Monday, February 28, 2011

Kauhavan Puukkopaja Vuolupuukko Review

I want to thank all of my readers from Finland who have contacted me with information about the knife.

In this review I will look at a fairly unknown knife from Finland. Most of you are probably in the same boat as me, in that you can’t make heads or tails of the name of the knife. Kauhavan Puukkopaja is the name of the manufacturer. Kauhava is actually an area in Finlad and there are a few knife makes there. Vuoluppuukko is the type of knife, meaning wood-carving puukko. In this post I will simply refer to the knife as “the Puukko”.

Knife Length: 8 3/8 inches (213 mm)
Blade Length: 4 1/16 inches (105 mm)
Blade Thickness: 1/8 inches (3 mm)
Blade Width: 3/4 inch (19 mm)
Blade Material: Carbon steel made by Laurin Matelli
Blade Hardness: HRC 59 on the Rockwell Scale
Type of Tang: Rattail tang
Blade Grind: Scandinavian/single bevel with small secondary bevel
Handle Material: Stacked leather with brass bolsters
Sheath Material: Leather
Cost: $70.00

This is actually a medium cost knife. The only locations where I have been able to purchase it is this Finnish web store. Even with the shipping to the US, the knife still ended up being under $100.

When compared to the Mora No. 1, the Puukko is more robust and slightly larger. In dimensions, it is almost identical to the Mora No. 2 knife. The blade is a little over four inches long. I find it to be a much better length than that of the Mora 1. The extra blade length comes in handy when making slicing cuts. The carbon steel blade might appear to have a Scandinavian/single bevel grind, but there is actually a small secondary bevel at the very end. This makes the ultimate angle of the cutting edge wider than that of the Mora 1. While I greatly enjoy using the Mora 1 precisely because of that very thin cutting edge, the more robust edge of the Puukko makes for a more versatile knife. It is not uncommon to damage the thin cutting edge of a Mora. The edge of the Puukko is tougher because of the added thickness. I by no means want to imply that the edge is thick. It is still shaving sharp, and fine enough for delicate work. The cutting edge extends all the way back to the handle, just like it does on the Mora 1. The spine of the blade is rounded off, so if you want it to throw sparks you will have to square it off with a sharpening stone.

The blade is made by Laurin Metalli, one of the largest blade makers in Finland. The knife has a rattail tang. The handle is made of stacked leather with a bolster in the front, back, and two other places in the handle. The construction seems very solid. There are no finger guards, and the handle is a very nice oval shape. It is thicker than that of the Mora 1, which I find more comfortable to use during more forceful cuts. You will have to do a good oiling of the handle in order to keep it protected from moisture, dirt and if you are skinning an animal, blood.

I wanted to see if this knife is more than just a showpiece, so I took it into the woods for the usual tests.

The knife had no problem splitting a three-inch log. The blade is a bit thicker than that of the Mora 1, but it does not noticeably effect its splitting ability. The added length does help with splitting thicker pieces of wood. The knife feels more solid and robust than the Mora 1.

Truncating with the knife is also fine. Even though the wood I was using was frozen, there was no damage to the blade.

The Puukko also does fine with feather sticks. The ones I managed to make in the picture leave a lot to be desired, mostly because my hands were frozen. I’ve been using the knife for some time now, and it cuts perfectly well.

The knife comes with a nice sheath. It holds the knife very well, and is made of thin leather with a plastic insert for the blade. I like sheaths like this one because they are compact and lightweight. I hate it when the sheath weighs more than my knife. The sheath is attached to the belt with a leather loop in a traditional manner.

Overall, here you are getting a lot of knife for the money. Even if you have to get it shipped to the US, the value is very good. The knife is a work of art that performs very well. Its dimensions are very good for a small knife, and it’s exactly what I was looking for as a pocket knife to go along with my axe. Just like with the Mora 1, I would not go into the woods with this knife being my main cutting tool, but for smaller to medium tasks, the knife fits me very well. The manufacturer also makes a more expensive version with a wooden handle, but this one will do just fine. In terms of design, this is as close to my ideal as a knife can get, and the execution of the design is excellent.

Guest Post: Making a Trade Axe, by Kentucky

This is a fantastic post that was put up on BladeForums about a week ago by the user Kentucky, who has graciously agreed to guest post it here. The article is interesting not only because it shows a step by step construction of a trade axe, but it very clearly demostrates the elements of the old style of axes, used prior to the American boom in axe manufacturing.

Every now and again we do one of these for a re-enactor or a period correct stickler. I think its fun myself.

This is how they did it before Mill's, Lathe's and 2" x 72" grinders..When the smith was responsible for everything... When the were truely hand made... No electricity...

The Materials: A 9 1/2" long, 1 1/2" wide, 1/4" thick strap of 1018.* A 3/8" thick forged to wedge shaped piece of 1095.

Thats it for the materials... Smiths of yesteryear kept the cost down as much as possible, hence the mild steel body and high carbon cutting edge. Good steel was scarce so as little of it was used as possible... Well we are going ot use the coal forge with a hand cranked blower. Remember, no electricity. Well heres the forge being brought up to temp, coking the green coal. We use a large deep fire to weld in and bank the coal up.

Heres a pic of the axe head ready for its first welding pass. The eye roughly formed and the high carbon bit in place...

After the very first welding pass, as you can see it still needs a couple more before starting any other magor work...

Ok, at this point its been three welding heats and the drift as been used the first time to set the eye shape. It wll be used again in a step or two for the final shaping. You will see a pic of it there... Here is where you see how good your weld is. We use a fuller to forge a notch in the bottom of the blade. The edge of the anvil can be used as well. If your welds not right here you'll bust the head apart!

Ok, now the head is ready for shaping. You know that funny looking thing on the back of your smithing hammer???? This is what its for, spreading the blade out wide.

Here we have spread the blade out and am getting ready to square it up to profile...

Now we use the drift for final adjustments on the eye since about all the heavy forging is done. You can true it up again later if needed...

Alright, since your using mild steel for the body its going to forge at a differnt rate than the high carbon. It will spread out over the high carbon completely jacketing it. The edge of the blade needs to be trimmed up. Again since we dont know what a 2" x 72" grinder is we are using a handled hot cut to trim it up...

Again no electricity so no grinder... We put it in the vise and hot rasp the head...

Here we have a close final shape, stamped with a touch mark. Any filework on the spine and stoning will be done cold... This is what it would pretty much look like as a trade axe. We did go ahead and hot rasp the edge and set the bevels but you cant tell it here... Here we would have brought the edge up to temp and quenched it in the slack tub. Then final sharpening and out to some lucky frontiersman to use...

From what I have researched over the years I think this is a pretty close representation of how a traditional trade axe may have been made... Thanks

Rahgu Rai: Interview With The Guardian

Photo © Raghu Rai- All Rights Reserved
"Most people don't see, they just glance. When we take a picture, we have to be aware of every inch of space we're dealing with" -Raghu Rai
An interview with Raghu Rai in The Guardian newspaper was published to coincide with his work being featured in a retrospective at the Aicon Gallery in central London and in a landmark exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery.

A gallery of his work is also featured on The Guardian's website.

Raghu Rai is a Magnum photographer who spent 40 years photographing India. Born in a small Pakistani village and moving to India during Partition, he was witness to some of the most significant events in his country's recent history. He was one of the first photographers on the scene after the 1984 Bhopal industrial disaster and has produced acclaimed documentary series on Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and the late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Via Wendy Marijnissen's Twitter feed.

Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

Photo © Leila Alaoui - All Rights Reserved
Leila Alaoui is a young French-Moroccan portrait and documentary photographer living in both Morocco and Berlin. She received a B.S. degree in photography from the City University of the New York Graduate Center.

With a number of international exhibitions under her belt, Leila has also featured her portraits of Moroccans at the Palais Es Saadi in Marrakesh.

One of my favorite in her small gallery of Moroccan portrait is the one above of a traditional "guerrab"...or water-seller. This one is from a souk in Boumia (near Meknes), but most people who visited Marrakesh's Souk el Fna have met these water-sellers who now make a living by posing for the cameras. They are a ubiquitous presence in other Morocco's cities.

I'm especially glad when I discover the work of promising (and established) Arab photographers, especially if they're women...and they'll always figure prominently on this blog.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Joseph F. C. Rock: Western China

Photo © Joseph Francis Charles Rock
Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884 – 1962) was an Austrian-American explorer, botanist, and anthropologist. For more than 25 years, he traveled extensively through Tibet and Yunnan, Gansu, and Szechuan provinces in China before finally leaving in 1949.

His travels in Western China is featured by On Shadow, and I thought I'd show the gallery of his more than 275 photographs made in the 1920s. It's always fascinating to me to view photographs made during these early years of photography, which required lugging heavy cameras and large amounts of developing chemicals. What we present-day photographers carry is a mere trifle of what these photographers had to schlep. They certainly had porters to do it for them, but imagine the difficulties this still was, as well as having to develop the films in situ.

For those of you who are patient and interested enough to scroll through the 275 images, you'll notice one that is captioned as "Lamas with trumpets, drums, and cymbals chanting the prelude to the Black Hat Dance in front of the main chanting hall at Cho-ni Lamasery" and was taken in December 1925. Compare it with contemporary photographs of Bhutan's Black Hat dances at its tsechus, and you'll realize that not much has changed.

On Shadow is primarily run by Nicholas Calcott, and was founded in January 2008, originally as the blog arm of the publisher 12th Press. It presents projects and essays from invited scholars and artists.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tudor Vintiloiu: Warriors of the Amazon

Photo © Tudor Vintiloiu-All Rights Reserved
Tudor Vintiloiu is a Romanian photojournalist based in Bucharest who specializes in documentary and travel photography. His site features stories from Ecuador, Ethiopia, Cambodia and other countries.

I was tempted to feature his work of the Omo Valley, but I've had Diego Verges' recent Addis work featured a few days ago, so I chose the next best thing on Tudor's website, and that is his work on the Ecuadorean Amazon Indians.

His portfolio features the Huaorani tribe, which consist of almost 4,000 people. In the last 40 years, they evolved from a hunting and gathering society to live mostly in permanent forest settlements, and shun contact with the outside world.Their main weapon are spears, and they use blowguns for hunting. Possessing an extensive knowledge of botany, which they use for medical purposes, for poison and for drugs. The Huaorani have about 6,800 square kilometers of land, about one third of their original territory.

Tudor's work in the Omo Valley, and of Markets/People (black & white) are also well worth your visit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Made in China

I know I’ve written about related subjects in the past, but I just felt like writing about it some more. When it comes to tools such as knives and axes, I’ve just been hearing so much talk about how one knife is good because it was made in the US, but the other one is very low quality because it was made in China.

While from a statistical stand point, such a statement might be true and very well supported, more often than not, it misses the actual cause of the problem. China can produce metal with the same quality as any other country in the world, including the US. Similarly China can temper metal just as well. There is also nothing inherent about Chinese people that leads them to be unable to achieve high quality control. The technology and techniques required to produce products such as knives and axes are well known to every manufacturer around the world. There are no magical secrets out there.

The reason why we see the above patterns in quality or lack there of, is that while labor in China is chap, it is not that cheap. What happens most often is that manufacturers who export the production of certain items to China (or any other country with lower cost of production) select which items are to be exported. These items tend to be the low end of their line. The foreign production is used to drive the cost of a cheap product even lowed. The company exporting the production could easily require higher standards and better quality control. The problem with that is that then the cost would go up regardless of the fact that it is made abroad. Cold Steel could easily chose to manufacture $100 axes in China which would have very high quality. They however chose to manufacture $20 axes instead. The lack of quality control does not stem from the fact that it is made in China, it comes from the fact that it is a $20 axe. The cost reduction has to come from somewhere, and that is most often quality control.

My point is, judge products for what they are. Their place of origin is not a conclusive indicator of quality.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Update on the Cheap Alternative to the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

As you may remember, a while back I did a post on how you can build a cheap alternative version of the very useful, but very costly Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe, using the head from a Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe. You can see the full post here.

I have been contacted by several people who have tried it for themselves, and come up with some excellent results. The axes in the below picture were made by Carl Norman. Photography is by his brother, Matt Norman.

Here you can see some examples still in progress.

He informs me that so far there have been no performance issues with the axes. I can second that. I have been using the one I made for some time now, and have had absolutely no issues. I have even put it through some rough tests, where I have hit the ground, and even chopped ice with it, without any damage to the edge. The toughness of the head has been quite a surprise to me.

I did have one reader let me know that the Northern Tool head he bought had some quality control issues. Please keep that in mind. This is a $10 hatchet, you may encounter some quality control issues. So far though, they seem to be fairly rare.

There are also some news with respect to sources for the Small Forest Axe replacement handles. I know that one US distributor is in the process of importing a number of Gransfors Bruks replacement handles at a reasonable price. I will keep you updated on their availability.

The Sufis of Gujarat Photo~Expedition™: The Verdict

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I find it always difficult to objectively assess a photo~expedition, since there are so many variables that must be considered when judging what went right and wrong over the course of an intense two weeks...but it's something I find necessary and useful. I don't know if other travel photographers publicize the positives and negatives of their photo trips or workshops, but I do. It's an exercise in transparency that I follow because I think it's the right thing to do.

The objectives of the In Search of the Sufis of Gujarat Photo Expedition™ were diverse. This was not a run-of-the-mill photo trip, touring Gujarat in search of photogenic individuals or places, but had the complex goals of exploring and photographing traditional Hindu and Islamic syncretism.

But first things first. The group was the most international I've had so far...2 Thai photographers, 1 Singaporean and 2 Americans.  The gear was, for the first time, Nikon-dominated with a couple of Canon users and a Leica aficionado.

Speaking of gear; I used my Canon 5D Mark II, and sort of inaugurated my new Canon 7D (which replaced my trusty old friend the Canon 1D Mark II). The 7D was mostly used when I need the super-fast fps rate, or when I wanted to shoot a movie clip. I used my Canon 24-70mm f2.8 virtually all the time, while the Canon 17-40mm f4.0 was used on my 7D. The 70-200 lens was used only once, and stayed at the hotel on most days. The same for my Canon 24mm f1.4. I lost all of my back-up Compact Flash cards...probably at Delhi airport's security relied on two 16 gb cards that were in the camera bodies.

The photo~expedition's logistics worked well. I traveled to Ahmedabad (where the trip started) from Delhi on Indigo, a privately-owned Indian airline, and I can't be complimentary enough. Its time-keeping and its in-flight staff (not only gorgeous, but efficient and attentive) put American and European airlines to shame. The hotels on our itinerary were as expected, but I ought to mention two in particular: The Imperial Palace in Rajkot (despite it being all-vegetarian) was fantastic, and The Pride in Ahmedabad takes second place. The fleabag award goes to the Leo Resort in Junagadh, and it's now on my list of the ten worst hotels I ever stayed in. On the other hand, the Rann Riders Safari Resort in Dasada gets the fillip, as it has last year, for being oasis of calm, efficient service and excellent food.

Our transport was a large Tata bus, although I had thought we would be driving in a Tempo-like 12 seater. No complaints there (except for the shock absorbers), and driver Ashok and his assistant were put through their paces, often driving for 9-10 hours a day...a grueling pace especially on the roads of south Gujarat, which are not well maintained at all.

Rehman was the photo~expedition guide/fixer. He was the very personification of syncretism due to his conversion from Hindu to Muslim when a young man. His knowledge of Muslim India and of Sufi lore was impressive, and he diligently gave us a written narrative of every dargah, mosque and temple we photographed at, with historical notes. His narrative was heavily laced with tales and superstitions...ideal to us, as these reflected local syncretic lore as for example, his statement that the Prophet Muhammad was the reincarnation of Vishnu!

In Bhuj, we were also assisted (like last year) by Kantilal Doobal, a local photographer-interpreter. He guided us to tribal villages.

There was one, make that huge... disappointment on this photo~expedition. I planned to photograph the Siddis in their village near Diu in the very southern tip of Gujarat. I was informed that the Siddis held spectacular musical (drumming) performance during the evenings of the Muslim weekend. The Siddis are descendants of African slaves brought 300 years ago by the Portuguese for the Nawab of Junagadh. To our chagrin, there were no performances to speak of, and all we saw was a small loban ceremony during evening prayers, hardly anything to write home about. Yes, we photographed the Siddis and it seemed we were in a Central African village, but we were disappointed. I had enormous expectations from this particular itinerary objective, but it was not to be. Traveling so far down to Diu wasn't worth it at all.

Another issue was that women are not allowed in certain areas of the dargahs and mosques. This excluded two of the participants from photographing in the inner parts of the shrines, but this was no surprise. Another issue was that some shrines allowed the saints' tombs to be photographed, while others didn't, depending on the whims of local keepers/guardians. I say whims because at one shrine I was told we couldn't photograph at all, but after talking with the local religious head, he allowed us unfettered access. Insistence can pay off sometimes.

The highlights of the photo~expedition were many...the shrine of Shaikh Ahmed Khattu in Sarkej near Ahmedabad,  the Jain temples and the pujas in Palitana, a couple of tribal villages near Bhuj, a photo shoot at the home of an extroverted hijra (transvestite) named Chandrika in Bechraji, and the utterly mind-blowing scenes of trances at a dargah near Unawa.

The Palitana photo-shoot required us to walk (or be carried) up the 3500 steps to the main Jain temple at the top of the hill. This was well worth it, as a continuous puja was being held at a sacred site considered to be the most sacred pilgrimage place in Jainism. We started the climb at about 6:30 am and were at the top 3 hours later. The puja ceremony lasted for a few hours, giving us ample time to photograph every facet of it.

However, there's no question that the main highlight of the whole trip was our days spent at the Mira Datar shrine where we photographed the fantastic Sufi rituals, which included exorcisms, trances, possessed people (mostly women) in chains lest they hurt themselves, pilgrims of all persuasions, Hindus, Muslims (Sufis, Shias and Orthodox) coming to the shrine for all sorts of reasons...temporal and spiritual. It is accepted in the Islamic world that demons (known as djinns) can inhabit the bodies of individuals, and supplicating saints such as Mira Datar to rid oneself of such demons is commonplace in Sufism.

I was asked by one of the khadims at Sufi dargahs to place a "ghelaph" (or ritualistic cloth covering) over the tomb of a saint...this I tried to do with reverence and alacrity. Not allowed to cross into the area where the saint's tomb is, a number of women also asked me to spread bags of rose petals over it...I was pleased to do this, and was handsomely rewarded by being given a large rose petal to eat. Not tasted like soggy lettuce.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inuit Family, 1917

This is an image of an Inuit family that was featured in National Geographic, Volume 31.

Diego Verges/Javier Fernandez del Rivero: Addis

Photo © Diego Verges/Javier Fernandez-All Rights Reserved
Diego Verges was at it again...this time with a friend and collaborator Javier Fernandez, and produced interesting set up visuals of various Omo Valley tribes, such as the Mursi, Hamar, and Tsamay.

Here's the background story as told to me by Diego. Having won a photographic contest last November, with a trip to Ethiopia for two as grand prize, Diego and Javier traveled to Southern Ethiopia where they stayed for about 2 weeks. With time on their hands, and an impulse to produce something unusual, they decided to work with studio backgrounds cheaply cobbled together locally.

The goal was to produce photographs more akin to anthropological portraits than travel images, but that would also accentuate the studio-like poses rather than the candid.

Diego tells me he was inspired by the work of John Kenny and Sarah Elliot, who were both featured on my blog, as well as by Isabel Munoz. I also see the influence of Joey L. in these, especially in the use of strobes and lights.

Some of those who describe themselves as purists may well view this work as demeaning to the Omo Valley tribes people and their age-old culture, as well as exploitative to a certain degree. Unfortunately, this has been the case for a number of years, and I understand through a number of conversations that commercialization is now running rampant. I was there last in early 2004, and noticed how the various tribes were adept in soliciting money for images and how prepared they were to pose without any guidance from me. And that's why I qualify my use of the term "exploitative"...perhaps this is a case of what came first...the tourists with their cameras giving out a handful of birrs...or the demand for birrs from tourists for each snap. I don't know the answer to that.

While I am saddened by the economic situation these tribes find themselves in, I pass no judgement. There's always the good and the bad in situations such as these.

Whatever side of the fence you end up on, there's no question that Diego and Javier have done an excellent job in featuring the beauty and majesty of the Southern Ethiopian tribes.

And no...I don't know why Diego decided to title these new galleries as "Addis"...instead of Turmi or Omo.

Note: Diego clarified the reason the reason for choosing means "New" in new work.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Work: Flower Girl At Ahmed Shah Dargah

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Near Ahmedabad's main mosque, Jama Masjid, is the tomb of Sultan Ahmed Shah I (1411-1442), the founder of the city, who was a sultan of Gujarat's ruling Muzaffarid dynasty. The tomb is revered by Sufis and Hindus alike, who visit the shrine to pay their respects, and to offer "prasad" in his memory.

The above photograph made during my In Search of Sufis of Gujarat Photo-Expedition  is of a flower girl who, along with a number of family members, sells flowers and offerings such as coconut flesh to the supplicants who visit the shrine every day.

She probably lives in one of the hovels amongst the graves of erstwhile Muslim royals of Ahmedabad which dot the area around the shrine, coming here to sell her wares for a pittance.  Not only did I think that this young woman was attractive, but she also had a great deal of femininity, poise and an innate elegance within her,  so I asked if I could spend a few moments photographing her in her environment. She readily agreed, as I had previously given her sister a print of the photograph I had made of her last year, and I had gained her trust.

Prasad is an offering of sorts (usually edible) to a deity or a saint, in Hinduism...and yet, the same offerings are used by Muslim and non-Muslims alike when visiting the shrine of Ahmed Shah. One of the numerous examples of syncretic traditions still existing in India.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rockforge 1.25lb Camp Axe (Fiberglass Handle) Review

This is a review that I have had for a while, but never got around to putting it up. This is a line of axes that I keep seeing at Home Depot, although I have had trouble finding them online.

Manufacturer: Rockforge/GARDEX
Axe Head Weight: 1.25 lb
Axe Length: 14 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Fiberglass (possible with metal rod inside)
Cost: $15.00

From what I have seen online, this company sells different versions of this axe, including some with wooden handles. The reason why I got this one is because that is what I kept seeing at Home Depot, and I figured people might be wondering about them. It is a low cost hatchet and it doesn’t look too bad at first glance.

As always, I will be comparing the Rockforge 1.25lb Camp Axe to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. Here you can see them next to each other.

The handle of the Rockforge hatchet is a bit longer than that of the Wildlife Hatchet. From what I have been able to find, the specification state that it is made out of fiberglass, but it feels heavy, as if though it has some type of metal reinforcement inside. Obviously there are no grain issues, and the handle is very well aligned and secured to the head.

The head on the Rockforge hatchet is a quarter of a pound heavier than that of the Wildlife Hatchet. It came unfinished. The edge was covered by a glued on piece of paper underneath a rubber edge guard, and was in no way sharpened. Sharpening was easy to do because the metal is the softest that I have ever worked with.

Even after sharpening however, the convex of the edge is very thick. As the overall shape of the head is not bad, it can be re-profiled with a bit of filing, especially considering the softness of the metal. The rest of the head however, is in great shape and with very good proportions. Even thought he head was unfinished, it would have been worth re-profiling the edge, had the metal not been so soft. I generally don’t mind softer metals in an axe, but this is too soft for my liking.

When it came to performance, the Rockforge hatchet clearly fell behind the Wildlife Hatchet, This was not surprising considering that I only sharpened the edge rather that completely re-profiling it. The thick edge prevents good penetration in the wood when chopping.

The Rockforge hatchet did well at splitting. The extra quarter of a pound makes a clear difference. The handle however, while comfortable to hold, feels too stiff, transferring too much of the shock into the hand. That is part of the reason I think there might be some type of harder material as a core.

Overall, you are better off skipping this hatchet. It is a low cost axe, but it is not one that you can just purchase and use. It will require a good amount of work to put into working shape. If you are looking for a project axe, and are willing to put in the time, then there are much better options out there.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Premium Axe with fiberglass handle (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length), The Single Bit Axe with fiberglass handle (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length), The Boy's Axe fiberglass or wood handle(2.25lb head; 28 inches in length), and The Camp Axe with wood handle (1.25lb head; 14 inches in length).


A bowl of warm homemade soup, especially on a cold grey day, is a joy.

If you have any left over pieces of Stilton Cheese in the freezer, this recipe is perfect for using them up. The soup doesn't take too long to make, and you are rewarded with a wonderful pan of freshly made soup. I'm not suggesting for one minute you should make the baguette to go with the soup.........

The recipe is by Antony Worrall Thompson from his days as presenter of Saturday Kitchen and can be found on the BBC Food Website.

Camping and Woodcraft Gear from the Past

A while back I did a post on the Cooking Kit of Horace Kephart. As I indicated there, the kit was manufactured by Abercrombie & Fitch Co. A reader of my blog has managed to find a copy of the Abercrombie & Fitch Co. catalog of 1911. You can see it here.

Specifically, note page 58, where Kephart’s kit is featured. In my original post I had indicated that the kit was made out of tin, as per the description in the museum, but the catalog specifies that most of the parts were made out of aluminum, and the cup and utensils made out of steel. It is interesting to note that Kephart had replaced the steel utensils that came with the kit with wooden ones.

We have to remember that while we read of the adventures of people like Sears and Kephart, these are people who were doing exactly what many of us do these days. They were recreational outdoorsmen, who spend as much time thinking about their gear, and clearly wasting as much money on it as we do.

Robert Gauthier: China Journal

Photo © Robert Gauthier-All Rights Reserved- Courtesy Los Angeles Times
As I'm still "suffering" from the afterglow (albeit, and regrettably, only a second-hand one) of the momentous events in Cairo, and from the visual overload of my 2 weeks photo expedition in Gujarat, it was about time to feature photographic work from a different part of the world...

The Los Angeles Times' Framework featured Robert Gauthier's Behind The Lens: A Photographer’s China journal.

I find similar behind the scene journal entries by photographers and photojournalists very interesting, as these provide insight as to what worked, what didn't and what went through their minds as they go about doing their business....whether it was jubilation at getting a "money shot"...or the disappointment at not getting what was expected.

Gauthier writes:
"Here’s the money shot,” I thought. As a photojournalist, I try to anticipate moments that help illustrate the thesis of the story. In my mind’s eye, I pictured Li, arriving home after months away. Children scrambling into his arms, a loving wife’s long embrace, tears of happiness streaming from everyone’s face.

Zonk! Instead, a hesitant father politely introduces his reluctant wife as the children stay outside. We all stand awkwardly in a dimly lighted living room. Li nowhere near his wife. No Norman Rockwell moment here. This is how stories like these generally go. You have to expect the unexpected."

We have all experienced this very same feeling. We build our expectations up; partly because we are wishful thinkers when it comes to our photography, and imagine the "perfect" scenes before we get to them...and partly because we frequently misinterpret how other people react.

Yes, indeed. We have to expect the unexpected...and be realistic in our expectations. I know...that last bit of advice is silly. We can never do that.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TIME Magazine: Egyptian Youth

It's not often that I'm in agreement with TIME magazine's cover choices, but I am with this one. The photograph is of Egyptian activists in Cairo who made history, and is by Finlay MacKay, a Scottish photographer.

The uprisings in the Arab Middle East are defining moments for the youth of these countries...while some mistaken pundits in the West are still trying to define the uprisings as having Islamic (or even Islamist) connotations, these are the same old tired cliches we've heard over and over again since September 11, 2001.

These are the faces of Egypt...look at them carefully. These are its future.

Mawled El-Nabi or The Prophet's Birthday

Photo © Tauseef Mustafa/AFP -Al Rights Reserved
Mawled el-Nabi was celebrated in Muslim countries a few days ago, and it observes the birth of Prophet Muhammad, which occurs during the third month of the Islamic calendar. Islamic scholars are divided on whether observing the Prophet's birthday is necessary or even permissible in Islam. Some see it as a praiseworthy event, while others view it as an improper innovation and forbid its celebration.

It's observed and celebrated in most Muslim countries, and where there are large Muslim communities, with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia, where it is not an official public holiday. Saudi Arabia practices an austere form of Islam, in contrast to Kashmir where these photographs are from.

Photo © Farooq Khan/EPA-All Rights Reserved
Kashmiri Muslims congregate at the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar where a relic, said to be a hair from the Prophet's beard, is displayed on the occasion of Mawled el-Nabi.

This reminds me that whilst in Diu (South Gujarat) on my In Search of the Sufis of Gujarat Photo Expedition™ a few weeks ago, I visited a Sufi dargah where a relic of Prophet Muhammad was kept in a receptacle, covered with a green "ghelaph", but under lock and key. I was told that it would be shown during the celebration of his birth.

For those who are interested in stuff like that, Diu (it being an ex-Portuguese enclave) is the only place in Gujarat where alcohol is sold openly. And the elderly Muslim man who courteously showed me the wall receptacle where the relic was kept, spoke fluent Portuguese, having emigrated from Mozambique many decades ago.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

POYi: Adrees Latif: First Place Freelance

Photo © Adrees Latif/Reuters

I'm gratified that one of the photographs that I deemed to be outstanding last November , has just won its photographer first place in the 2011 POYi's Freelance category.

Adrees Latif, a Pakistani photographer with Reuters, has been awarded Photographer of the Year Freelance/Agency with his excellent photograph made during relief supplies being delivered to flooded villages in the Muzaffargarh district of Punjab in Pakistan.

I'm also really "chuffed" that the work of non-Western photojournalists/photographers are recognized in such a manner. Recognition has been long in coming for such professionals, but it's here now, and it was about time. As I've suggested in a previous blog post, I am still disappointed at the absence (or paucity) of imagery by local indigenous photographers being featured by the international press in the events such as the Egyptian uprising, the Tunisian revolt and the ongoing events in Bahrain. This has to change.

And while I'm am chagrined that photojournalists are blogging about being roughed up by thugs in Cairo and elsewhere, I'd remind them that it's not about get a grip, fellas...and stop moaning about how you lost some hard drives, how someone stole your satellite phone or whether you had a black were in a "war" zone, where people were/are making history. Your images may too.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Post: Fire-Cattail and Waxed Jute, by American Grouch

Today’s post is written by a fellow blogger. This man is the real deal. His posts on winter camping are certainly something that you should not miss. Most of his writings can be found on his blog: American Grouch. Be sure to check it out. It will be well worth your time.

I've seen this method before, wanted to show how I do it and a slight twist to the usual recommendation. I'm sure there are other and perhaps better methods, this has worked for me for a while now.
You'll need some simple ingredients to get started.
1. Paraffin wax
2. Jute twine (I use the small stuff but many suggest the bigger twine)
3. Pot to melt the wax in
4. Knife
5. Fire

Word of caution, once melted the wax is quite flammable, your wife, if you use one of her pots, is also flammable. (Hard to impossible to get the wax out)

If you use a camp fire, use caution as the heat level is not as easy to regulate as your stove top. I like doing it outside so I used a small fire.

Once I've got the fire going and waiting for it to burn in a bit I cut the twine, 8 to 12" in length.

With the fire about right I'll put my melting pot on with a couple blocks of wax.

Once the wax is melted I'll lay in the twine, I do not suggest putting a whole bundle in at a time. You also do not want to let it get too hot.

Once they've been in a bit I'll pull them with a stick and lay them to cool.

Here is where things start to differ compared to what most recommend. Where I live, if I NEED a fire as in right now, I need it right now. I don't have the time or luxury of nimble fingers to pick and peel the jute apart to make it fibrous enough to take a spark from a firesteel. It would be winter, between -20 to -30 with howling winds, snow or freezing rain. In those conditions a man's fingers are not nearly as dexterous as in normal conditions. Fingers get stiff, don't want to move, hard enough to grasp the firesteel and striker. Something I usually do with mits on for that very reason, pulling jute twine into a fibrous nest with mitts on is impossible. (One of the other reasons my firesteel is large, built into a deer bone and easy to grasp, even with mitts.)With that in mind, I like to twist or roll the waxed twine into lumps, or balls or squares as seen here:

Then I'll mix these up with old cattail fluff. It'll stick to the waxy jute. Further if you pull the jut a bit and get good gobs of the cattail fluff mixed together you can squeeze it back into a compact unit. The cattail fluff is very easy to ignite but it burns extremely fast. If you are using it in conjunction with waxed jute though it fires the jute which will burn a nice long time. Basically, your using the easy ignition point of the cattail to get the twine going. Most of what I have seen others recommend is pulling the jute apart to make your tender bundle. I like to use cattail fluff with the twine as it works much better for a fire right now situation.If you've got it right, it'll look like this, as with all of my fires I really try to build them on a layer of birch bark. It's prolific here and a very nice fuel. You can see just how nice a bed of material you have to receive the spark.

It'll take a spark very easily and spread to flame as well with little extra effort.

Incidentally, I used the left over melted wax to reseal my leather tinder bag. A pretty nice leather piece my daughter made for me.

The waxed jute twine and cattail fluff, travels light and easy and in good quantities. Here's what the inside looks like, cattail fluff, jute twin, cedar and pine shavings also in there as well as a couple pieces of fatwood in the bottom.