Editorial: Kodak Tri-X, making a living as an artist

http://www.intelligentlifemagazine.com/content/features/bryan-appleyard/tri-x-factor

Good old 5063.  I don’t know what else I can say about it that hasn’t been said before by someone better, but I’ll say this: it’s the best goddamn black & white film ever made.  And yes, it was used by absolutely everyone for decades; so many important and iconic events were taken on Tri-X that I think it’s earned its place as a cultural icon, a true American classic.  It’s still the best-selling black & white film today, so I’m not worried about ever going away, especially not when probably 90% of school darkrooms require it for beginners.

As far as the article goes, I remember reading it back when it first came out nearly two years ago, and it does play a bit sensationalist today, and there are some inaccuracies in there, such as the nature of Kodak Alaris, the maximum resolution of 35mm film, probably more that I can’t remember right now. Thankfully, we’re way past the stage of worrying about Kodak going bottom up, and have been since before this article came out.  It does amaze me that photographers on that level don’t know how long properly-stored film can last.

While trying to maintain a balanced dialog (of which the article does a pretty good job), the real question being asked here is in this paragraph: “…If it can be done digitally right up to the standards required by Salgado, is there any point to Tri-X? Is there any point to film?”  The question that gets asked by so many people.  Digital might be good enough for Sebastao Salgado, but it’s not good enough for Don McCullin or Anton Corbijn, nor is it good enough for plenty of others.  And also, whatever logistical problems Salgado faced shipping large amounts of film overseas, it hasn’t seemed to daunt Don McCullin. If you care about something, you make it happen.  And remember something else: if you keep buying it, they’ll keep making it.

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http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/it-aint-easy

I’m taking a music business course right now, so this topic is one that I’ve been thinking about a lot, but it seems to me that an artist and a businessman are two very different disciplines, nearly exclusively so.  Satchmo at the Waldorf is currently running here on UCCS campus, so having recently seen that, I’d say it’s a very relevant topic for me.  I can’t say that I’ve had much success on either side, so far and it can all be a bit daunting.  I made all of $0.01 in royalties from music last year, which is a step in the right direction I suppose, but a very tiny step.  I’ll spare you a long rambling post about the millennial generation’s entitlement mentality, and apathy toward value and ownership (for now), but the sad fact is that it seems to just get harder to make money on art.  That said, even Louis Armstrong wasn’t immune from getting fucked over, so do things ever really change?

Part of learning to be an artist/entrepreneur (something at which Armstrong never succeeded) is being able to adopt a very positive mentality about yourself, your work, your chances, etc, something that Hank Willis Thomas alludes to but perhaps can’t quite articulate.  Personally, I find it extremely difficult to remain positive about my future or myself in general, something that I’m sure holds me back to some degree; you’re much more likely to fail when you are already convinced you will. I used to be taken aback at the thought that most of my fellow students in the music program at Ohio State were studying music composition with the intention to become music composition professors.  What’s the point to a cycle like that?  These days, it seems like not a horrible fallback plan, but the business-minded side of me (a very small side admittedly) remembers how Hernando Cortes handled fallback plans…he sunk them.

So that’s a small part of my thoughts on making it as an artist.  Also, I’m sure marrying rich couldn’t hurt…

Editorial: Angie Salinger’s In My Room, and Cyanotypes of Christian Marclay (and others)

http://www.huckmagazine.com/art-and-culture/photography-2/90s-kids-bedrooms-twenty-years/

The ’90s was the last full decade where the majority of pictures were taken on film, the majority of music was recorded on tape.  I’m a fan.  From the first sentence of this article I knew I would like it, because I do harbor quite a bit of nostalgia for that decade.  Honestly, my memories of growing up in the ’90s aren’t the happiest, it’s just that I didn’t live ’90s culture when I was there, so looking back on nearly 20 years, it’s easy to appreciate it more fully, not having the context that most others have.

Talking about the TV shows in the interview, most of the kids at school watched their share of 90210.  I didn’t, but I did see Clueless and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air now and again.  I even saw my first episode of Saved by the Bell just a year or two ago (shot on video, ugh, it looked terrible).  The culture, the clothes, everything seemed foreign to me, but especially those damn neon colors.  People may have dressed that way out in LA, but for the rest of us…I’m glad now that I never dressed “cool.”  The thing is, that the cultural memory of any particular time period will remember mainly the extremes, I suppose for the time what would have been considered cutting-edge.  It’s still such a minority, not what the experience of the decade was like for most people.  Personally, my own life was a lot more like Home Improvement.

Still, one thing that you’ll come across in any of those shows is the absolute sanctity of The Bedroom.  That at least, was part of a more collective culture which I do remember to some extent, though I never had signs on my door forbidding girls or little brothers to enter.  But the source of identity that kids would cobble together from newspaper clippings, posters, shelves of action figures, whatever else…I remember it well.  My brother and I never showed such a fierce territoriality as you’ll see in shows, or in Angie Salinger’s book, but I remember plenty of rooms that looked not too dissimilar from that; we were younger so the ephemera was all related to 9-12-year-olds, I suppose my cousins’ rooms would have looked a lot like those in the book.  Considering that the current project I’m on involves a lot of looking at the space that I inhabit as a reflection of me and my psyche, I couldn’t think of a more relevant article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/06/arts/design/cyanotype-photographys-blue-period-is-making-a-comeback.html?_r=0

While my own experience with them hasn’t been the greatest, I do quite like cyanotypes as a process.  I don’t have much experience with digital negatives–my experience with making them was that I just inverted my files, took them to the UPS store and had them printed on transparencies.  I don’t know how to feel about cyanotypes being labelled as “trendy” now.  I suppose working as I do in almost a vacuum, I’m not worried about what’s popular and what’s not, but there’s something almost offensive to me when people tell me something like, “Oh, a lot of people are doing that right now.”  I’m just another indistinguishable face in the middle of a movement now, I suppose.

I liked the bit about Christian Marclay, he’s an artist that interests me.  He works a lot with vinyl records as a physical medium, altering them as part of an aural and visual aesthetic experience; I had no idea he’d done work with cyanotype printing.  What do I think about his quote that cassettes and cyanotypes are obsolete and dying?  We are all aging–merely being alive is to be dying by inches, so what Marclay really is saying is that these are living processes.  The fact that they’re not widely used, yet still around, is a great testament to their longevity.  In fact, the entire theme of the article is a positive one.  Who knows what crazy kinds of processes people will be using in 150 years?  Maybe we’ll see a resurgence of digital photography!

And in other news…

Cinestill are at it again!  They’ve restarted their crowdfunding platform to make medium format 800T a reality:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cinestill-120-medium-format-film

Now, they did this a while back.  The difference is that they’re asking for a third of the money they originally did, so I assume they’ve been seeking funding from other sources since, and their crowdfunded goal is much more attainable this time around.  Their rewards are much more enticing and varied, as well!  100′ roll of 35mm 800T, anyone?  On top of that, instead of Kickstarter, they’re using Indiegogo this time around, meaning that any funds they receive they will be paid out regardless of whether or not their goal was met; this is significant for several reasons.  This time though, I think they’ll meet their goal easily.  It’s not been a day yet and they’re up to $45,000 already, but then again it doesn’t matter if they make their goal or not.  Supposedly Kickstarter is much more successful than Indiegogo, precisely because it’s an all-or-nothing deal, and that helps generate excitement and higher pledges, especially during the last few hours.  This time around though, I think we’ll see medium format 800T film become a reality.

Edit: Oh yes, we will!  It’s the last day of the campaign and they’re 130% funded, surpassing $150,000 which means we’re going to see 800T in large format sheets as well.  Not only that, but they’ve extended their deadline by two weeks, so perhaps we’ll reach the next goal, 50D in 120 as well.  Beyond that, there’s an unannounced stretch goal, I’d certainly like to know what they are planning…

Edit 2: Final tally is 155% funded at $187,570; their stretch goal was for $190,000 but from what I’ve read, Cinestill won’t let that missing $2500 stop them for long.  I expect to see medium format 50D soon, and perhaps large format as well. 

Editorial: Kodak Super 8 camera (again) and Orbita 13, the pinhole bullet time video

With the new semester comes new assignments.  The photoblog assignments are no more.  I can’t say they were that beneficial to the class anyway, we never really discussed anything or critiqued work there, just breezed through the pictures and that still took up half the class period.  At least it helped me as far as writing prompts go, gave me content to publish on a weekly basis so this blog didn’t just die away while I focused on other matters.  For this semester, we are tasked with reading photography-related stories that the instructor finds for us, and reflecting on two of them.

http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/kodak-and-the-analog-response-to-disruption

I think the main tone of this article is one of positivity, definitely comes from the business aspect of it; it’s apparent that the writer doesn’t know much about photographic technology, but cites several examples of success in other related fields where outmoded technology isn’t crushed by the relentless tide of progress, but is able to adapt into a niche market.  I’ve been following this news since nearly a month ago when it first broke, and there are several aspects to this that haven’t been quite covered.

First of all, Kodak is going back to one of their old business models with super 8 film, that of the all-in-one package deal: they’re putting infrastructure in place to be able to process the film, scan it (at 4K res!) and will upload the digital files online for the customers to access.  The projected cost of this will be $50-75, which I sometimes wonder about: it’s extremely competitive, almost like a shot across the bow to the processing facilities and mastering houses.  I’m going to be paying around $125 per reel for film, processing, and scanning, so it’s really attractive thinking that a year from now I (and everyone else) will have to pay only half that.  How do you keep up as a processing facility when you’re competing against the company that makes the chemicals you use?  Of course I don’t know how it will all work out, and what percentage of business super 8 film makes up from a typical processing/mastering facility.   Phil Vigeant from Pro8mm seems very positive about this publicly, but just how it will affect his business, I can only speculate.  It seems that Kodak is really wanting to exercise more control over super 8 film.  Will that be bad?  I dunno.

As far as manufacturing cameras and things go, Kodak, for the last 50 years or so, has been primarily concerned with consumer-level products, low-quality and cheap.  I don’t expect them to resurrect their Ektar lens lineup (it would be nice), but just looking at the number of features this new camera will have, I’d call it at least couple steps up from the last one they made:
-max8 widescreen
-9,12,18,24,25fps speeds, all with crystal sync
-integrated sound recording
-accepts c-mount lenses
-automatic and manual exposure modes
-digital video assist/viewfinder
-rechargeable battery with USB connectivity
-price tag is $400-750
The Canon 1014XLS I use features none of those.  It does, however, have a 36fps speed for slow-motion, and quite a nice time-lapse feature as well…I suppose it’s not quite obsolete yet!  In looking at this new Kodak camera, it seems to me that it’s almost a scaled-down version of the Logmar that came out just last year.  There have been rumors that Logmar had a hand in designing/building the prototype, which I hope is true, because otherwise, that’s more toes Kodak is stepping on.  The Logmar originally sold for $2000, evidently was a one-off batch of 50 units.  Pro8mm still has some for $5000, but I think they’ll be keeping them a long time.  I can’t see spending that kind of money for super 8 when you could get a 16mm camera for a fourth of that.

So I see a story here between the lines, one where the giant corporation is starting to stomp on some of its small-time competition, and it reminds me that as much as I root for Kodak and want them to succeed, they are still a faceless juggernaut to some degree.

Does it matter to me?  No.  Personally, I’d rather see film continue to be manufactured, and if that means that a few small businesses are sacrificed along the way, I’d call it an acceptable loss.  I’ve read a few theories about the best way to make for Kodak to make money in the new digital age, and something like abandoning its current distribution method would go a long way, I think.  One can already buy motion picture film directly from Kodak (I’ve never done it yet, but maybe I should; Freestyle and B&H do take their chunk).  I wish that the still photography side (I suppose that’s Alaris now?) did the same thing.  Off the middleman!  Still, with Fuji making a concerted effort to get out of film by the end of the decade, I’m happy to see Kodak doing so well: their film business broke even in 2015 and is expected to turn a profit this year.  That, along with the new super 8 camera and infrastructure, plus the fact that Ferrania should start making film again this year, really heralds 2016 as being a real renaissance for film.

http://petapixel.com/2016/01/29/photographer-shoots-bullet-time-using-a-ring-of-100-pinhole-cameras/

If the women don’t find you handsome, they’ll at least find you handy!
~Red Green

The guy builds his own bullet-time rig, makes his own pinhole cameras to use it, processes the film in caffenol?  Impressive!  In fact, almost too impressive…  If I didn’t know that he was making this for a masters thesis, I’d kind of think that this is a bit much, even for me.  Because I read this earlier today after seeing it on Facebook, and wondered: what’s the point?  Aaahhh, it’s to get a good grade!  But then that makes me think about why I bother with film in the first place, and how digital photographers must see me: not much differently, I’m sure.  Still, after watching the finished video, I think it’s a gorgeous work of art (dunno about the music though; it doesn’t feel connected to the images, more like it was merely dropped in).  The handmade aspects of it really do come through in the final product, you can see how imprecise the cameras were aligned, the subjects getting closer and further away and the sprocket holes appearing and disappearing, the film having different exposures, etc.  But this isn’t The Matrix.  I don’t want it to be slick.  It has all the dirt, grit, imperfections, and ultimately the tactility and uniqueness of being an analog work.  It really makes me want to step up my own game!  And also compose something different for that video…