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A Decision to observe…

by | Jan 28, 2021 | Cat Stevens, Decisions, observe

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When my father observed that I was interested in photography and actually reasonably good at it, he Decided to buy me my own camera. The Rolliflex was a great piece of equipment with fantastic lenses and shot huge negatives that were 2 ¼” square.  It was truly a professional’s camera, and I was really honored to have such a great piece of equipment.  Did I mention it is one of the cameras you look down into – and the image observed is reversed in your sight glass – that is also really dim.  So if you are shooting sports, say Football, the Texas national religion even in Junior HIgh, you had to pan the opposite direction you were looking at….. 

… needless to say, I very quickly asked if I could use his Nikkormat 35mm camera… you know like other “normal” cameras?  You look through them and shoot what you see?  Yes the negatives are not as good, and your prints are grainer, etc… but you can actually see the quarterback make the pass and not turn the wrong way 😉  Dad was a perfectionist with equipment, and I know he really only wanted the best, but that Decision I still laugh about. 

Cat Stevens was almost always seen live playing with a “brand new” guitar manufacturer’s equipment.  Ovation was a guitar started by a Connecticut entrepreneur before they were called that.  Charles Kaman worked with Igor Sikorsky on helicopters in the early ‘40s, eventually deciding to go out on his own and start a competing company.  He also loved music and Decided that he could design a better one with a hardback, literally made out of the same material as helicopter blades.

The sound from a guitar comes primarily from the front of the guitar.  That large piece of wood you observe needs to be as thin as possible to vibrate back and forth – moving the air in response to the strings.  Like a drum, but reversed – where the strings attach to it (the bridge) pulls it up and back as the strings vibrate, and the face is a large acoustic amplifier.  Of course, the strings are extremely tight so the strain on the top is huge… and the edges and back need to be very firm.  Kaman’s idea was to build a completely fixed back, allowing the face to be even thinner.  And he also Decided to make it curved to reflect the sound even better back at the front…

The other way sound is made on a guitar is with your hands of course.  One hand pushes the strings down against the frets… but the other hand… that is what can be dramatically different. James Taylor, Paul Simon, and others Decided to use their fingers and fingernails and pick the strings. Players like Cat use a physical pick to “strum” the string, which causes a more mechanical percussive sound.  His in particular is VERY percussive, which combined with the very firm, tight Ovation backs came across almost like more of a drum.  Ask any guitar player to describe Cat’s playing, and they will highlight what they observe – “great pick attack”.  

Where again, timing was everything.  New stereos and speakers were emerging that made the sound SO much clearer and present, and stereo imagery was now easier to package into albums.  I hope you will Decide to take time to listen to these albums again through these posts and observe the craftsmanship that he and the band brought to the songs.  They are fantastic, but I had forgotten how great they were to simply listen to.  He not only changed the type of music that was recorded, he changed the way it even sounded. 

At the end of 8th Grade, the girls in my class were trying out to be the Cheerleaders for the school.  There were only 6 slots, and it was a popular vote so the tryouts were in the gym with the 7th and 8th graders there to vote.  And of course, as the official School Photographer, I was observing in the front row taking pictures for the paper.  Dad Decided I should take both cameras and lots of film, having observed that these events are never recreated and you want a backup.  As such, I ended up with probably 10 shots each of all 30 girls that tried out. 

After the event, Moms, Dads, and even some of the girls who would NEVER normally talk with me asked if they could see my pictures.  I rushed home and developed some “proofs’ and took them back the next day for them to observe.  I was stunned when people ordered multiple copies of multiple photos… and before you know it, I cleared over $100!  Not bad for what appeared to be a simple Decision at the time. 

I recently had a chance to upgrade my cell phone, and one of them actually has an attachment that takes extremely high-quality photos.  Dad had always wanted a different large format negative camera, made in Sweden, and even higher professional quality than my Rolli.  The Hasselblad was the standard of perfection for his era… and now, it is a $100 addition to augment the megapixel camera included with my phone.  It was a no brainer to Decide to go with that phone. 

I again have no idea how you observe your relationship with your parents, specifically your Father, was like, but I can tell you that mine was one I still cherish.  Not perfect, but certainly I had no question that he was there to support me, even with crazy suggestions that now, look a lot less crazy.  I am spending a week with my own son and grandkids down in Texas, and only hope that I can be half that for them.  Listen and enjoy the pick attack and rhythmic playing of Cat (the left channel with headphones) on one of his finest… Father and Son.

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