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An Ode to Analog

Photos Matthew Cusanelli
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An Ode to Analog

It was a rainy Wednesday morning and there I was sitting opposite my highly credentialed professor during office hours. My brain, filled with questions about a passage from Durkheim's 1897 book on Suicide, worried that I didn't apply enough Swagger to rid the natural stench of my morning bicycle commute. Truthfully, I was devastated. Sociology is a ruthlessly honest field to begin with and I don't think an academic in the 1800s had the most positive outlook on life. For Durkheim, the key to happiness is having our means (income) proportionate to our needs (desires). Unlike creatures that only act to satisfy their immediate survival requirements, our desires are infinite and near insatiable. What in the postmodernist-theorylovingfuck am I to do? How can we as human beings be satisfied, and thus content, if our desires know no bounds?

"Unlimited desires are insatiable by definition and insatiability is rightly considered a sign of morbidity. Being unlimited, they constantly and infinitely surpass the means at their command; they cannot be quenched. Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture…. To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness.’’

My prof proposed two solutions: Firstly, learn to be a damned good capitalist. I'm currently engaged in a career trajectory pitted in the bicycle industry so while that's not impossible, it's extremely unlikely that I'll achieve wealth this way. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, learn to love and embrace that which you can afford and not which you cannot - I think I've done an alright job of the latter. Therefore, I bring to you lovely bourgeois internet folk, the fruits of my writing labour and self reflection. You may have detected a nod to Marx there but we'll save him for another time.

In this vein, I’d like to outline my journey into the rabbit hole of analog film photography in addition to the highs and lows that ensued, followed by my approach to riding bikes. I originally became fascinated with this art form at the beginning of high school when a friend started shooting film. We found consolation in riding our bikes through weathered parts of Vancouver and capturing anything we found to be quirky or captivating. I remember getting my first set of scans back from London Drugs and the joy that accompanied reliving moments passed.

The beauty of an analog camera is the lack of a back screen, disabling the gratification that accompanies instantaneous results. I value the tactile and plodding nature of the process which includes the setting of aperture, shutter speed, focusing. Every part of the process, including developing and scanning, allows the creator to have an influence on the final result.

An Ode to Analog 1

Me and my trusty Mamiya C330.

I’m currently using a Canon 7 rangefinder from the 60s with a 35mm Jupiter f2.8 lens, a Nikon FE, and a Mamiya TLR. The hundreds of frames these cameras have produced reside in an old Coleman, preserving the amazing memories I’ve made both on and off the bike.

All these cameras have a story. A soul. A life course. The Canon was bought from a gentleman who was in the army and had tucked the camera in his uniform while on duty. The Nikon was purchased from an elderly woman in Burnaby who'd bought it new. It came with the dreamy 50mm 1.4 lens. The Mamiya was acquired from a music photographer who'd pointed it at a decade of portraits across the sprawl of Vancouver bars.

The first 6 months of shooting film, I rarely made an image I was satisfied with. The focus was off, highlights were blown out in a swirl of confusion, and the foregrounds were cast with shadow and a deep coat of ominous grain. Despite this, I kept trying different approaches. As university approached I was starting to produce images I enjoyed and I finally felt in control of the creative process.

Given today’s technology, it is without a doubt more practical to shoot digital, although it fails to offer the tactility and progression that accompanies film. Coming from an age where a photograph can be made on an IPhone, the concept of having to think of more than simply what is in the frame seemed ludicrous at first but it slowly became second nature.

The learning curve of any skill-based hobby is tumultuous, painful, and frustrating. Eventually the struggle is replaced by the deeply rewarding sensation that accompanies the pursuit of mastery.

Learning to drive stick on a car with worn out synchros? It’s a difficult task at first but holy smokes, rallying a dinosaur-fueled, over-engineered box of metal around a corner at 70km/h while double clutching the life out of that blown tranny is a rewarding experience. You may not pull a perfect espresso shot out of a manual machine at first but after a little practice it won’t taste nearly as bitter as stomaching an 8-dollar latte at your local beanery. There’s a long list of sparkys up for rewiring your house, but the joy from charging your phone with a plug you installed yourself is unmatched.

What about bikes? They have followed a similar narrative.

Despite the availability of electronics on bikes, that tech doesn’t trump the enjoyment of the tangible and tactile experience of mechanical products for me. It starts with working on your bike, a process you can ease into by biting off increasingly more complex repairs as your confidence manifests.

Wrenching is one of the most satisfying pathways to pursue if you are investing in this hobby. Installing a headset by twisting the handles of the press reassuringly until the cups reach the hard stops of the headtube is a delightful experience. Truing (or for some of you lacing) wheels on a rainy afternoon with tunes banging is pretty awesome. Or what about meticulously adjusting cup and cone hubs until they find a perfect balance between lack of play and minimal resistance? Have you ever felt your capabilities swell until you're ready to take on the world? If you’ve fine-tuned your skipping derailleur from the saddle with a barrel adjuster, you likely know the feeling.

Consider the process of dialing in fork pressure over the course of a session on your favourite section of trail versus having a Shockwiz help you. A lot of my confidence development as a rider has emerged from hitting the same feature a dozen times with the main goal of trying to setup a new bike, but the latent function of honing my jumping skills and style. Along these lines, cartridge bearing-loaded shifters demand more rider involvement than transmission controllers or blip boxes. Outside of the bike itself, going down a new path accidentally and discovering something amazing because you weren’t following the most efficient route that your Garmin recommended can be rewarding.

What about e-bikes? I'm not against them - they’re a practical commuting tool, an equalizer for individuals of varying fitness levels that want to ride together, and a lot of fun for some. But some is not me. For now, I’ll take the slower rhythm of pedal power along with the unparalleled sense of accomplishment that ensues climbing up the side of a mountain fueled by wits, grit, and just a slight touch of naïveté.

I'm not saying that this new-school electronic agenda has no merit. It's super cool. Just that there’s something beautiful about dialing in a perfectly tuned assemblage of metal resulting in a chemical process that produces an image, both mental and physical, that lasts forever. And one that I can actually afford.

Matthew_Cusanelli
Matt Cusanelli

Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)

Weight - 155lbs/77kg

Inseam - 34"/86cm

Ape Index - The Original Slinky™

Age - 22

Bar Width - 780mm

Preferred Reach - 485-500mm

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Comments

fartymarty
+9 Allen Lloyd Todd Hellinga Andy Eunson Karl Fitzpatrick Lynx . Mammal Cam McRae Cr4w Michael Klein

My Garmin smart watch recently died and rather than replace it I replaced the battery on my old Seiko analogue watch and haven't looked back.  Sometimes simple is betterer - this extends to bikes as well.  

Nice piece Matt - you are wise beyond your 22 years.

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Matthew_Cusanelli
+1 fartymarty

Hi Marty! Thanks kindly. Funny you mention Garmin, I'm in a similar predicament at present. My cracked, and taped together (the screen is held together with ridewrap) Garmin Edge 520 is on its last legs. Everyone... ok well a lot of people seem to be getting 'smart' watches and I'm torn between going that route or buying a nice daily 'dumb' watch like a Seiko 5.

-M

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fartymarty
0

I like the look of the new Seiko SNXS.  Simple and does what it needs to do.   I now use my phone if I need to Strava (which I do more to track rides and compare rather than KOM chasing - i'm too old for that now).

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andy-eunson
+7 Lynx . Mammal Lee Lau Velocipedestrian lewis collins Cr4w Michael Klein

As a retired person with lots of time to think about things, this article really resonates with me. You’re going to be alright Matt. You get it. 

I feel a bit sorry for people who seem to be searching for something to provide happiness or satisfaction of some sort but they confuse material things with that. It’s not the experience so much as the perceived accolades they think they get. It’s not the experience of going to Joffre Lakes, it’s the showing people that they went there. It’s not the Yeti they own and ride it’s what they think people think of them as a result of owning things. It’s not the simple satisfaction of doing trail work on their own but they must post it so that people have a positive opinion of them. By all means do these things but just for joy of being there, of doing things or contributing to society. 

Way back when there were only film cameras I had an Olympus OM1. It was one of the good small and tough SLR cameras available. And being in geology doing field work in all kinds or weather it made sense. One field season I was working with a fellow who had better camera skills than I did. He also had Olympus camera stuff so when we went out together we had a a plethora of lenses to share. I learned a lot from him. I never really took to the digital cameras because I found the features too complex for my monkey brain to figure out. As you say it takes away from part of the fun and skill it took. Plus all the functions a camera might have won’t replace any artistic skill. You still need a good eye. A rider with poor skills on a fancy bike is still a poor rider.

You can’t buy skills.  You can’t buy happiness.

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araz
+1 Andy Eunson

Don't you know that we're not supposed to make fun of Yeti owners anymore? ;-)

On photography -- that's my field. For my personal work, I still use a large format (4x5) film camera. It's big, slow, and the film is super expensive these days -- all of which makes me take my time, look closer and think harder about the photographs that I make. It helps me see better. Though I do know plenty of great photographers who happily made the digi switch and haven't looked back.

I've also taught photography on and off for the past couple of decades, both analog and digital. There is definitely a steeper learning curve with analog, but I do think there's value in having to work for the images. Digital makes it easy to get a decent photograph, but perhaps harder to gain the discernment to tell what separates a decent one from a good or great one. During my last teaching stint a couple of years ago, I was happy to see that a lot of the students had a hunger to try film photography -- to be engaged in the analog world. Unfortunately the university I was at had shut down almost all its darkroom facilities, so their options were pretty limited.

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Matthew_Cusanelli
+1 araz

Oops. haha. Missed that one. Truth be told all bikes are pure class and I'm just grateful to have been able to find joy in riding them all. 

Large format is still something I've yet to try. Although I've had a few months on a Mamiya RB and that was fruitful. In regards to young people trying film - all in all so cool. I see this interesting dichotomy of young film users emerging of those using disposables/point and shoots with the goal of achieving an aesthetic to chase clout and relevance and those diving into the mechanics, processing, manual side of things. I'm very lucky that both my high school and UBC have darkroom facilities.

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Matthew_Cusanelli
+1 Andy Eunson

Andy, very nicely put, thanks for this lovely message. 

The action of searching endlessly for something that may not be there or in any case, may not provide the satisfaction we think it ought to is common. Some never realize what you've articulated - the experience, whatever it may be and whatever joy you seek to pull from this experience trump, or at least eventually trumps the fleeting satisfaction of material accumulation. Similarly, I've observed that many don't realize this until they are well into their lives. Don't get me wrong I've had my times grappling with this too. From ages 13-20 (and working at a bike shop) I must've owned damn near 25 bikes - buying each one naively with the promise that it would make a me a better or more competitive rider, or enjoy bikes more. 

That turned on its head when I bought a Kona Unit used one summer for $1400 and it was the only bike I wanted to ride. I went bike camping, commuted, had too many beach beers over meaty conversations with friends and possible lovers, went on group rides down black diamond trails, had a shit eating grin on my face mostly the entire time. The bicycle in material form became a medium towards experiences eliciting joy, and not a direct source of joy by owning it. 

Hope to hear more of your perspectives in the future. 

-M

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HMBA106
+5 mnihiser Mammal Cam McRae Andy Eunson tomis916

Great stuff Matt.  You know how to write, brother.  Hope to be able to read more from you in the future!

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Matthew_Cusanelli
0

Thanks a bundle! Happy to have completed my first editorial and hope to have lots more coming :)

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craw
+3 Andy Eunson Lynx . Mammal

I taught myself to shoot with film in the 90s. I think people learning this medium go through a lot of the same process of trial and error. I think DJing on vinyl is comparable as well. No doubt the digital options are infinitely easier to become proficient at but they miss a certain something. I'm also not at all keen to abandon my mechanical shifting or put a motor on my bikes.

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Matthew_Cusanelli
0

DJing is a great shout, and perhaps learning an instrument in general? I somewhat enjoy e-bikes for commuting, partially because I have to spend less time rubbing elbows with cars and sucking in pollution. But when it comes to playing on bikes in the forest I'm happy with pure pedal power at the moment.

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XXX_er
+3 BarryW Andy Eunson Jotegir Bikes Mammal

This reminds me of the big lebowski where the dude sez " yeah well i still jerk off manualy "

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Matthew_Cusanelli
+1 Kyle Dixon

Thoughts are circling in my head about how to respond to this comment. None of them are internet appropriate.

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Offrhodes42
+2 ZigaK FlipSide

I remember when I was 22...barely. I was against disc brakes when they hit the market. I was against full suspension when it hit the market. I was hesitant on tubeless. I said I would never own a DH bike. Now, I am all in on electronic shifting for my gravel bike (Niner RLT 9 Steel) and trail bike (Stumpjumper EVO Elite Alloy). I am tubeless on every bike, except the DH bike. Yes, I now own a DH bike. With age comes wisdom. Though, I still own a steel singlespeed (2011 Sir 9) with 135QR rear wheel, 1-1/8" headset, and no dropper post. All joking aside, I just like bicycles and am now in the financial situation where I can buy what I want and give it a try. I do 95% of the work on all my bikes and still learn new things. In the long run bicycles are just toys. I appreciate the simple ones just as much as the complicated ones.

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Matthew_Cusanelli
0

Great mindset, appreciate them all. I say this now, but I have no doubt that my perspective will change at least somewhat as I became more financially stable. I see electronic drivetrains and droppers of huge benefit for e bikes because most of the cables are routed such that to replace them the motor needs to be dropped. For now I'm very much pro mechanical, external routing, easy to work on. I just want things that work.

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tmoore
+2 mnihiser Andy Eunson

Could be that, like the best Neil Young concerts, the best riding days would start with some sweet acoustic and then go grungy electric to finish

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rwalters
+2 Mammal Andy Eunson

Matt, this is amazing stuff. Thank you.

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Lynx
+1 Andy Eunson

First up congrats and welcome a good piece, well written and more than resonates with me and my thinking as well.

Now, to your first topic, photography...sad to say, but you have not even come close to reaching nervana until you've hand processed your own film and stepped into your own little bathroom darkroom and printed your own prints, burned in those highlights, dodged out those shadows.  If I lived where you are, I'd love to give you the 50k+ of Mamiya 645 and Nikon 35mm cameras and equipment I used to use when I did this professionally, it hurts my heart to know it's just sitting there not being used, not even sure what's good anymore. But it just became not worth it when they stopped actually printing from negatives here and digital was what everyone wanted. That 50/1.4 is an AMAZING lense, so sharp, so much choice in choosing your depth of field, enjoy it.

To your second topic...yup, I get just about as much enjoyment fixing bikes as I do in riding them. Riding wheels you've hand built is very rewarding, seeing other people ride wheels you built and keep them when they sell the bike they were built for because they've been absolutely bomb proof, now that really gives you some pride. Servicing that dropper that's giving trouble because you can and if you took it to a shop it would work out not much more to just buy a new one and bin the old one, one less piece for the landfill. The only thing electronic that I take on the bike with me is my phone and that's in case of an emergency so I can call for help if needed, other than that it used to just be that old Cateye computer so I knew how far and fast I was going.

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rigidjunkie
+1 Andy Eunson

Someone told me years ago the thing with the Bible is the stories touch on timeless issues so it always has the potential to apply to the problem at hand.  I pushed back because of the terrible things in the Bible, but at a very very very high level I get the concept.

It feels like NSMB has some of this same trait.  Everyday I start off by reading the article of the day and the last month or so every day has resonated deeply with my life at this moment.  For me it isn't cameras but cars.  I have had a deep love of cars my entire life.  I would love to have an unlimited budget and a garage full of wild interesting things.  But instead I have a very limited budget so I have to just focus on one very weird thing.  Currently a Fiero with a drivetrain from a Honda.  Will it be the fastest or most comfortable thing? Nope, but it has taught me so many things about how cars work so my next project can be even weirder.

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Lee-Lau
+1 Mammal

That was well written Matt

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Matthew_Cusanelli
0

Thanks Lee! Hope to cross paths soon :)

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MarkMeisner
+1 Andy Eunson

Beautifully written, Matt. Every time I see an analog camera or read a story about it, I look for the analog cameras I used to have (and then I'm shocked by the current prices). There have been two Tri-X rolls in the refrigerator for a few years to be developed, but I have no idea what's on them anymore. 

For a bit of nostalgic feeling and still the convenience, I still photograph professionally with a Canon 5D MK1, now also called the Classic. This camera is simple, has zero to very few electronic tricks and produces a very nice image with the full-frame sensor. The ISO settings still give a nice grain and with a 40mm f2.8 pancake lens the camera is small enough to be easy to take with you. Definitely recommended if you want to go digital, but with an old-fashioned feel.

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Koelschejung
0

You really inspired me to get my good old Nikon FM 2 out of the box again. Thanks for that and the well written piece!

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DaveSmith
0

I shot film for years. I loved the craft. I loved the process of slow learning. 

But I love me some digital.

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cheapondirt
0

I got into photography around 2005. My very first shots were of mountain biking, taken on a film point-n-shoot. Then my parents got a digital one, then I bought my first DSLR, then my mom gave me her Minolta SLR and I got really into it with a couple college photography classes before fading out as adult life set on.

I was thinking about that camera recently because of the Aurora event. I snapped a couple decent pics with my phone, as did everyone else. But how satisfying would it have been to use a proper camera and have something turn out?

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Distrakted
0

Nice article Matt. I don't know if it is something that you are born with or how you were raised but you have tapped into something special. As another reader above posted you are "going to be alright." What "alright" means remains to be discovered but it seems you have the outlook and mindset to find beauty and enjoyment in that journey.

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tehllama42
0

This is brilliant.
There is also somewhat of a superpower to be found in 'voluntary luddite' if you can both operate and appreciate the cutting edge stuff, but also understand what elements are timeless from things that have stood the test of time.

Being out doing drift photography/videography, some of the coolest stuff is taking the very latest GoPro freeze-frame from trying to snuggle with rear quarterpanels on racing drones that I update the firmware on that morning, and upload to social media within minutes of landing... but equally awesome are the gritty film shots my buddy grabs and has to develop and upload the next week.

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Patriciawhitman
0

Matt Cusanelli, you are so young and so talented. I read your work with great pleasure. Your photographs have incredible depth. Thank you for introducing me to black and white photography.

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