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USO Tour weblog. Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan.



Last December (2008) I went to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the Seargent Major Tour for the USO. I did shows in Army bases all over the Middle East. I had never done anything like it before and it left me with a lasting impression. I took lots of pictures and wrote several emails back to my family throughout the trip, mostly to let them know that I was okay, but they were very detailed. I have intended since then to post these stories and pictures on my site but I am a lazy idiot.

Today I feel four percent less lazy and stupid than usual, so I am going to try to start posting these stories. What I intend to do is post an entry each day as if I was there doing those things now. The reason for this is that it means I have to do less work to edit the emails that I sent my mom and sisters. I don't have to change all the present tense stuff to past tense.

So this will start tomorrow. But let me just add the caveat that... I might not do it. I have a lot of energy right now and I'm all excited about this but tomorrow I might just lay in a pool of my own vomit instead.

First a few words about this trip...

The Saergent Major's tour is organized every year by the Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth Preston. The Sergeant Major of the Army is the highest ranking enlisted man in the Army. He is the Sergeant of all the Sergeants. he works in the Pentagon and represents all enlisted soldiers to the Army Chief of staff.
Every year he assembles a group of musicians, one comedian and some cheerleaders and takes them, along with the Army Band, throughout the war theater, during the days leading up to Christmas. All I was told about this tour is that I'd be flying to Washington DC on December 14th, and I'd be back on Christmas Eve.
I was also told I could bring someone with me. I called Dino stamatopoulos.


Dino and I wrote together on the first staff of the Conan O'brien show. We also wrote together on the Dana Carvey Show, Letterman and he wrote for Lucky Louie. Dino is probably my best friend but I'd have to ask him because that's usually a two way thing. Also I have other friends I talk to a lot more. But he knows everything about me and he's told everybody too. Because he has a gloriously big mouth. I love Dino a lot. he even asked me once if I was attracted to him sexually. He asked me very nervously. I said no. Because I'm not. Anyway, Dino is not like other people. He is a tall man with an incredible Greek face and hair all over his head.
I called Dino and said "Do you want to go with me and just keep me company while I entertain soldiers in the War Zone? I think we're going to Iraq. I don't know where else. We'll be gone for ten days and we'll probably ride on some helicopters. It could be really horrible. Do you want to go?' He said "I actually think I want to."

Eventually he said yes and there we went. Bringing Dino on this trip is one of the smartest things I ever did in my life.

A word about equimpment

I take a lot of pictures. I am very, very into photography and I was certainly going to take this opportunity to take some. I'm going to show you all the equipment I brought with me. I'm not showing off here. I'm not rich. I just spend all my money on cameras. It's important to me. I am sharing it with you because to me it's part of the story.

Leica MP 35mm Rangefinder film Camera

This is the main dude. A film camera. A range-finder. I only really shoot film, though I do use a digital camera just to record moments, to take snapshots. This Leica is handmade in Germany. It is encased in painted brass and has all mechanical parts. It has no automatic settings. There is a light meter but the battery was dead when I brought it on this trip so I shot the entire trip manually with a hand light meter. The Leica MP is made exactly the same way Leica made Rangefinders in the 60s. It's not even an SLR. you have to line up images in the rangefinder and hope for the best.
The main reason to use a Leica is the lenses. Leica lenses are hand ground and they just do amazing things with images applied to film. I really love shooting film because there are an infinite ammount of combinations aof types of film (black and white, color, fast, slow, grainy, fine, high contrast, low), ways of exposing the film (pushing, pulling, over-exposing) and lenses to use. Small adjustments to the exposure, like changing the apeture, make dramatic differences from one picture to the next. Shooting without an in-camera light meter forces you to really look at the light you are shooting with, to notice when it changes and to think about what each apeture means and how it will effect your picture. Having prime lenses means you work with one focal length at a time and think and learn about the different characteristics and strengths of each lens and instead of zooming in and out you use your legs and body to frame the photo, which makes you do it more carefully. Comparing this to most digital photography, where you just sort of pump the lens back and forth till you get the framing you want, and snap, letting the camera decide how to expose it. Even with manual and more proffesional digital cameras, the sensors of these cameras are what they are. Theyr'e very limited and you can use photoshop later but it just ain't the same. Not in my opinion. It's just my opinion so save your long comments in defense of digital photography. Or don't. I don't care.

As I just mentioned, I only use prime lenses, meaning the lens has one size, fixed. It doesn't zoom. If you want another focal length, you have to change the lens. I brought three lenses with me. The one on the camera is a 50mm Sumilux. It opens to f1.4 which makes it very good for low light and takes incredible daylight pictures when wide open, because of the extremely low depth of field, meaning only the object you focus on is in focus,the enviroment around it is not and the way a Leica Lens treats that area is part of what makes them grat.
The other two lenses were an old 90mm lens and a new 35mm aspherical lens. Aspherical means it's not roundish and so you can take a wide angle picture without getting a distorted rounded image.

Leica lenses

This is the light meter I brought, very basic..

Seconic light meter

And here is the digital camera that I brought, a Leica Dlux 3

Photo 452.jpg

This Dlux fits in my pocket and truth be told it could completely replace all the crap that I just described and it's somethign I could just whip out and get a picture with, as opposed to the very heavy Leica which I have to get out of the bag, take a light reading with the seconic, set the exposure on the camera, frame up the photo, focus and shoot. But the harder way is more fun and the pics are better. I did use both, so you'll see for yourself in the coming posts which I'll never probably put up. What a fucking mess this all is.

I also brought two flip-cams. One for me and one for Dino. These little cameras are an amazing way to record video specifically for the internet...


And here is the bag that I carried all of that shit in, along with about 20 rolls of film of various speeds, some black and white, some color.


I also brought this Macbook laptop, which I used to edit the digital photos and videos and send the emails to my mom on the trip.


The stickers on the macbook are: a sticker of the Squadron that the C17 that took us around the middle East belongs to and a sticker that says "Barak Obama" in Hebrew.

The last thing I want to say is that Leica cameras are stupid expensive. even really old ones. But you don't need one to take film pictures. You can get an amazingly good Nikon SLR, (I reccomend the FM2) and good Nikon lenses for very cheap.

So that's it. I will hopefully not reneg and these posts from the front (not really the front) will start tomorrow.

Baghdad Airport

Posted by Louie in on March 9, 2009 | Comments [ 8 ]


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... a comedian who's also into photography. Reading this stuff adds depth to your character. Most of us really don't know you at all, and what we do know of you is through your douche performances on stage, or through the semi-homosexual pictures you've made with Mr.T.

In all seriousness though, your detailed explanations confirm my belief that most comedians are really smart -- smart enough to explain and to communicate their point of view in a manner that can be understood by the average person. I'm glad to know that you have real friends outside of the limelight -- people that know you on a level that your fans will not. Many "stars" have few, if any, people that they would call "friend" I believe.

But still, being one fan among the many, I persist to believe that it would be cool to toss back a few beers with you. Until that day comes, feel free to rehearse your new material in my presence. I'd be more than happy to be a test subject in your comedic experiments.

P.S. Since you've called yourself a douche time and time again, would you mind revealing which scent you believe yourself to be?

I hope you follow up on this.

I also hope you come to Portland, OR in the future. I'd drive to Seattle, which might be a bigger audience for you.

SoreThumb said:

I read the newer post first where you just say "Dino", and I'm like, "Is that Dino Stamanpoulis?"
Yes, I didn't know how to spell or even properly remember 'Stamatopoulos', but that's not the point.

Reading this post, I found out you are a photo buff (which is great, the film picture you posted was definitely better in the more recent post)... and that you know pretty much the main writer of Moral Orel & the voice of Drinky Crow on the MAAKIES cartoon.

Is it like.. all the cool/famous people hang out and add more people in or something? 8)

Matt said:

Nice cameras! I have the Panasonic version of your digital (really-same camera minus the red badge) and I'd probably blow a guy for one of Leica's 35mm rangefinders.
Also, I caught you in Philly a few weeks ago. Great set!

I've always loved those cameras but have been too young and broke to afford them. I do have other less expensive SLRs. I had no idea you were into that stuff.


Shaun King said:

Hey Louis,

You and Ricky Gervais are the best standup comedians living.

I checked your blog and saw a few of your Iraq pictures and I knew you had to be serious about photography. This blog entry proves that.

I will follow your advice and "save" my "long comments in defense of digital photography." Besides, why waste my time defending digital photography when you've made it very clear that you feel your images are satisfying and that you particularly enjoy the experience of shooting 35mm film.

I think it is very cool that you shoot with only prime lenses. You have to actually work to get the composition you want and you're always thinking about composition with prime lenses.

I will say one thing though, right before you told us to save our "long comments" about digital photography you wrote a brief comment that the digital sensors in (I'm assuming dslr cameras' sensors) are "very limited." Let me just say that I disagree. Current full frame dslr cameras' sensors produce comparable if not superior images to the best film cameras. But that's just my opinion, I don't have any stunning arguments.

Lastly, it's so cool that you carry your gear in a Crumpler bag. Me too you bastard, I love you. When are me and you going to get together and take some pictures of stuff and get some horses and ride up to BrokeBack Mountain and gay it up like only two best friends can do?

Akshay said:

First of all, you are hands down THE funniest stand-up comedian I can think of. I've had the opportunity to see you in person a few times and you kill every time.

Second, I never knew you were into cameras... that just makes you even cooler. You should post a link to your flickr photo stream, I'm sure your fans would love to see/comment on your pics.

Anyways, I'll continue enjoying your blog and I look forward to the next time you swing by Boston.

Flash said:

Great post!

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