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.

Week 5 – Intermediate Photography

I got this roll polished off fast.  It’s “freezer-stored” Tri-X that expired in 2000; I thought it would be nice to shoot some of the old stuff from before Kodak restructured the film, but I can’t say I’m happy with this particular roll, it does not seem to have been stored as well as I was led to believe, and I’m trying to find ways to minimize the fogging.  This was developed in D-76 stock solution for 10 minutes at 66F.

I remember back when I was just starting to take photography seriously, Richard Mosse was in the process of exhibiting his collection of images from the Congo, entitled “The Enclave.”  Here are a few:

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Photos by Richard Mosse

It’s hard to pick just one image.  Richard Mosse was interested in bringing the attention of the world to a series of civil wars that have been happening in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) since the late-1990s.  Mosse shot most of the series on large format 8×10 and 16mm motion picture cameras (working with a dedicated cinematographer), using discontinued and expired Kodak Aerochrome EIR film, which was an infrared color reversal film developed for the US military for aerial reconnaissance and camouflage detection, and produces incredibly wild colors in vegetation.  The Lomography movement has really embraced the aesthetic of this particular film, and it’s unfortunate that Mosse’s series didn’t come out earlier, as the increase of interest and demand might have kept Kodak from axing it.

Mosse’s images really speak to the idea of uncovering things that are hidden, from the little-publicized civil war itself, to the original purpose of Aerochrome film.  While Mosse shows us ground-level images and is right up in soldiers’ faces as opposed to impersonal and removed aerial survey, the effect is the same: we get to watch the conflict from a safe and secure place.

Week 4 – Intermediate Photography

I learned a new word today: reticulation.  It basically describes what happens when there is an abrupt shift in temperature when developing a roll of film, for example when going from one bath to another.  From what I can tell, it looks a lot like having exaggerated grain, except it’s a bit more uniformly placed, and circular.

 

 

I don’t know enough about it to say if that’s what went on here, but I think I must have been a bit too sloppy when processing this particular roll.  I think the film may have fogged a bit, which would mean I should have added more Potassium Bromide.  On top of that, I might have pushed the film slightly without meaning to, or at least overdeveloped.  The negatives came out denser and with much higher contrast than I’m used to.  At least I kind of know what’s going on with it, and considering everything I try with this particular batch of T-Max makes it look worse, I’ll go back to what I was doing here, pulling one stop and developing in D-76.

On another matter, my first results from using a short exposure roll didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped.  In fact, there’s almost nothing usable on the roll at all.  Thankfully, it would appear that I don’t necessarily need to keep my weekly assignments completely separate from my larger class projects as I originally thought.  I rushed through the rest of the roll in my Spotmatic and got it processed and scanned yesterday.

A friend of mine gave me that book a couple of years ago, when I was completing my final for the intro class, which had to do with portraits.  While I had been familiar with the National Geographic documentary films growing up, I’d never paid much attention to the magazine itself.  I hear that some big events are afoot there, being bought out by Rupert Murdoch after spending 127 years as a non-profit organization.  I wasn’t familiar with William Albert Allard’s work before owning the In Focus book, and I haven’t found too much out since then, either, though from his site I learned that he’s one of the only photographers of his generation whose entire body of work has been in color.  There were several fantastic portraits by Allard in that National Geographic book, but I think this one is particularly striking:

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Eduardo Ramos with his dead sheep, Puno, Peru, 1981 – William Albert Allard

“A taxi had come tearing down the road and hammered through the sheep, brutally flinging half of them off the road…The driver never even stopped.  But we did.  As the boy looked up at me with his shattered face, I made just a few pictures because I had to…More than $6000 in contributions came in from readers from all over America.  They wanted to help.  The Geographic contacted CARE, and that organization was able to locate Eduardo…His family’s sheep were replaced, a water pump was provided for his village.” -William Albert Allard, from In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits

There’s something in the boy’s face that says: “Why are you pointing a camera at me now?”  You can tell by his clothes how poor he is and how the loss of even a few sheep could be a devastating blow.  I think in that situation, my first instinct wouldn’t be to take a picture, it would be to get in and help physically.  Yet with the resources and reach of a magazine the size of National Geographic, as well as the compassion and generosity of its readers, taking that photograph helped that boy more than anything else anyone physically there could have done.  There are alternating stories told of Allard’s portrait of Eduardo; another version is in the video you can see at this site.

This video is also a good one to watch:

 

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” – Fred Rogers

Week 3 – Intermediate Photography

Here’s my stuff.  I walked around all week with a new lens on my Spotmatic, the Chinon 55mm f/1.7 macro.  Or is that “macro?”  There seems to have been some discussion over whether or not this is merely a close-focusing lens or a true macro lens.  I’m still learning the difference myself, so I won’t comment here about it, but I think the lens has plenty of character, and I like the look, plus the price was right.  Since I’ve carried around with me one of three normal primes over the last few months, each with their own pros and cons, I was wondering if the Chinon might give me the best options of being sharp, fast enough in low light, and with the ability to focus closer than I usually need.  The jury is still out, but I’ll say that it’s hard getting used to focusing the opposite direction after spending so much time with the Takumars; that is my biggest gripe, but if it means missing the shot, it could be a big one.  So far, I’ve been more than happy with the 1.8/55 SMC Takumar as my everyday lens, but the Chinon is at least an acceptable alternative.

It occurred to me after I posted a week ago, that as far as waiting for the perfect shot, there’s another really iconic photograph that should be talked about, especially in the context of concerts since that’s what I shot a lot of the last week, that also has a pretty good story behind it.

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The Clash’s Paul Simonon – Pennie Smith

From what I remember reading off Smith’s firsthand account, Simonon had been having trouble with his bass for a few songs at that point and had had just about enough.  Smith had one last exposure left on her roll of film before she’d have to rewind, and instead of snapping something quick, rewinding, and loading a new roll, she sat on that last exposure.  She could feel that something was about to happen, and it did; she was in the perfect spot to take a critical shot because she was attuned to what was going on around her, and decided not to waste a critical exposure on any lesser shot.  And it paid off in a big way, becoming the cover to London Calling and one of the most iconic rock ‘n’ roll pictures of all time.

I can think of no photograph that better encapsulates the punk era’s rage and frustration, a teenage angst-driven rock ‘n’ roll for a new generation, as well as its level of naivete and penchant for destruction.  It truly is a thousand words.

When you can’t tell the difference

Yesterday, our class was shown a mini demo of Ilford fiber paper vs. regular RC paper (also from Ilford).  Besides learning that Ilford is considered more of a budget brand when it comes to paper, barely good enough to get by it seems, I’m also learning things about myself, maybe differences between my other classmates and me.  Perhaps the difference is between those who major in photography and who are going on to make a living in photography after they graduate versus those who are only there because they like it a lot and are good enough to continue taking classes.

We looked at the different prints (of the same shot) while they were still wet, which could have made a difference I’m told, but whereas everyone in the class was oohing and aahing over the differences, I could barely tell the two apart.  It was a moment that was a bit surreal for me, as in my (music) composition lessons, I’m dealing with themes like individuality, marginalization, and sheep mentality, so here was the perfect opportunity for me to go against the flow and speak my mind, which I did…eventually.  It’s hard sometimes, to set yourself apart from the crowd.

The reactions were about what I expected (one guy jokingly asked me if I needed to get my eyes checked; now that I think about it, it has been a good five years since I last got my prescription changed), but what was somewhat frustrating is that they didn’t really hear what I was saying.  Here’s where the differences were: I was coming from the place where I was saying, Guys, I’ll accept that there’s a huge difference, but I can’t see the huge difference, I can see a marginal difference, and I don’t even know if I have the training or experience to see what the differences are, and certainly couldn’t articulate it.  Their responses all told me that what they heard was What’s the difference, what’s the point?  And at some point, they all expressed amazement and disbelief that I couldn’t tell the difference.  Guys, I can tell the difference: the fiber paper print had a bit more contrast in certain aspects; that’s about as much as I can see or articulate right now.

There’s a pretty wide gulf for me between those two viewpoints, but I have experience in other areas where people do say things like:
-digital is just as good as film
-plugins sound just as good as outboard equipment
-digital recording sounds just as good as tape
Now, perhaps what they’re really saying is that they don’t hear a wide gulf between the two, but the consequent to their points is almost invariably, So why put in the extra effort/money?  Mine, on the other hand, was really a lot closer to, I want to be educated, because I have too much experience with people who accept nothing that their own senses don’t take in; like someone with color blindness, I’m willing to accept the fact that there’s a vast difference that I can’t see.

I hope someday that with further training and experience I will be able to see the difference.  And until then, sure, I’ll still take the plunge to fiber paper.  Not only will it be good for me to gain experience working with it, but it should help take my work to the next level.  And hopefully one day, when I am able to see the difference, I’ll be able to look at my old work and appreciate it in a new way.  Until then, just know that I’m doing it for you.

Week 2 – Intermediate Photography

Editing, editing, editing…I’m only supposed to be posting three images, but there are usually more than three that I don’t hate, and to keep from having too many heartbreaking rejections, I need to shoot less (because that makes sense).  Actually, I’ll save money this way too, cutting 24-exposure rolls in half, but it seems a bit silly now worrying about being able to create new images weekly.

I practice a lot on knowing the right time to take a shot, it helps me save money to not waste exposures, etc.  When I shoot concerts sometimes I’ll sit on a shot for several songs waiting for a musician to pose a certain way or get a certain look on his/her face.  In each of these photographs above, it was the same way, sitting in the same spot for minutes waiting for the frame to compose itself, but this is still child’s play for someone of the caliber of Ansel Adams.  I’ve read many stories over the years about how he would go to a certain spot night after night for months, just waiting for the perfect conditions to materialize.

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Moonrise, Hernandez – Ansel Adams

I remember reading a story about this above photo told by Adams’s son, how they were driving around the desert looking for the perfect spot to photograph this town, and finally Adams sees the spot, slams on the brakes, and runs out of the car with large format camera in hand, leaving a trail of other equipment behind him.  He couldn’t find his light meter and had to guess his exposure based on what he knew about the luminosity of the moon.  He took his first shot, and was preparing for a safety exposure, but by the time he had his next sheet of film loaded, the clouds had overtaken the moon and the shot was gone.  (if I remember correctly)

It’s hard to say anything about that picture that hasn’t already been said, but it’s not even the picture itself that I’m necessarily drawn to, as I prefer some of his other images.  I think it’s just knowing that it has such an interesting story behind it that really makes it significant in my mind.

Week 1 – Intermediate Photography

I hope I’m doing this right…this next class proposes a new challenge for me: create new work weekly, whereas I’ve been going back to old habits.  I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a scary concept for me, as I’d like to think that I’m thrifty in how I shoot, but also, I just didn’t do a lot of shooting this summer.  I just developed Thursday a roll that has been in my camera since mid-June.  Can I shoot a roll of film a week, and, in being forced to present at least three new images weekly, how much will my quality suffer, especially if I’m pressed for time elsewhere?  I’m halfway through a roll of Provia, but I don’t want to waste that roll to the needs of expediency, plus it would take nearly a week just to get it processed.  I’ve thought about cutting 36-exposure rolls in half, I’ve thought about a 100ft bulk roll of Fomapan or Kentmere, I’ve been comparing prices back and forth.  A 100ft roll of Tri-X is $50 more than a roll of HP5.  Wow.  With Tri-X, it’s almost exactly the same price between a 100ft roll and the same number of feet in 24-exposure rolls, 36-exposure rolls are cheaper than a bulk roll; and you don’t have to load the cartridges yourself.  I eventually found some newly-expired T-Max 400 in 24-exposure rolls for not too bad a price, since it was there I decided to go with it; I don’t think I’ll feel as bad burning through rolls of T-Max.

I was trying to figure out just how I got a light leak across four out of the first five exposures, I think that it must have happened after I took that fifth picture, and it must have happened on the right (take-up) side of the camera: the light leak is in the same spot on each picture and the effect is lighter counting back from #5.  I’d be disappointed (and probably should find some gaffers’ tape anyway), except that it literally happened only on the pinhole shots, and I suppose that gives them just a bit more of that authentic lo-fi aesthetic.  As for the others, some friends of ours from Ohio were in town, and I like taking pictures of my friends, especially when I haven’t seen some of them for 6-7 years.

Someone else who likes making pictures of his friends is artist and photographer Chuck Close (at least according to this site), and so I give you his daguerreotype portrait of minimalist composer Philip Glass:
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Philip Glass, Stage II – Chuck Close

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass, Philip Glass…

I remember seeing the documentary of Close working with the 20×24 Polaroid, but I’m not sure I’d seen his daguerreotypes before, that was a real treat for me looking at them in class.  I love to see the old photographic processes alive and well after 150+ years: it’s a ray of hope that the most tedious and expensive (and best-looking) photographic processes still survive in the modern blink-and-it’s-gone digital world.  I chose the Philip Glass portrait because being a composer myself, I like seeing the masters of my craft celebrated in a larger sense, by those outside the music world, and Philip Glass is one of the only living composers who is fairly well-known and recognizable to a lot of non-musicians.

Close’s work is meaningful to me also because it is transformative: here is a man who started out started out as a painter focusing on portraits, who has embraced the more modern world by using technology, yet he chose the most outdated process of them all.  As his paintings were gigantic, so too can these large format images be increased to truly tremendous size with almost infinite detail.  It’s also a redemptive concept how physical limitations and life circumstances don’t have to end who we are.

Close has been presenting portraits of Glass for some 35 years now, and it’s fascinating to see how he’s physically changed over the years.  Max Reger once said that pigs and composers only come into their own after they’re dead.  Glass is now nearly 80 years old, and while he’s not quite there yet, looking at this new portrait while remembering the old one makes me more conscious of the fact that no one is here forever.  Yet here is a composer whose style is instantly recognizable and oft-imitated, one of the most successful modern classical composers, and here is his image preserved for future generations, just as we have portraits of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and countless others.  May the music last in people’s memories even longer than his image.  In Close’s portrait, I see a man approaching immortality.

This post was written while listening to Songs from Liquid Days.