Bill Pierce
Nuts & Bolts 
"The Heavy Load"
I travel with much more equipment than I need. I used to pride myself on my many spiffy camera cases before I realized the sin of pride had a downside. In the early '70s I was able to photograph many places in China that had been off-limits to most Occidental photographers. As I left Beijing, one of the "watchers" of our group looked at my new Haliburtons and said, "I see you're with 'The Company.'"   

I had not the slightest idea what he meant. Of course, I was watched like a hawk and soon under arrest on the Sino-Soviet border. 

In my own country a gang of "unruly youths" nailed me on the streets of New Haven. Final score in the Haliburton Olympics: Youths - 1, Photographer - 1.   

I'm not a fast learner. There were similar episodes before I went to the local five-and-dime and invested in several extremely cheap suitcases made of a unique plaid-printed cardboard. Each one could hold a loaded Haliburton 105 and a change of socks, underwear and a shirt. The new "stealth" Haliburtons protected my cameras from both theft and shock.  And I developed a reputation as a really clean young man. 

Recently, Haliburton and Tenba introduced roller cases. (Porter has had a roller case that folds down to act as a dolly to carry other cases for some time.) A lot of old photographers with bad backs, myself included, now have shiny, new roller cases. Check ahead with airlines, especially those in or flying to Europe. Some of the cases may exceed the carry-on size limits. I tend to carry replacables, like film and clothing, in the roller cases and ultra-valuables, like cameras and lenses, in a small shoulder bag. (It often exceeds carry-on weight limitations, it just doesn't look it.) That way, if the case can't get on the plane, I'll just lose my pants. If everything arrives safely, I can move all the heavy camera stuff to the roller case. 

If you don't have to carry tripods, lights and stands, and monster lenses, you can get to the job with just a bag or two of equipment. I pride myself on having the most extensive collection of well-used Domke's on the East Coast. Unfortunately, outside of the satchel-style bags, they look like camera bags. I live in a city neighborhood that has its share of thieves. I don't want them saying either, "That guy is carrying cameras, let's mug him," or "We'll get even more cameras if we rob his house while he is away." When I leave my house, the camera bags are carried out in shopping and garbage bags. I am particularly proud of an extra durable 20-pound dog food bag that can carry two fully loaded Domkes. 

In spite of all this talk about mighty men carrying mighty loads, when you are not getting to the job, but actually shooting, you can paralyze yourself by carrying too much gear. You may miss a specific shot because you are not carrying some relatively exotic piece of equipment, but this is better than doing a second rate job on all the shots because you are slow, clumsy and have limited mobility. Not weighing yourself down can also mean having the energy to get off your butt, concentrate on the subject and look for good pictures. 

You can carry a small amount of gear (and distribute its weight) in belt bags, belt pouches, book bags, knapsacks, and a variety of gear made for fishermen, hikers and climbers. A lot of this equipment is exceptionally durable. If you work on the street, or other environments that don't share our love of photography and photographers, this gear doesn't identify you as a lens louse.   

And looking for weird, but useful, bags can take up hours of down time in strange cities. I remember stopping at my favorite London fishing bag store (near Trafalgar Square) on my way to Northern Ireland. "Ah," says the clerk, "You just missed Mr. McCullin."  He then proceeded to list almost every other photographer who had stopped in London on their way to Belfast. If I remember correctly, the trout bag was our favorite. Its designer left the fishing bag industry and is now the designer and bossbehind the Belding Bags. They are excellent bags, and some of them resemble our trout bags. But our bags have detachable rubber linings.

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