on China that will leave you speechless.
3. A short movie on Egypt made on a Canon 5D MarkII...very well done.
4. The work of a photographer documenting musicians of the Mississippi Delta...with my kind of music...really hard core Blues.
5. The work of a photojournalist documenting African wrestlers.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Look At The Zoom H1

I've blogged a couple of times about the H1, the new handheld audio recorder from Samson Audio, and what seemed to be a handy portable stereo recorder at an unheard-of $99 price.

I haven't bought the H1 (as I already have a Marantz PMD 620 which I'm happy with), but a number of my readers have expressed their interest in seeing a the above movie by Shawn Harrel will do just that.

As I expected, the H1 seems to feel a little flimsy, it has a few quirks, but does the job quite well. The price can't be beaten, so I predict I'll see it used by emerging photojournalists on a budget testing multimedia waters.

Speaking of multimedia: I have my new Canon 7D next to me as I'm writing this, but I have yet to really test it. I've ignored the manual as always, fiddled with it and so far it's quite intuitive, especially to a long time Canon user like I am. I'll be putting up some photographs as soon as I can...but one thing for sure: the 8fps is great!

In the meantime, I've added this cheap rig to my 5D Mark II. It's my Marantz audio-recorder attached to a standard mounting plate from Home Depot, which in turn is attached to the camera's tripod socket. From my Mamiya medium-format years, I had an old Hama grip that I also attached to the tripod socket, and it gives me much better control over the camera when I'm filming video.

All I need now is the LCDV.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Friction Hold Ojibwa Bird Trap

To make this trap you will need about 10 ft of cord (I am using para cord) and either good cutting tools or a lot of luck.

The first thing you need to do is find a suitable post on which to build the snare. The higher it is the better. It should preferably be in an open area, where it would appear to be an attractive place for birds to land. The one I am using here is surrounded by trees, so it’s not great, but will do for this demonstration.

You will need to make a hole in the post. If you are lucky, the piece of wood you have found will be of such a shape that you can easily make a hole with your knife. More likely however, you will have to pull out your saw and axe and shape it in such a way as to allow for a small hole to be made. Here I did it by chopping off part of the tree.

The hole has to be just large enough for the string to pass through. Now take your knife, and enlarge the hole on one side.

Put the string through the hole. Take the end that is on the side where you enlarged the hole and make a noose. Tie the other end of the string either to a large rock or a branch that is under tension.

Now take a long thin stick, and shape one of its ends so that it can be stuck in the enlarged part of the hole.

To set the trap, pull the string so that either the rock is off the ground, or the branch is under tension, and place the thin stick in the enlarged part of the hole so that it pinches the string and keeps it in place. If the stick falls out too easily, reshape it so that it goes further into the hole.

This will always be the hard part of any trap. The trigger has to be loose enough so that it sets off the trap, but it has to be secure enough so that it does not trigger on its own. You will have to play around with it a bit.

Now that the stick is in place, put the noose over it. When a bird lands on the stick, the stick will fall, releasing the string. The rock will fall, pulling and tightening the noose, and hopefully catching the bird.

Or so the story goes...

Khaled Hasan: Death of Dreams

Photo © Khaled Hasan-All Rights Reserved

Khaled Hasan is a Bangladeshi freelance photographer, whose work appeared in several daily newspapers in Bangladesh and international Magazines, such as Sunday Times Magazine, American Photo, National Geographic Society, Better Photography, Saudi Aramco World Magazine, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent and The New Internationalist.

He was awarded the 2008 All Roads Photography Program of National Geographic Society, as well as the Alexia Foundation Student Award (Award of Excellence). He has been recognized with several awards including the Humanity Photo Documentary Award.

Khaled believes in immersion photography, and listens, observes and talks with his subjects over an extended period of time. In Death of Dreams, he focused on Dhaka's largest old-age home called Boshipuk, and followed the daily lives of the residents for two years.

His photo essay documents the effect of modernization on the traditional structure of Bangla families, and which leads to old ways and values being discarded. Elderly parents are now forced to live out their old age alone, and face living the remaining of their lives in impersonal surroundings.

Via GlobalPost's Full Frame.

A Storyboard Template

Following my earlier post on my handwritten storyboard doodles I used for one of my audio-slideshows, I thought I'd prep one that looked a little more sophisticated, and could serve as a template. The templates I found on the internets were not exactly what I wanted, so I basically created one using an existing Excel template.

So here's The Travel Photographer's exclusive storyboard template (PDF) available as a free download to anyone who needs it. I hope you'll find it useful to plan and set up your slideshows.

Is it better than the doodly one?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mora Knives

Most of you are very familiar with the Mora knives, and if you are not, all you need to do is take a look at any of the bushcraft forums to see how well respected they are.

Mora is a line of knives produced in Sweden, and they are very similar to puukkos in design. The blades are thin, short and with a single bevel grind, which has come to be referred to as a Scandinavian grind because of it’s assumed prevalence in the region. The knives use either a rat tail tang (the tang runs the full length of the handle, but narrows to a point in the back) or a partial tang in their design.

The Mora knives with which most people are familiar are produced either by KJ Eriksson or by Frosts. In 2008 the two companies merged and now the knives are produced under the name Mora of Sweden.

The modern Mora knives with which we are familiar were primarily designed to function as general purpose utility knives, and similar designs are produced by most Scandinavian manufacturers who make construction equipment. They have gained popularity in the bushcraft community because of their versatility and the high quality they provide for a very low price.

Most knives in the line can be purchased for anywhere from $10 to $15.

If you listen to some people, you may come out with the misconception that these are the “perfect bushcraft knives”. Aside from the fact that there is no such thing, it is important to note that the knives have limitations.

We must not forget that we are working here with a fairly thin blade with a very limited tang. It is not uncommon to breake such a knife. Below you can see an x-ray picture of four Mora knives. Note the limited tangs they use.

The knives use a process where the handle, made of a plastic composite, is molded around the tang of the knife. Some of the more traditional models like the Mora #1 and #2, used to use a rat tail tang, which was held by a friction fitting in the back of the knife’s wooden handle. Recently however, they have started to use a partial tang as well, held in the handle by epoxy, as can be seen in the below picture.

While these images may be frightening, it must be noted that the knives are surprisingly strong. The knives will take a lot of punishment and are more than sufficiently strong to perform any cutting task. If you are planning on batoning or truncating wood with them however, failures may occur.

This does not make a knife either bad or good, it is just a limitation of the design for which you have to account and plan your woodworking accordingly. If you have a hatchet or an axe with you for the heavier wood work, then a Mora knife may be ideal for you. If on the other hand you would like to use your knife to split wood or do any other heavy work, this may not be the perfect knife for the job.

I am sure someone will immediately come out with a video showing that you can baton with a Mora. Of course you can, you just have to understand that at that point you are pushing the knife to its limits, and that it might fail.

The knives come in both carbon steel and laminated stainless. I find them to be of equal quality. You have to decide which type you want.

So which of the Mora knives should one consider for a general purposes bushcraft knife? My favorite was the 510, which has now been discontinued and replaced by the 511, which I don’t like because of the finger guard.

Another favorite is the Mora Clipper 840...

...and so is the Mora #1 and #2.

There are numerous other models which will perform equally well. It all comes down to which one looks and feels right to you. Their performance characteristics are about the same.

Some people like the Mora 2000, but I find it to be a strange design, and it does come at a higher price tag.

Recently Mora has even come out with a line of knives specifically designed for bushcraft. The one shown here is the Bushcraft Force.

I find this to be another example of a bushcraft tax. In my opinion the knives are not significantly different from any other knife in the Mora inventory, but because they are “bushcraft” knives, they cost three times more than a regular Mora knife, coming in at over $30. There are some minor differences and design variations, but they are in no way three times better than any other Mora knife. Remember that Mora made its reputation in the bushcraft community on the merits of its regular knives, not these new bushcaft ones.

If you are looking for a good knife at a low price, you can not go wrong with a Mora, as long as you respect its design limitations. Ultimately however, a knife is a personal choice, and the one you carry will depend on what feels comfortable in your hand and for what purpose you wish to use it.

Xiaomei Chen: Puzhu

Photo © Xiaomei Chen-All Rights Reserved
Hands in Chinese Hakka culture are often a metaphor for the ability to work and survive; a symbol for diligence. "If you have hands, you never beg" the Hakka say.
And so reads a caption under one of Xiaomei Chen's photographs in her Puzhu gallery.

Xiaomei Chen had to choose between a Phd and a camera, and the camera won. Since 2006, she has been documenting human lives with it, using her background in anthropology. She's currently living in the US, and works as a contractor at The Washington Post. Having been a teacher in south China, she's fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka.

She embarked on a visual project documenting Puzhu, an obscure and shrinking village of 45 people in south China which mirrors what China has been going through in the past century. Farmers are leaving their land to earn better pay in the big cities such as Shanghai, leaving their centuries-old houses and way of life.

Puzhu In Transition was produced in partial fulfillment of a Masters of Art degree requirement for the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. It consist of stills, video and a book.

The book is available for sale on Blurb.

POV: Passport Renewal

Here's a statement which could irk all the Libertarians and Tea-Party grumblers: I had an excellent experience with the US State Department's Passport renewal process! Yes, a government office!

I had to renew my soon-to-expire passport, and I decided to jump the gun a month or two earlier than necessary.

I wanted my old one back as it still has a number of valid visas....and as I suffer from acute separation anxiety if I don't have my passport within reach (no, I'm not making this up nor is it hyperbole),  I chose the expedited route to speed up the process, and downloaded/filled the necessary application, and included a note saying that I needed the old passport back.

As I also wanted  extra pages, I spoke to a State Department employee to clarify whether I needed to pay extra. She checked and responded affirmatively.  I enclosed the fees required, and sent it off by Priority mail.

A few days later, I get a call from the State Department informing me that I had overpaid. We resolved the snafu in a couple of minutes, and within a few days, the new passport arrived along with the old one.

Easy, simple and very efficient.

Of course, my passport photograph looks like a mug shot...but that's a different matter.