Archive for the ‘black and white’ Category

I was talking with another photographer recently and he brought up that he misses hanging out at camera shops.

I knew exactly what he meant. In the days of film, that was the place to meet, to see gear, talk and hang out with other photographers.

There was still a little bit at risk when making a photograph.  And skill needed.  It could be that the photos wouldn’t turn out, the exposure was off.  Or the subject moved. We talked about techniques. We talked about photographic subjects. We talked photography.

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I worked at The Camera Shop Inc. in the Oxford Valley Mall as a teenager, upstairs by Bamberger’s, if I recall correctly.  It was such a good job, and we got to meet all the local photographers and shutterbugs who’d come in.

That’s all gone, in this age of digital phone snaps.  There’s no more photography, with all the skills and tricks, there’s just the phone.

Snap, swipe, never look at it again.

When they added electronics, the big box stores like Best Buy and Circuit City took over the camera sales, and put the small camera shops out of business.  Not all, but many.  And many of the shops lived on film processing profits, and digital photography knocked that out, too.

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This is Central Camera in Chicago, a favorite place of Vivian Maier, if you know her story.  If not, look her up.  You’re in for a treat.  She’d hang out there.

Back when we hung out as photographers.

I was reading quotes from famous artists, and one of them said something to the effect: “When I go to the canvas with a preconceived idea, those are usually not as good as the ones where I go with no idea what I will paint, and just paint.”

Effectively, going to the sandbox to play.  Because creativity is play.  Creative activity.  The ability to make something out of nothing.

I’ve been taking that to heart and using it for a photography project.  The idea is I have a model, I have outfits, and I have a camera, but I don’t have a subject in mind to shoot.  I can create anything I want.  And so far, what I’ve created isn’t at all what I would have thought to create.  It’s in the creation that they came to be.

I’m working on the photographs for a book project, so won’t post any here, but there is certainly a way to work, as this old photojournalist has to break his thought process and just get in the sand.  And play.

And play.

Sometimes the first photo doesn’t seem so inspired.  Shoot it anyway.  It may lead to another photo.  And that one may be the inspired one.  The inspiration may come when you stop thinking, stop looking for it.

It’s crazy magical that way, the way it works, the way it manifests.

There’s something to it, when the muse is allowed to play.  Pick up the camera, look through the viewfinder, and shoot something you’ve never shot before.

Create a scene.  Play with light and your subject.  See what you come up with.

I’m using a vintage Mamiya C330S twin-lens reflex medium format film camera, just to add to the process, on a tripod, carefully framing and exposing the negative.

Oh, let the muse play!

 

I asked my Father today if he remembered life before television.  He said he did, and it was a world where a lot of people read books and newspapers, played games and got together with friends and a barrel of beer.

The reason I asked is because I realize that since the invention of TV, and people watching hours a day, we’ve now become a society that lives on screens.  I wake up to my iPhone and iPad.  I read the iPad with coffee, then off to a computer where I work editing photographs and marketing photography.

Or I have a photo shoot, and I make the photographs and check them on the camera’s screen.  Finally, import them to the computer for editing tomorrow.

I wrap up the day, and it’s back to the iPad.  Or I write at night, like this post here, on my laptop either at a pub or at home.

I’m not a TV watcher, but if I were, I would probably switch that on when I got done writing, and finish up the day with an iPad in bed.

What happened to us?  We live on screens.

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I think that’s why I’m drawn to film photography–I get to create with a simple ground glass for viewing the image (on a 4×5 or 8×10 view camera, a Rolleiflex or a Leica 35mm).  It has no electronics.  It’s physical, just light being focused onto film.

Same with hand-printing photographs in a darkroom, it’s hands on, and nothing electronic to it.

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I’m betting that’s why some people like gardening (I am not one of those people) but it gives them the chance to work with their hands and dirt to create something beautiful.  Can’t get more “down to earth” than that!

Same thing with nature lovers and landscape photographers (I am not one of those either).  Staring at the sky and trees is a welcome past-time in this digitally screened-in world.

Anyway, I wonder what all these screens, with living in a screen world, is doing to us, how it’s affecting our culture, our friendships, our lives.

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The photographers of days gone past, they used view cameras, those lovely wood 4×5 and 8×10 cameras, which gave them the ability to keep their verticals straight.  Not tilted.  Not leaning.

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Basically, if the film plane is parallel to the building, the vertical will stand straight.  But if you tilt the film up, like when you tilt up a 35mm film camera, or a digital SLR or phone, the film plane/sensor isn’t parallel to the buildings, so the tops of the buildings will converge.

That’s why there is that angled brass piece on the back of the camera above–you can tilt the camera up, then reset the back to parallel.

Look at these photos.  See how all the verticals are, well, vertical?  These were made for the FSA–Farm Security Administration, and they often used large view cameras.

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Same with this one.  (This is from the wonderful Shorpy.com web site that I highly recommend.  Click the photos on the Shorpy site to make them load large so you can zoom in on details.)

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You don’t see straight verticals in photographs by cameras without perspective control.  But these were made with view cameras that you could control perspective.

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Those are a far cry from photos made today, with their tilted verticals.

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It’s a look we’re used to seeing, but it’s not accurate to the way they are really, and to me, it’s a sloppy representation of the town/building. It’s a record shot, but not much of a photograph.

There’s a time and place for quick and easy and convenient.  But speed and easy aren’t always the best way to document a location well.  And until you see the difference, you might not even know what you’re missing.

If you want to get straight verticals in your photographs, make sure you keep the back of the camera parallel to the subject, even if you have to lower it down or up to make that happen.

I traveled across the U.S. last month to a photo shoot in Washington D.C. (drove so I could bring a full studio to the conference) and on the way back, I photographed my partners’ Mother and brother at breakfast during a stop in Cincinnati.

When I sent them the photographs, her Mother said…well, I’ll let you read what she said:

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Mirrors lie.  Every day.  All we’ve ever seen of ourselves is a misrepresentation–our hair is parted on the wrong side, we look exactly opposite how we really look. 

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Because it’s a mirror image.  Our face is flipped.

And so, our perception is that we look odd when we see ourselves in photos.  Ever notice our friends look okay, because we’re seeing them the way we always see them, but we always look wrong somehow?

Because the camera sees us right, not flipped.

It’s a simple thing to flip the image so that the person sees their photo as they’re used to seeing themselves.  To make it so they like their photo better.

But the bigger lie is that a face, as it ages, needs to be retouched.  Needs to be Photoshopped.  It doesn’t.

It goes for you and me–“You’re better as you are than you think.”

I just finished a big shoot for The Wise Photo Project, a national project where I photograph seniors at senior centers–the elderly wise ones, not the newly graduated.  I photographed over 60 people.  Beautifully aged faces and there’s not a wrinkle I would change.

A couple portrait from a 2017 photo shoot at a senior center in Boulder.

The photographs capture their amazing faces as they are.  They are truly beautiful as they are.

Tell yourself, you’re better as you are than you think.  You really are.

We have plenty of photographs.  What we really need is a curator!

I was talking to my oldest brother, who is in these four pictures below with my Grandpop and Grandmom.  He was visiting my Dad’s house and going through some boxes and came upon these photographs that were in an album, and he texted them to me.

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They were fun to see.  I told him.  Then I asked if he had printed any of his kids’ photos, who are all grown and out of college now.  He said he had an iPhoto account with everything in there, plus three backup computer hard drives that he updates every five years, plus maintains the cloud, and he told me how they are making bigger and bigger hard drives all the time.

I said it sounds like a lot of work.  And I asked him in 50 years, who will be opening the box in your closet and finding that iPhoto account and those hard drives and have the ability to access your photos.  He assured me the photos aren’t going anywhere, and his hard drives can hold hundreds of thousands photos.

I asked who’s going to go through hundreds of thousands of photos.  And wouldn’t it be simpler to curate the photos for them?  You can do that by printing your photographs, the ones that are the best that show the family at various ages and places.  And the ones where you look your best.  This is how you will be remembered.

He said there’s no worry, he will always triple backup the photos so there’s no way they can get lost.  And he said film is ridiculous, it’s so expensive.

I asked why he thought digital was cheaper than film, considering the output of time to catalog the “hundreds of thousands” photos, and the cost of hard drives, computer upgrades, even new digital cameras.

He said film is a niche market at best, and that when the automobile came out, there was concern that the makers of horse whips in the horse and buggy days would go out of business.  I have no idea what that means.

Smart people print their photos, so that they can be found in a box on a shelf in 50 years.

Or under a desk at the New York Parks Department, as seen in their Scenes Unseen: The Summer of ’78.”

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Smart people spend less money on digital cameras (including phones) and cards, software, cloud accounts, hard drives and computers, and more time making photographs.  Less time in front of a computer, and more time with photographs in your home, living with you.

My partner, I gave her a film camera a few years ago for her birthday.  She took some beautiful black and white photos with it, and then, after a few monochrome rolls, I gave her a roll of color to shoot.  She went to an outdoor party, photographed friends and new people she met.  When she was done the roll I said, since I don’t process color film at home only black and white, that I could drop it off for her at the camera store in Boulder.

She said she was going that way, so she’d drop it off.  I said to her to write on the envelope DEVELOP ONLY and that I would scan the negatives for her when she got back.

She came back smiling with an envelope of negatives and prints.  I asked her why she paid for prints.  She said, “I have a bunch of small frames I picked up at yard sales and thrift stores, and now I can put these into them and give them to the people whose photos I took, and I’m done.  No scanning, no computer work needed.”

I told friends what she did and what she said.  I posted this story on Facebook.  People said, “Wow, what a great idea.”  This isn’t a new idea.  This is the history of photography up until digital came along, made it so that everyone was shooting hundreds of photos a day, and getting instant gratification on social media, and printing none.

If you have a like on Facebook, why do you need to print?

Time marches on.  Prints last.  Print the photos you care about having last for future generations.

If you’re smart, you shoot film, print your photos and give them to friends, and take the money and computer time saved to go out and get lunch with them.

And photograph them some more, too.

Here’s my Father with his photo when he was 60 years younger.  And also on his wedding day.


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Those photos don’t exist unless they are on paper.

Print the photos that you want your great grandchildren to see.  The problem with hundreds of thousands of photos is the hundreds of thousands of photos.  Digital hasn’t been a boom for family history, but a bust.

Print the ones of how you would like to be remembered.  Leave your great grandchildren 50 good ones, printed and left in a box to see you as you are–those are the only ones they’ll ever see!

Be the curator.

I have a secret.  I’m going to share it with just you.  Okay?

If you want to get inspired to make photographs (or to write, or to paint, etc.) there’s one trick that you must know.  One little trick that is so mind-blowingly amazing, it’ll change your creative life.

Once you know it, you’ll have the key to inspiration forever.  It’s something you cannot forget.  It’s simply unforgettable.  But it is truly the key.

So, this is the secret.  It’s a very elusive thing, something that most people don’t know, so don’t share it, unless you want to let them in on it like I’m doing for you.

Just you.

This is it.  Are you ready?  D’you have something to write with?  You might want to write this down.

It’s so simple, that must be the reason that so many creatives miss it.  It’s sooooo simple.

Here it is.  The secret.  Two words.  I’ll print them lightly, so as if to whisper them.  It is a secret after all, the secret you were seeking.

[Show up.]

That’s it.  Have a good day.  Now go to it.

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Wait, let me expound on that.  Give you a little about what I mean.

I was listening to an interview with Bob Dylan, and he was asked how he wrote some of his early famous songs, and he said he didn’t know, they just came to him.

They just came to him. 

But he had to be there.  Ready for them to come.  He showed up and was ready to receive the song and create it.  He was sitting at his typewriter and had his guitar or piano and he was in the process of working to write songs.  That was his sandbox and he was sitting in it, sand up to his knees.

Related imageThe photograph above is me working at my typewriter.  I write as well as make photographs and some writing I do on a typewriter, in this case, a very lovely Olivetti Lettera 32, which by the way Dylan also wrote with.  So, I wanted to make a photograph of me at the typewriter because I wanted to experiment with some new strobe lights and portable lighting setups.

To do it, I had to show up.

I had to assemble the lights.  Set up the light stands.  Power the lights.  I had to place them and set the exposure.  Get the camera on the tripod.  Once I had them all set up, the playground was there.  The sandbox was ready for me.  All I had to do was anything I wanted.  Now it was time to play.  So, I made several photographs.

I like the look.  The lighting.  That was a fun shoot, and it got me to see how much I could do with my own space, it gave me the chance to work with smaller lighting fixtures, and it was a creative outlet.  I usually use large AC-powered soft-boxes and this was a new tool, these small battery-powered strobes, in my lighting arsenal.

So, I can rephrase the secret: If you want to be inspired, go play.  Take your tools.  For a writer it can be a laptop, a typewriter or a pen and paper and go sit outside at a park under a tree, or a coffeeshop or a pub, wherever you can go to stay in the playground.  For a photographer, set up the lights where you are or grab the camera and go.

Whatever it takes.  The muse will deliver the inspiration when you have the game set up, but often not before.  She’s funny that way–she doesn’t always come around before we show up.  But once we’re there, get ready to write your own Blowin’ in the Wind.

We. Just. Have. To. Show. Up!

I get a lot more street photographs when I go to town and walk the pavement than when I sit at home thinking about what to shoot.  To shoot street, you have to go to the street.  A couple hours at a time.  Wear comfortable shoes.

There’s no such thing as “thinking about it”.  There’s nothing happening when we say we’re not quite ready, we’re still pondering the idea.  That does nothing.  We haven’t arrived to play.

So, there’s the secret.  Wanna write a song?  Grab a notebook and pencil and your instrument and start.  Show up, see what comes from it.

The inspiration comes after you arrive.  Not before.  You can go with no ideas, and they’ll come then.  When you’re ready.

Really.  Go with no ideas.  Go uninspired.  It’s fine.  Just go.

Wanna make photographs?  What do you need to get started?  Lighting?  Go pull out the stands and start setting them up.  As you are doing that, the ideas will come.  At first, try anything.  That something will lead to another thing.  That’s the muse at work!

Large format?  Go load the film holders and put them in your camera bag and warm up the car–you’re going shooting.  Go out and look for a subject.  Maybe the weather looks like it’s not perfect, so what, go anyway–maybe you’ll find it’s exactly right where you go, when you get there.  But you’ve gotta show up.

Now you know, that’s all you have to do.  So simple.  Just two words.  The muse is waiting to work with you.  The creativity happens when we’re in the playground.  Not before.  Not when we’re “thinking” about it, while feeling un-creative.  She arrives when we are ready to be creative.

She waits until we’re up to our knees in sand!  So, go.

Show up!  The muse is waiting.