Week 9 – Intermediate Photography

It’s back to the Trip 35 and I’m dipping my toes into the world of night tripping, which basically means using high-speed film and resorting to the highest-light setting on the Trip 35, which is f/2.8 at 1/40.  A lot turned out fine, some were so thin that my scanner would just skip right on over those frames.  Thanks a lot, Pakon.  I think I probably shot the roll between 800 and 3200.  I developed around 1600 (D-76 stock + KBr for 15min at 72F).

I’d try some fresh Tri-X in the Trip 35 for some really low-light stuff, maybe bring out a roll of the Cinestill 800T for it, but for now this works.

When talking about photographers who have influenced me, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Marker.  He is an artist that has worked in many areas over the years and even has published several books of photographs, but I know him mainly from his films A.K., Sans Soleil, and of course La JeteeLa Jetee is special and I’ve mentioned it before here as being a direct inspiration to some of my own work in short films.  I use the same format of still images, as it allows me a cost-effective way to work with film, and 35mm no less.  La Jetee is one of the best examples of a no-budget picture and holds an honored place among the great French New Wave films.

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stills from the film La Jetee – Chris Marker

A little trivia: this film was shot with a screw-mount Pentax SLR, the predecessor of my favorite camera, the Spotmatic.  Marker’s film inspired Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, itself a great film; both are worth owning.

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Assignment #3: the piano – Intro to Photography

Fall 2013.  Our third assignment was to take two subjects/objects and turn them into an entire series, looking at different aspects and angles. As a music student, I chose to photograph my primary instrument, the piano both inside and out. (That counts as two different subjects, right?)  One of my friends is a jazz pianist and has some pretty nice vintage keyboards, so I expanded my definition of piano to include some other keyboard instruments as well.

The outside:

The inside:

I wasn’t sure if the inside and outside of a piano would count as two different subjects, but thankfully my instructor let me.  As a backup plan, I had photographed stairways, but I’m glad that I didn’t have to use them because they didn’t turn out as interesting, I thought.  However, they did give me the benefit of padding out my rolls of film, allowing me to get the shooting assignment done quickly and turn most of my time to printing.  Here are some outtakes:

A lot of these pictures were taken using a Quantaray 70-200mm zoom lens, the only Minolta-mount lens I possess (then or now) that had a macro function, and after the whole Sigma lens issue I had, I wasn’t expecting much from a third-party zoom, but I’m very happy with how those images turned out.  The picture of my piano student’s hands is one of my favorite shots using a Minolta-brand lens, and I think Minolta really deserves a bit more love than most people are willing to give them.

Week 7 – Intermediate Photography

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A week ago, some of my classmates and I got together for a photoshoot, my first of this kind.  I did set up my own picture, which I’m happy enough with, but it’s still the unposed pictures that I like the best.  I also noticed that, aside from still having problems from this expired bulk roll of Tri-X, it seems my 1.4/50 Super Takumar is giving me problems with sharpness occasionally, especially the closer I get to wide open (or it’s possible depth of field is so small that I’m missing the focus).  I actually thought it was a problem with my scanner at first, and took the time to recalibrate/refocus and rescan the negatives, but it was the lens.  Either way, some of the sharpest and best-looking photographs of that session were with the 2.5/135 lens, but the 1.4/50 has a nice dreamy quality to it, great if you can nail the focus…I’ve started carrying the 1.8/55 again, for the time being.

I remember nearly back to the start of buying DVDs when I started discovering all the wonderful special features they could contain, I came across an album of pictures taken by Jeff Bridges, of all people.  Evidently he’s been taking on-set behind-the-scenes pictures for every movie he’s worked on since the mid-1980s, and every now and then the DVD will include some of them as a supplemental feature, a special treat for me (and others I’m sure) because a lot of them are stunningly good, and show a better insider’s perspective than most:

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photo by Jeff Bridges

He takes all his pictures with a 35mm Widelux panoramic camera, not really something I had heard of before, but just looking of the shape of the frame reminds me of that widescreen anamorphic aspect ratio, very fitting when the photographer is a famous actor.  He has his own book out, aptly titled Pictures, which chronicles over two decades of his life on movie sets.  In addition, he is in the process of an ongoing series he calls “Tragedy/Comedy” and when i first started looking at some, I thought they were composites, but I was wrong:

The first time I came across [the Wide-Lux] was in high school. We had been gathered together to take our class photo. The photographer had a Wide-Lux. He explained how it worked. Some kids figured if they ran very quickly, they could beat the panning lens and be in the picture twice. They were right. Years later, I started using this technique to take pictures of actors creating the theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. The result was someone frowning and smiling at himself – all on one negative.
-Jeff Bridges

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Home: Project 1 – Intermediate Photography

What is home, what is family?  How do we define just what that means to us?  When thinking about the concept of family, I usually go back to a passage in the bible where Jesus describes a his concept of family: “A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers…’” (Mark 3:32-34). The concept of family (or home) seems to be in flux so much of the time, but I also remember the old saying, “Home is where the heart is.” We create home wherever we go and wherever we are most comfortable, and the people around us that we accept into our lives become our family—indeed, frequently better, because we don’t get to pick our biological family.

In this idea I was inspired by Larry Clark, from his book Tulsa to his film Kids, and his later work.  He seems to really have adapted well to niche societies in a way that I don’t think I could have.  I really admire the way he has become involved in the modern skateboarding culture and other groups of young people, as if after all his old family died around him, he was welcomed into new homes. As a man in his mid-60s, he’s become an adopted child, or at least a foster child.  In execution I was inspired by some good friends of mine whose kids’ rooms feature some great photo collages (the kids are my age and have since moved out, settled down, gotten married, but their rooms are still pretty much the way I remember them being when I was in my late teens).  I’ve known this family for nearly 20 years now.

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Being from central Ohio, I think the first phrase I ever learned to say was “Go Bucks!” and with my parents both graduating from Ohio State, it was only natural that I (and my brother) follow in their footsteps.  Sadly, I never graduated from there, but I keep the spirit alive out here.  One of the things that I am able to do more often now that I’m living in Colorado Springs is attend the Pike’s Peak region OSU alumni association get-togethers to watch the football games.  A lot of the rest of the images were taken in and around my church, or at related functions.  There are quite a lot of food pictures; nothing says family and home to me like breaking bread together.

I printed on Oriental cooltone fiber paper (glossy) for the black & white, and Ilford Gallerie Pearl for the digital prints.

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Week 6 – Intermediate Photography

Too bad I didn’t shoot these a week before, I might have used them in my project…

Still having trouble with this expired Tri-X.  I tried shooting a roll at 200 and developing in Caffenol C-L, that came out wonderful.  I shot this roll at 400 and it fogged.  I just can’t win, it seems.  Here’s one more, for Stacy:

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One of my favorite artists (though not a photographer) is Henry Darger.  His story isn’t too dissimilar to Vivian Maier’s, for those of you that know primarily photography.  He worked as a janitor at a Catholic school for basically his whole life, never talked to anyone, just kept his head down and did his job.  When he died and they opened up his room, they found a 15,000 page book he’d been writing, complete with his own painted illustrations.  If not for the fact that his landlord had been a photographer trained at the IIT Institute of Design, it all might have been thrown out.  I find it a bit ironic that Darger spent his life working on a massive story and the only thing that interests most people are the pictures, though to be fair, they are amazing pictures:

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Henry Darger

Darger created most of his figures by cutting pictures out of magazines, sometimes tracing and multiplying them, sometimes pasting the cutouts themselves right into his paintings.  It’s an inspiring use of collage that no one had ever tried before, and today Henry Darger is known as one of the most important examples of outsider art.  I remember watching the documentary film about Darger, In the Realms of the Unreal, for an art class while at Ohio State.  Truly a fascinating portrait, though a pretty tragic one, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.  If I were to speculate on why he never showed his manuscript or paintings to anyone, I’d say that he was afraid of any kind of attention, something that I can understand to some degree, but wanting everything to be fair, it is still very sad that he died not knowing how influential his work would later become, and never reaped the benefits of his own notoriety.

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Henry Darger

Darger’s images, and his story, are frequently in my mind.  I think one of my own biggest fears is being forced into a “normal” life, and having to push my own work aside, underground, only something I do in spare time.  I don’t know how I could do that, if I would survive.  Supporting myself with music is one of my biggest goals.  I was created to be creative.

Digital technology could be the best thing ever to happen to film

I saw a post not too long ago that tried the list all the ways in which digital photography beats out film photography, because digital photography is really on the ropes now, is in danger of being put out of business, and needs to be defended against that overwhelming majority of film shooters out there.  I think digital cameras will pretty soon reach their last generation, because most people are happy just using their phones and don’t need the specialization of a DSLR; he should have been talking about that!  But I get it.  My beloved 160GB ipod became a casualty of what the majority of people need just a year or two ago; I’ve been meaning to buy a backup just in case the one I have fails, because I really value being able to carry my 900+ CD collection around with me wherever I go.  Sadly, I’m in the minority now, and a really beneficial technology has been axed in favor of the phone and streaming radio (don’t get me started on it).  If you’ve read any David Brin, there’s something he talks about in a few of his books about the rise of the talented amateur eclipsing the professional.  It’s something we’ve already begun to see with events like the Chicago Sun-Times firing their entire photography staff a few years back.

Now, I will say that digital cameras can potentially outperform film cameras in some crucial ways, but I can’t think of one that has anything to do with real photography.  Expedience is the one area that comes most readily to mind, with technology like Wi-fi connectivity being a good example.  Going back to David Brin for a minute, this is really something I think he would like.  For a hypothetical situation (and admittedly it’s not nearly as frequent as the media would have you believe), let’s say you’ve encountered a police officer who is neglecting his duty in some crucial way.  He doesn’t like you filming him and confiscates your camera, maybe your footage is “lost.”  It’s a situation that I’ve read about in the past, but thankfully becoming rarer, as people have found new ways to provide oversight of their government, and has resulted even recently in some police officers being imprisoned on felony charges; as a rule, civil service departments take their oaths to the Constitution extremely seriously.  If you’re ever in doubt about what is permitted for you to photograph, the ACLU has a great overview here.

For real photography applications however (and many not-so-real ones), film is still as relevant as ever thanks to a piece of technology called the film scanner.  I’ve had a few discussions with classmates who’ve never touched a camera that wasn’t digital, and there seems to be some ignorance/misinformation out there that needs clearing up.  There exists a device, wherein a photographer takes a strip of film negative and converts it into binary code on a computer, therefore rendering it a digital photograph.  Shoot a roll of film, get it developed, scan it; that’s really as far as you need to go (optical printing is just the icing on the cake).  From there, you can do whatever you want with it, and all the advantages of digital technology become open to film users.  I regularly post pictures of friends and relatives on Facebook, I do this blog, I’m writing weekly blog post assignments for class, I have cloud backup, all thanks to the marriage of digital technology and chemical imaging.

But who really wants to go back to 1995 when film was King?  Not me.  In fact, I doubt many do.  How many people would know about Vivian Maier without digital technology?  How many people would know your own work?  Really, digital technology has given film shooters the opportunity to show everyone just how good film is!  I guess I’m just still amazed by how adaptable film is to new technology.  It has never been eclipsed.