Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Too much Time Magazine Camera on my hands

Flash back to the 80s.

Back in the darkest pasts of history, there was a thing called magazines. They were physical things, made of paper, with glossy pages filled with information and pictures. Unlike the internet, they only arrived once a month, or bi-weekly at most. If you wanted the news more frequently, you had to pick up a news paper, which had lower quality photography reproduction, or you could watch the TV. The news would come on once an evening. Newspaper guys used to scoff at the shallowness of TV coverage. Real, intelligent people read newspapers. People that wanted top-notch photos and in-depth reporting got magazine subscriptions.

None of that exists anymore.

Time Magazine used to pride itself on its photography staff. And in celebration of this excellence, if you subscribed, they would give you a camera. The idea wasn’t unique to them, Sports Illustrated and a few others did it as well.

Cap Hill Balcony. Presentable if not terribly sharp.

Cap Hill Balcony. Presentable if not terribly sharp.

The free camera was about what you could expect for the price. Plastic, with a host of pseudo-features. “Focus free” lens (fixed focus). A genuine simulated power winder. An ersatz pentaprism hump on top of the body. To give it some heft to imply quality, they put a nice hunk of lead in the base. To be honest, though, the camera had some things going for it. A tripod socket. Working flash shoe (you could order a flash that matched the camera for a sort of reasonable fee.) The lens was glass, at least. The focal length was 50mm-ish. It has an aperture system of a sort. You can select four f stops with corresponding weather hieroglyphs. The shutter is around 1/50th or 1/60th depending on who you believe.

Unlike a lot of other crappy cameras from the era, it doesn’t have a unique enough look to have caught on with the hipsters or to be overcharged for by Lomography. It was worth the $8, I suppose, though. I got the complete box set, case and all. It was still 1985 in that box, right down to the new plastic smell. Pure, weaponized nostalgia.. It made me want to invade a small country for no reason at all.

I’m thinking I may be done with crappy cameras after this. It’s such a caricature of what it was billed as and what people wanted at the time, I may have hit peak cheesy.

Too much Time Magazine Camera on my hands

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Without art, but learning

I know squat about art.

Anyone who ever looked at my pictures can tell you that.

I learned in a technical school, from technical teachers. There wasn’t a discussion of artistic norms or merits. No one told me about lighting, other than you have to work with what you have. No one told me about posing people in a scene because that was unethical. No one ever said a camera was anything other than a recording device. Art was that snooty thing people in the sculpture and painting studios did.

I learned that years ago, and it’s still a strong force in my life. I took a class recently during which I was encouraged to move my subjects around to get better lighting or change the way they were holding things or their expression even though I was shooting them on the street, and it initially seemed odd. Then it seemed impossible.

shoot-443When I go out in to the world, I take it a face value. It presents me with tableaus, and I do my best to capture them. Here’s the extent of my alteration of a scene when I shoot. When I went to Boston Mine Camp, there were people hiking around and milling about on the structures. I wanted to just capture the buildings, so I merely waited until they all wandered out of frame before taking the shot. I only once said something to one of them, but that was because he walked in front of me just as I shot the picture and that was rude. That’s as close to an artistic choice as I have ever made.

Even when I shot portraits of a friend for her modeling portfolio years ago this ingrained work ethic stuck with me. She wanted something other than what I gave her. When I asked her what was disappointing about the result, she answered with a smile “If I ever need a series of pictures to tell a story I’ll come to you. But I don’t think I’ll come to you for anything else.”

Well, ouch. Also a fair cop.

So now I’m reading a little, experimenting a little, trying some new things. Trying to look at the world as a canvas to work on instead of a stage show to watch. I’m in that stage where you thrash around and don’t make much progress now. Maybe I’ll get past it. Maybe I won’t. But trying something new and challenging myself is a good thing.

Without art, but learning

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The death of “Analogue Photography”

I passionately despise the term “Analogue Photography.”

Part of it is the linkage between the term and Lomography. The company and the accompanying movement did do one good thing for film photography: it created a new demand for film by making crappy cameras trendy. Of course, the price for that was the escalation of prices of previously cheap crappy cameras. And hipsters. Oh, so many hipsters. The horror . . . the horror .

I disliked the term because it was largely meaningless. It defined the medium of film by differentiating it from digital, a medium that came after it, which is backwards. Rail travel is not “Pre-flight travel.” World War One is not “The War that came before the War in the 1940s.” The subsequent invention of digital photography did not change what film photography is.

shoot-441Sure, it impacted the volume of film sold, and greatly slowed the development and number of new film cameras made. But it did not change the nature of film photography. To invent a new name for something because you’re new to it is silly and confusing. Oddly enough none of the people who use this term I’ve talked to have known who knew who William Henry Fox Talbot was. Or Man Ray, or Robert Capa, or Lee Miller, or Imogen Cunningham, or Dorothea Lange, or Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Berenice Abbott. The history and significance of photography started when they picked up a camera and didn’t exist before them. It is a term preferred by know-nothings.

I think what irritates me the most about the term is it relegates film to something unimportant: a thing that happened and then was superseded and forgotten, a trivial footnote. As if the documentation of human history and the world for the last 150 years or so is of no consequence. As if the creation of fine art and inspiration means nothing.

So what do I use instead? I just call it what it is. Film photography. Or wet plate. Or Daguerreotype. If you have to come up with a cutesy marketing phrase, I suppose “Legacy Photography” might be the least off base. Or “Alternative Processes” for the latter types of photography.

Let’s kill the phrase “Analogue Photography”and be done with it. The words you use are indicative of your thinking. If the collective IQ of photographers can’t be raised enough to kill this phrase, let’s at least sound less pretentious and ignorant.

The death of “Analogue Photography”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Habits and digital cameras

I hadn’t shot with a digital camera except my iPhone for years until this last weekend.

I took a class that required me to have a digital camera. I had to break down and rent one. Originally, they had said there would be digital Leica M’s for everyone to use. But Leica only sent two, so that didn’t pan out. It was catch as catch can renting at the last-minute. I wound up renting a massive D3, which was all they had. It was an odd choice to try to shoot street photography with. Between shooting a new-to-me type of photography with an unfamiliar camera, I didn’t get any results I liked.

Thinking back, I think the last time I really shot with a digital camera was a concert in late 2009 and some studio work in 2010. I didn’t realize the difference shooting with film would make.

For instance, we went and shot at a park and downtown. When it was all said and done, one of my classmates had shot 1600 frames in a few hours. I had taken 40. The assignment called for six images.

Next time, I stick with what I know.

Next time, I stick with what I know.

I missed a few shots because I couldn’t break one of my habits. After taking a shot, instead of just hitting the shutter a second time to get another, I would lower the camera from my eye and reach up with my thumb for a non-existent winding lever. I would then realize what I was doing, frown, and have to put the camera back to my eye to re-frame, missing the follow-up shot. Habits always bite you.

It was good to get away and challenge myself and try something new. But I don’t think I’ll be returning to shooting digital anytime soon.

After I got home, I offloaded the images in to my prehistoric version of Lightroom and set to work. It took me far longer to fiddle with the images and get acceptable results than it would have to develop and scan a couple of rolls. I didn’t want to invest in plug-ins, so I didn’t get the look I was wanting. In the end, I was dis-satisfied with the result.

I only got a couple of frames off with one of the Leicas. Those things are exquisitely built. It was very solid, and the focus feel and sharpness of the Summicron lens was like no other piece of glass I’ve  used. But the camera’s output wasn’t inspiring. The color rendition was off and required more work than I wanted to put in to it to fix. It’s black and white mode wasn’t as good as I had hoped either. I think I’d like to see what using a film Leica would be like. I suspect it’s going to cost me a lot of money when I do it.

Next time, I’ll use fewer new variables and get a better result. I’ll just stick to a film camera and eliminate that bit of uncertainty.

Habits and digital cameras

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Untrammeled trees

Sometimes I look at the pictures I’ve taken out in the woods and think, “I spend too much time in the trees. I’ve got too may shots of them. It’s getting boring. No one will want to see them.” Which may be true, if I’m being honest.

But the past few weeks I’ve been worn down dealing with people. I want nothing more than to be away from them, among the trees.

Dealing with people is sometimes a lot of bad noise. Dealing with trees is nothing but the pleasant sound of the wind through pine boughs. Being among people is the smell of pine bathroom cleaner or a car air freshener. Being among trees is the actual smell of pines.

I listened to a podcast a few weeks ago, The American History Guys podcast “BackStory.” It was about he state of wilderness in America. They made many points, but the one I liked best was the idea of “pristine” wilderness.

shoot-437There really isn’t any “pristine” wilderness. There probably never was much of it. The idea was brought about by settlers running in to areas where there were no Europeans and deciding that meant it was untouched by human hands. Truth is, the Native Americans had been there for a long time by the time we got there. And now, the pollution the cities put in to the air and water reaches far back in to wilds, contaminating it. The idea of an untouched wilderness is one that doesn’t mesh with reality. But there is such a thing as “untrammeled” wilderness, where it hasn’t been crushed underfoot by humanity.

I like the untrammeled parts of the country. I prefer to go out and be among the trees there, away from people. I seem to have a deep seated need to do that, and recharge.

I don’t think I’ll get to spend time among the trees this weekend, as I’m staying in Denver to take a class, and that is OK. They’ll be there waiting for me the next chance I have to go out and visit them.

I’ll have something interesting to report from this class, hopefully. Then I’ll return you to the regularly scheduled allotment of trees.


Here’s the BackStory podcast I spoke of.

Untrammeled trees

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Beyond making do- gear plans

I have a friend who refers to Creole and Cajun cooking as “the food of making do.” I don’t think the thought is original to him, but it is correct. Most cuisine of the south is that way. Recipes that consist of what you can easily get, and how you can make it palatable.

So are my camera choices.

I always end up with cameras that are, shall we say, less than stellar options. Well, to be fair, not always, but pretty often. I do have the occasional bit of kit that’s spot on, like my beloved F3. But the other SLRs I had were not really all that good: Zenits, Practicas, off brands. A lot of cameras that didn’t function very well and I spent time having to work around their foibles and malfunctions.

I can always achieve the results I was gunning for when I use these cameras. But they don’t make it simple to do. So picking up my F3 is like enabling “easy mode” when shooting. I know the meter is spot on. The lens will not flare. And, when I advance the film, it will have proper spacing without me doing any sort of interpretive dance.

shoot-436I’ve always said “it’s the eye and not the camera” and such in the past. And that, I’ve found, is true. I’ve taken some lousy shots with a Hassy, and great shots with a Kiev. But I’m starting to think it would be nice to have gear that just worked just like it’s supposed to, every single time.

What’s this mean?

I suppose it’s time to contemplate ridding myself of the bits of kit I have that are difficult to use and replacing them with gear that’s less frustrating. Now, there will always be exceptions to this, I’m sure. I love the look I get with my Zorki. It reminds me of the work you could get out of a Leica in the 1950s, which was the look I fell in love with. I prefer the lens I use on my Kiev to the ones I’ve tried on a Hassy, even though that makes me odd. And there are some plastic cameras I’ll keep. But those are supposed to be crappy, that’s their charm.

I’ll probably move up to a Bessaflex TM to use my M42 glass on, for instance. A newer camera with more life left in it than the typical ones I’ve been using. I’ll probably upgrade my medium format options as well, but that will require a lot of research.

It will be nice to spend my time doing better than just making do.

Beyond making do- gear plans

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A life among the pines

When I walk out to take pictures of cabins in the woods, I frequently stop and think about owning one.

There are times when living in town wears on you. Traffic, nearly continuous noise, constant human interaction. And when I am in the midst of these times, I think about a cabin up on the mountains to call my own.

Admittedly, most of the cabins I shoot are solidly in the fixer-upper section of real estate. No cable tv service. Broadband is non-existent. The roads are a little rough getting to them. I doubt UPS or FedEx would deliver to them. I doubt even Amazon’s drone fleet will. There are no coffee shops within walking distance, or grocery stores. In fact, most of them have no roof, no running water, no electricity, and are a little short on other basic amenities as well.

shoot-433But every time a siren runs past going full blast, or I get yelled at while riding my bicycle, I begin to think that these may not be as big an obstacle as I first thought.

The rub, of course, is that money problem. How do Steph and I both make a living close enough to a cabin far enough back in the woods to be attractive. It’s a pretty good question. I have no answer as of yet. Well, besides the unoriginal and unlikely lottery win. Which is why we still live in the city, and the houses we are looking for are not out in the mountains.

the patio

the patio

But there are times when I am walking out in the tall grass with my camera slung over my shoulder, among the smell of sage, lodgepole pine and douglas fir, that I feel the pull, the urge to get out and move in to a high lonesome place of our own. Somewhere where the loudest sound is the wind when it rushes through the trees, or the thunderclaps reverberating off the mountains. Where the white noise isn’t traffic, but a small stream running over smooth, well worn rocks. Where the only neighbors are likely to be hawks and owls, who probably won’t bump EDM in to the wee hours of the night.

Maybe I should knock out those novels I keep erratically working on and become a rich author who moves in to the mountains with his wife to lead an eccentric, colorful life among the pines.

Life goals. We all have them, but mine are rough hewed wood in forgotten places.

A life among the pines

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

HC-110 is my favorite shirt

Dan had discussed his developer choices a week ago. Like most times, we were great minds treading over the same ground. I’d begun to think about developers because I’ve burned through my most recent liter of HC-110 syrup. Finding the bottom of the bottle has led me to a revelation.

I’ve never really experimented all that much with chemistry. When I learned to process film and print in a small dark room in a small town years ago, it was pretty rigid. There was but one developer in the whole building- D-76. It was used for film development and printing both. As far as the instructors were concerned, D-76 was the only developer in the world. In fact, when they said “developer” they meant D-76, and when they said “film” they meant Tri-X. There were no other options.

When I went back to developing at home some years ago, I actually thought outside the box. I went looking for a different developer. For the quantity of film I was developing, the traditional D-76 wasn’t all that handy. It’s cheap as anything, a quality that may have driven the old darkroom to buy it in the first place, but if I made up a gallon, it would go bad before I used it all. Since then I’ve found they make a packed that yields a liter of developer, but at the time the only packets I could find made too much. Even though it was cheap, wasting chemicals just sat wrong with me somehow.

shoot-431I thought about XTOL, just for the environmental aspects of it, but heard too many horror stories about it giving no warning before it goes bad and just suddenly quit working. I settled on HC-110.

Mostly I was enamored with the shelf life of the stuff. It will last almost forever. I’ve taken to decanting it from the liter bottle in to 8 ounce amber bottles for storage, and that helps elongate its lifespan as well.

I like contrasty images, and HC-110 gives me that. I use Dilution B almost exclusively. First, the math is easy. Dilution B is one part developer and 31 parts water, so it’s pretty easy to mix up in a 32 ounce bottle. When I shoot Rollei Retro 80s, I use Dilution E, which is basically Dilution B twice as dilute.

While I’m currently trying out some paper developers, since I’m going to start contact printing this winter, I’ve settled on HC-110 for film, and I don’t think that is going to change. I’m not choosing to ignore other options, like the place I learned in. I’m just treating it like a favorite shirt. I like how it looks and it’s nice and comfortable.

HC-110 is my favorite shirt