Archive for the ‘black and white film’ Category

I traveled this month, a road trip from Colorado to California, and if you know me, I pack a variety of cameras.  I don’t go anywhere without at least one Leica.  And I brought a Rolleiflex for some portraits, and at the last minute put a 4×5 camera and some film and a changing bag into the car.

Plus the Nikon DSLR and three lenses, because I knew I would be picking up some freelance shoots in Los Angeles.

So, film, what is it good for?  On this trip, absolutely nothing / listen to me!

Because I was shooting street photos in Vegas and LA, and all along the way through Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Nikon with a 50mm or 20mm is perfect for that.  Quick and nimble.  Grab shots.  Instantly ready and can keep on shooting.

I came back home and put all the film back in the fridge.  Hopefully it enjoyed its trip.  But I thought about why I didn’t shoot any.  And it comes down to purpose.  I shoot film to MAKE photos.  To create a photo story on film or a portrait.  Film is for those family members and stories I want to make that are the most important to me.

For me, digital is best for grabbing shots–not making them, but TAKING them.  They are in front of me as a documentary photographer.  I’m not one to wait at one location for planets to align–elements to form a perfect composition in front of a mural, for example–that’s not my style of street photography.  I don’t stand still at all–I walk and watch and shoot when something grabs my attention.  When I see a story.  Then I grab a shot.

So, I guess you can tell what happened–I didn’t make any photographs.  I took images of the scenes before me.  Good documentary photos, but not made, taken.

That’s what digital excels at.

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A funny photo, a good street photo, but a documentary photograph taken, not made.  I was at the right place at the right time.  And had the reflexes to grab the shot.  But I didn’t create it.  Hence the use of digital medium, not film. (Nikon F610 50mm f1.2)

Film is for, I realize, creating something.  I don’t just pull out the 4×5 and see what catches my fancy.  Not at all.  I have to go out and create something.  That’s what that beautiful large negative is for.  Purposeful photography.  And photographs made on film take planning.  I can’t just show up in a town I don’t know and see something I can make a photograph of.

So, I end up taking photos of the scenes before me.

I’ve been working on some fine art images the last few months, and I realize the difference between a nature photo by an artist Sally Mann and one by a nature photographer John Fielder is that one is made, and one is taken.  To me, there is a world of a difference.

The artist must make something out of the materials at hand.  It’s about vision.  And how they turn their creation into their finished piece.  It may not be literal.  It may not be fully realistic.  Artists are visionaries.  What they show tells us about them.

The nature photographer captures the magic in the natural world, and depicts it in all its full wondrous splendor, colors saturated for maximum impact (and sales).  Technically perfect, bursting with color, nature taking all the credit for the display, the photographer taking all the credit for capturing it.  But it’s not fine art.  It’s commercial art.  What they show is a wonderful display piece in a family room that tells us about nature.

Most people would rather hang a Fielder.  I can appreciate that.  But there’s no denying the mastery of Mann’s artistry.  There’s currently a landscape exhibit at the Denver Art Museum through September 16th featuring a couple of her hand-printed images that are quite beautiful and the exhibit is well worth seeing.

For me, film is Mann.  Digital is Fielder.  One is for making art.  The other for creating a salable product. Mann’s may hang in galleries and museums, and private galleries of those who collect her work, but ultimately, Fielder has the image that most people would like over their mantle in their mountain home.  (If you want one, they’re available at his online gallery.)

It’s just that I don’t have a mountain home.  If I did, and I could afford it, I’d choose Mann’s.  (She’s also made a wonderful body of work photographing her family with a large format camera, and all her work inspires!  I don’t think digital could’ve made those photographs.)

Guess that’s why I bring film with me.  I never know what I may find to make.  And there is an amazing sense of accomplishment when the opportunity arises.   When the picture lends itself to film.  Film photography takes a plan.  I need to make better plans, because next time, I’m sure I will take the film cameras again.

There’s such a joy to making a Rolleiflex portrait.  Or one on 4×5.

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My Father, on film with my Rolleiflex, out to breakfast with me on my last road trip home.

Film, what is it good for, absolutely something–photographs I make!  But I have to have a goal and a plan to make them, otherwise, the film and film cameras are just along for the ride.

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My Dad in a Langhorne Pennsylvania cafe, March 2018.  I have coffee with him every workday morning–when I see him on my desk in a framed photograph.

It makes me sad when I think about how valuable fine art portraiture is, created on medium or large format film, and yet how few people even know what it is, let alone why they would want to order a portrait like this.

The photograph above is a portrait of my Dad, sitting across from me at breakfast table in a small cafe when I went to Pennsylvania for a visit.  This is him sharing time with me.  This photograph means so much to me.  It’s printed on my desk, and I keep him with me and see him everyday when I get to work.

rtI made his portrait on a 1950’s era Rolleiflex 6×6 camera. On Ilford HP5 black and white film.  I know where this photograph will be in 50 years–still in the frame that it is in now, not lost on some old hard-drive or to obsolescence.

To me, this is what photography is–capturing memories and then being able to keep those that matter most to you close to you.  A simple framed photograph does that very well.

But the ease of digital photography has made it so that most people keep all their photographs in file format.  This file of my film portrait of my Dad (from a digital scan of the negative) is stored in my computer.  It’s safe, perhaps, (unless there is a hardware failure) but I cannot experience it as a file everyday like I do a framed print.

There seems to be a need for printing our photographs so the most important people in our world are always with us.  But why print them, most people ask?

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Asking that question is like saying, “Why do we need museums, when we see the images, photographs, paintings, on our iPad or computer?”  Because mobile devices are good for making a traveling photo album, and sharing our photos at lunch with friends.  The problem is they don’t create a “place” for them.  They only create a “glimpse” of them.  But our family members are worth more than a glimpse, they’re worth a permanent place in our world.  Surrounding us.  Enveloping us.

Years ago, I remember going to my Grandpop’s and Grandmom’s house and there were photographs of relatives and family throughout the house–they filled their rooms with family photographs, and these were beautiful, high-quality photographs, both formal portraits, and family snapshots in boxes that were a treat to pick through.

Nowadays, I don’t see photographs at people’s houses.  That’s the part that makes me sad.

box2Some of our parents and grandparents are at the end of their lives, and we’re not creating beautiful, frame-able photographs that we will be able to keep by our side to remember them by, something better than a blurry phone snap.

As a portrait photographer, the only commissions I get nowadays are for business portraits–headshots for LinkedIn and corporate use.  Families aren’t ordering individual portraits.

Where are the good pictures being made?  It’s not in a phone, because a wide-angle lens (as all phones have) is not a flattering lens for portraiture. 

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We are living in a trans-formative time, with technology changing the way we do things at a rapid pace.  But just as things speed up, there is a push to slow down.

There are more people now embracing film photography than there were just a few years ago–because they want something tangible.  Something that they’ve actually created.  They want to slow down the process and create fewer, but more memorable, photographs, and they’re using film to do it.

Just like there is a slow food movement, and record sales are on the rise, there’s an anti-digital component at play.  Everything doesn’t have to be the fastest to be enjoyed.

Playing a record is more time-consuming than programming Pandora, but maybe I like the sound of my turntable, that warm analog sound, and I just want to play one full Led Zeppelin album, not have to choose from among every song ever written.  Maybe I just want to play a record, not program a computer.

A few years back, bookstores were concerned about losing out to digital e-readers and ebook sales, and the truth is they’re still going strong.  Because people like to hold a single book, not every book they own on one small device.  They say on an e-reader, there is a temptation to not read what they’re reading, but instead looking for what else they can be reading since their options are endless.

I charge just under a thousand dollars for a legacy film portrait session for a person and their parent or grandparent.  I am a very experienced artist working with real film and creating large printed and framed portraits.  I believe they are one of the most important portraits I can create, more important than any celebrity photograph.  Because our family is our family–they’re the celebrities of our world.

If you contact me, and mention this article, I will photograph you and your mom or pop, and I’ll make the session rate complimentary.  Of course you have to be within a reasonable travel distance for me, or someplace I regularly get to–Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Los Angeles or the front range of Colorado.  I just want to see if anyone will do it if cost is not part of the equation.

I’m betting not.

Here’re the photographs of my parents that I get to live with, that are a part of a physical photograph album. That are the memories of who my parents are.  My Mom is no longer with us.  But she’s right here with me in these photographs.

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Today is Father’s Day.  I wonder how many people have a wonderful portrait of their father, one that captures their personality and their light, that one image that will be passed down to great grandchildren to know who their family was, and what they looked like.

If they don’t, well, that’s the part that makes me saddest, and I hope we will see a renewed interest in quality photography and framed prints in the years to come.

PEOPLE, PASSIONS, SUCCESSES & DREAMS

I’m working on a photography project where I put a question to people on the street. “What are you famous for?” Their answers can be current, or post-dated.

WhatAreYouFamousFor.com – (Follow here, the photographs are much better displayed than on Facebook.)

The question has made people consider what do they want to be known for. And what is fame? And when will they achieve their goal, if pressed for a date.

So far, I’ve met an NFL Tight End for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a Canadian National Cycling Champion, and a Theater Lighting Designer, a Pulitzer-winning Investigative Journalist and a National Geographic Photographer, among others.

Follow along if you want to get updates with the next famous people who I meet. Maybe I’ll get you and your “fame” into the project.

www.facebook.com/groups/whatareyoufamousfor/ is the FB group link for updates.

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The words in the title were spoken to me by a very experienced, award-winning professional photographer and the photo editor at the newspaper where I worked for many years.

He went on to say that photography is insignificant now.  The sheer quantity that is made and made available to see makes it less fun to create, less fun to look at.  There’s a huge swath of mediocrity, and it’s in front of us at all times.

We can’t avoid it.

I responded that there were always poor photographs made by snapshooters. He said, when he was young, his father would load a roll of film into a camera and it would last four years.  He has only a half-dozen photographs of himself as a youngster for that reason.

And he cherishes those photographs!

But now, people are shooting thousands of photographs a week.  They’re going on vacations and experiencing it from behind a screen.  They’re filling up cards, hard drives, and distributing them in real- time–“Look at me and what I’m doing right this second!”

Here was a guy traveling to Colorado to go skiing and taking time out to meet with me, and he didn’t even bring a camera, just his Samsung phone.  “Because who cares?”

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He said when he went on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, he shot maybe 10 photographs.  And then he hasn’t looked at them since, and hasn’t shown them to anyone.  His wife doesn’t care.  His daughter doesn’t want to see them.

And really, what would they look at them on, their phone?  Talk about insignificant!

He’s a great cataloger of his photographs. All his images are tagged with keywords, so they can be located, because as he said, “A photo you can’t find is like not having a photo at all.”  But what good is it?  He says when he’s gone, no one is going to want them–his files and hard drives of photographs.

But those half-dozen when he was a kid–those photographs…now those…<He lights up!>

Because things that are scarce, we value more.  Things that are too available, who cares?  Like photography today.  Everyone thinks they’re a photographer.  Everywhere you go photos are being snapped.  It makes it less than exciting to look at.

Silhouette of a Man Playing Saxophone during SunsetIt’d be like taking up the saxophone, and going outside and finding everyone’s playing a saxophone.  Everyone is posting themselves playing the saxophone.   It would get old.  Quick.

I suggested even all those cataloged photographs are worthless unless they’re printed.  Without making them into physical prints, they won’t survive for 50 years. He countered with, “Who’s going to carry around this heavy box of prints?”  He knows his daughter doesn’t want to move them.  So, they’re as good as done, once the hard drives fail or new technology supersedes them.

We seem to think that whatever is easy is the best way to go, but perhaps we’ve been cursed by the glut of images, our depictions of commonness in all the photographic forums in real time, which exist to feed our egos–someone likes us–while really the reason is to market blenders and wrenches to us–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

So, are we at the end of an era?  Photography used to be creative.  It use to resonate.  A great photo would be printed, hung in a frame on a wall.  There were gallery shows. There were clubs.  People made photographs.  Real well thought-out photographs.

Now, photos have a shelf life of a quarter-second, long enough to hit LIKE and swipe to something else.

And anyway, who cares?

 

If you’re a film photographer who shoots documentary photographs in the U.S, I want you.

Roy Stryker created the FSA photography collection to document real life in America during the Depression Era.

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Photography by Arthur Rothstein for the FSA

 

He was brilliant. He created a resource with a goal of ‘Showing America to Americans’. And the photographs changed the way people perceived folks in the rural areas, suffering in the dust bowl, living in poverty, etc.

I want to do the same, only show the life of American people today. I want to use only film documentary photographers, so that I can be assured that the photographs in the collection are authentic, and not photoshopped. And also to avoid the glut of submissions from phone snappers.

The goal would be for film photographers to contribute to the collection, build it out to represent American life–the most ordinary and extraordinary parts of life here in the U.S.–in all 50 states.

We live in a time where we label people liberal or conservative, 1% or 99%er. What are we really? Do we even know? Is the Facebook picture our best side forward only and not even true? Perhaps we’re not seeing the real America?

Certainly what’s on the national news isn’t who we are.

One commenter on the project said: I live in Germany and hardly can give any contribution though I would like to.  But you’re completely right with the “stereotypes”. We in Germany now have a “special” picture of the Americans – created by media of any kind. When I was in the US, it’s a complete different view and people are people, struggling with everyday life. Vice versa, some became very surprised when I told them I am German. They didn’t think one could talk “normal” with me.

If we had an accurate look of what our family or neighbors with opioid addiction looks like (maybe they look like us), or back from war with PTSD, or with a successful new business, or how they are training for the Olympics, or how they get by with three jobs so they don’t go to bed hungry–all kinds of real stories, positive and negative–could we impact Americans?

‘Showing America to Americans’!

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Photography by Dorothea Lange for the FSA

The news and the political climate make it seem like liberals and conservatives are worlds apart. But do we even know each other? Or are we just going off the stereotypes in our heads?

Please take a look at the site I built with more information, and I’m certainly still in the ‘seeing if it’s viable’ stage of the project and it may have elements to address I haven’t thought of yet. It’s at RoyStryker.com – Yes, I named it after him as a tribute. There’s a lot of information on there, and I tried to answer the most pressing questions.

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Roy Stryker, at right, with FSA photographers.

There would be a curation of the images–not just all images would be accepted.

There would be invites based on the photographer’s ability and quality of work to become part of the collective of photographers contributing to the collection.

The form for submission requires a high-res photo as well as a low-res image of the neg/slide for authenticity purposes. And it suggests an optional donation–see if that seems reasonable.

I would like to ultimately make the photographs:

1) on display on the Web site.

2) available for sale to publications–the photographer maintains all rights to their images at all times and would negotiate directly with the publications.

3) for a book project if the photographers would allow their photographs used.

4) eventually, if the photographers are willing, to offer the collection to the Library of Congress if we have created something exceptional.

Perhaps documenting life today could have an impact like the FSA project had on people’s perceptions of the folks during the depression.

More people are experiencing the glut of photography. It’s everywhere, it’s instant, it’s disposable, and that’s exactly where it goes–away.

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
I remember when I was a kid, we had professional portraits made every year, and our family would make family portraits that would line the wall alongside the staircase.

And all my friends, too, there were portraits of each of them and their family members up on the walls. What happened that we don’t value family portraits like that anymore?

SAD TALES OF LOSS
I’ve personally heard several examples in the last few months of people telling me they wished they had photographs that were better than the phone snaps they have of their kid when they were two. Or five or seven. Or in one case, of their grandma when she was 95.

At a recent conference, a manager for a major corporation told me that he didn’t know why they stopped doing family photos, they just haven’t for years.

A couple I was chatting with at a pub told me that in hindsight, they should have printed some of the better photos that they can’t find anymore.

And one person I met while documenting life out on the street said they wished they hadn’t thrown away all their parents slides after they digitized them, because now the disc won’t load and they’re taking it to a computer tech to try to retrieve the images.

The wonderful thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.
The terrible thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.

A PHOTOGRAPHIC DARK AGE
And those photos are disappearing. Far away.   Into some distant folder buried on some hard drive that people think they are saving them, but have no idea where they go.   Unedited photos that no one wants to go through. There are just too many!

Find me a photo of your grandparent or kid from just five years ago. Good luck.

I find this to be a sad time for photography, because many families are overindulging in low-quality snapshots, and only that. They are being led into a false sense that they’ve got their memories saved, and well-preserved, and that they have quality images.

They really don’t, and they’re not.

I PREFER MY FAMILY DARK AND BLURRY
I see lots of photos that get ‘likes’ on social media. Often they’re poor, blurry, dark, not a keeper in any sense of the word. But there are the likes. Lots of them.  And always the comment, “Great picture of you.” Really, you like to see them dark and out of focus?

It’s like the difference between cheap junk furniture from Wal-Mart versus fine furniture from an artisan woodworker–the photographs we’re choosing are cheap and not very good.   Functional, but low quality.

Many people who saved their photos to CDs or tapes over the last 20 years have had some amount of loss–either some discs won’t load anymore or the tapes don’t play, or they play with degradation through the images.  It’s threatening to become a real digital dark age.

PUTTING IT OFF
I know people who talk about wanting to get portraits made of their kids at every year, then figure they can wait a little bit, then the kid turns four, seven, ten, and then they realize they haven’t made any good portraits of them. I’m seeing this in my business, as people put off scheduling the sessions they used to book. Or if they do, they don’t even want prints, just the digital files.

I’ve actually had clients who’ve scheduled a portrait session, with prints included in the session fee, and they’ve never ordered them. They don’t see the point of a real photograph. I’ve sent them reminders that a print order comes with their photo session. But there’s no response. Nothing. Zero interest.

They see no value in the actual real, physical photographs.

And in five or ten or twenty years–some time in the very near future–those photos, even though they were made by me, a professional, will cease to exist as they get lost in the tidal wave of images. And buried in the sand by the digital undertow with all the rest.

I don’t see how they are ever going to make up for them. In fact, I know the answer. They’re not.

GIMME ALL THE FILES, JUST THE FILES
There are plenty of people who’ve picked up a digital SLR in the past few years and call themselves a photographer, who will shoot your family by a tree for very little money, and give you all the files.  They have no interest in photography as an art medium with a final product–an actual photograph–but only to shoot their camera and get paid for pushing the button.  You could print their photo dark with lines across the faces with an inkjet printer and they couldn’t care less.

The more I discuss this situation, the more I get people nodding in agreement. They concur too many photos is a problem. They say they know the quality is lower than they’d like.  And they admit to having lost a phone and thousands of pictures or knowing someone who has. But do they do anything and book a session?

No, they don’t. Because that I-have-a-phone-I-can-do-it-myself mentality persists.

AMERICA THE (LOOK) RICH
America looks rich, but isn’t. It just looks it. We think we have the best, but we buy the worst as long as it looks okay. That patio set in our backyard from Target, that’ll last a year or two then we’ll throw it away. Everything is disposable. Nothing is built to last. But it’s nice and cheap, and looks good for a little while.

There was a recent article in the Boston Globe where someone asked regarding school photographs, “Why does Picture Day still exist?”   That’s the mentality–that we have our phones and our snaps and they’re good enough.

Maybe I’m nostalgic, but I thought there was something to my folks ordering and framing photographs of us as we were growing up. I liked the way we each had something to remind us we were all vital parts of this family.

WHAT, ME DRESS UP?  ARE YOU KIDDING?
Now, to get people together for a family photograph, to suggest they come in for a formal studio portrait, I’ve had people tell me they can’t be bothered to dress up. They have some from the park they made themselves, and don’t really care about getting them done formally anymore.

I’m a film photographer who shoots legacy photographs on real film and I print photographs on real paper for framing and displaying in a home or other physical space.

I don’t understand the unwillingness to spend to photograph our families well.   Future generations are counting on it, and they will be surely disappointed by the lost pictures and bad snapshots.

Someone must still value the best in quality.  Someone who isn’t put off by the idea of dressing up.

YOUR FAMILY ARE ROCK STARS
If you’re a rock star or movie actor, and you’re being photographed by a professional photographer for a magazine spread, you don’t complain that you can’t wear your sneakers and t-shirt. You want to look your best.  You go to be your best. You dress up and feel your best. You’re a rock star, after all. Everyone knows the performer’s creed: “Look better than the rest of them!”

That’s my goal, to find those that see their families as worth the extra expense for a high-end studio, formal portrait that they will hang in their home, because they see their family as worth it. And that see me as the one photographer, an truly experienced professional, working in a special, unique way–not just another guy with a digital spray and pray camera, but with real film and quality lighting in an actual studio–that will actually preserve that memory and will truly capture them as they are.

With artistry.  And quality as the determining factor, not the cheapest price point as the basis for their decision.

The rest will have to hope to salvage that phone snap for a very long time.