Posts Tagged ‘black and white film’

npgI walked though the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit, AMERICAN COOL, last year.  I shoot for a client in Washington D.C. every spring, and usually there’s a little down time when I can walk over to the museums and catch a few.

In the American Cool exhibit, no one was smiling.  Well, not no one, but hardly anyone.  Many portraits–and they were of musicians, actors, authors, scientists, singers, among others–probably over 200 I saw, and many were not looking at the camera, and virtually no one was smiling.

ken-head-camera1It was like smiling made it a snapshot.  And looking off or not smiling, we got to see what they really looked like.  A glimpse of their person, not their smiling self.  A magazine portrait.  A feature portrait.

So, I’ve made a point recently to shoot more portraits without smiles.  And I like the results a lot.

Even my self-portrait, I chose to refrain from smiling.

I’ve heard in the 1800’s, people rarely smiled for photos because of the long shutter speeds needed to make a photograph–it was just too hard to hold still that long with a fake grin.  Also, people thought you looked foolish holding a put-on grin.

wise38But seriously, there’s something to the serious face.  Maybe like black and white, it’s one step removed from the standard smile we’re so used to seeing, and doing when the camera is facing us, so it takes us away from the realm of “snapshot”.

Dizzie Gillespie and Jimi Hendrix were the only two I can think of who were smiling, by the way.  But the others were much cooler.

Try it and see what you think.

DancersI love the moment and the rich black and white tones.

Shot with a Rolleiflex 3.5F.  On Ilford HP5 film.

The joy of dancing with no inhibitions or limits!  If only we could embrace all of life with such carefree of an attitude, what could we accomplish!

Dancing at the Fair. Well, not just dancing! (If they were only dancing, it’d be an out!)

There’s no substitute for content.  None.  You can have the most technically perfect, accurately exposed frame, with the best sensor in the best camera and the fastest lens on the market, and give me a 10-year-old point and shoot with a subject worth photographing, and I’ll blow you out of the water every time.

Because I’m a pro, and I can’t get anything with that ultimate set up without content.  Content is king.  No one cares about a bit of grain if they’re smiling, laughing or even crying.  The content does that, not the pixel count.

Which goes to explain why so many people are satisfied with the poor images they get out of their phones.  Because they don’t see that quality, they see Uncle Joe trying to stand on his head.  Or Stephanie sitting in her new car.  The rest is just details.  They’re enamored with the content.

But that content may not work for someone outside of their family.  Show me that handstand and I might be rightly bored.  Because I don’t know him, it’s poorly shot and I wasn’t there.  I don’t have the same experience with the moment as you do.

Same reason why Garry Winogrand said he wouldn’t look at his images for a year after he made them.  He wanted time to get rid of the nostalgic feelings of capturing something, and to look for content in the frame.  Because content is king.

Robert Capa famously said, if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.  To which I add, keep moving in and close in on a worthy subject.  Fill the frame with content worth sharing.  (Or don’t share, that’s fine, too.)

If you want to shoot street, if I never see another person on the corner looking at their phone, it will be too soon.  That person needs more of a story than just standing there.  If they have a long cord going up to his apartment window nine stories high, shoot that!   That’s content!

Seek the story.  Find the image.  It’s out there.  Go get it.

The cap is long gone. The case cover–no idea!

Just like I don’t buy Leica cameras to put them on a display shelf, I also don’t purposefully beat them up.  But I do strive to carry them uncased, take them everywhere, and use them, even to the point of perhaps someday, used up.  I think film cameras are beautiful in all stages of their lives, and if anything, least so when brand-new looking.  Why?  Because that says to me a camera that isn’t being used.

I am a firm believer that all items are replaceable, and while no need to bang them up and be hard on them, they don’t need to be babied.  Leicas went to war, they can handle a sprinkle on the way to the car.  Or a bump against the doorway.

So, use them well, use them a lot, and use them up.  Carry them everywhere, set them down anywhere.  Don’t worry about them.  They are not showpieces.  They are tools for the job.  The job of making photographs, saving memories, documenting history.  Our history.  Today.

A lovely patina is a mark of a cherished tool.  Use it today!

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Me in 1988, working as a photojournalist for the Trenton Times, NJ.

I find that as more people abandon film, the more I love the fact that we have the tools to still use this amazing, great analog wonder.  And I feel like we are a lucky bunch who understand and embrace it.  Not to say there’s no appreciation for digital, because all my commercial work is shot digitally, but we get to play here still.  While the whole world has turned its back on film and dumped their cameras, we can pick them up, often for a song, and get to keep their tough metal gears moving forward.

I like that I am in the company of other film photographers, yourself included if you are one, too.  We have a magic box that many digital photographers have never even used.  Who have no idea how to use one.  And we get to still make magic.  A surge in demand for film has brought some back into production.

Keep on shooting.  2015 will bring a lot of photo opportunities to us. As long as we’re ready to go out and meet them.  I wish you a great photographic year.  And look forward to watching your blogs and seeing your work, too!

The photos we create today are the nostalgia of the future. So take some good ones! (And print them so they will last). We will need to easily find them in 2065 to look back on today. Here’s to a great, photographic, 2015. Happy New Year!  Here are some more looks back in time: http://imgur.com/r/TheWayWeWere

oldie

As photographers, especially photographers using film, we tend to save our shots for things that are worthy of the film.  Images that are special.  Like big events, activities, parties.

I wonder if we aren’t missing out on an image possibility, capturing some of the everyday parts of our lives, things that really define us as who we are.  You know you can learn more about a person from looking at their stuff, seeing the titles on their bookshelf, than by talking to them and asking them to tell you about themselves.  But we rarely photograph it.  It seems mundane.  Uninspired.   Perhaps it’s anything but.

We recently lost a good friend, and his sculpting workshop was where we had the memorial.  And everywhere I looked, I saw things that showed him better than anything he could describe.

Look for the ordinary in your own life, and photograph it.  Maybe it’s the kitchen wall with the pictures and radio that you look at every morning.  Maybe it’s your workshop area.  There’s a story to be told in these photographs.

Try it and let me know what image shows a piece of you.

DSCF9186DSCF9173DSCF9472DSCF9182   DSCF9179   DSCF9434

I keep running into people who see my old Leica IIIf over my shoulder and marvel that they still make film.  And that it is readily available.  I assure them it is.

I have a standard response to their “I have a great old camera that I never use.”  I tell them to just put one roll of Tri-x in it, shoot a frame once a week or so.  And that after several months, the roll will be done and there will be 36 memories to relive captured on film.

You will have forgotten what you shot.  You will know there’s something good waiting for you after the roll’s developed, and the camera will not be wasting away.  You can always shoot more, but certainly, shooting just one roll a year is still a treat.

You’ll probably need a new battery for the camera.  Many of those with electronic shutters won’t work without them.  Run out, get some new cells, power it up, and load the film.  It’ll all come back.  The feel of those old metal-bodied durable beasts will remind you why you loved them so much.  The heft in your hand will say quality, unlike what you see in many of today’s cameras.  The viewfinder will be big and bright.

It’s a treat.  And the folks I’ve mentioned it to say, “I think I’ll do that.”  I hope they do.  Bring some new life to those wonderful cameras of days of old, er, not that long ago.

How about you?  Have a sweet old camera that isn’t getting used?  How about getting it out and loading it up, just one roll of film.  You’ll be creating a time capsule.

lcpac1If you know you’re never going to shoot it again, donate the camera to a local photography school or art center.  I have one called the Lyons Photography Art Center in Colorado where you can send them.  Address is PO BOX 69, Lyons, CO 80540.  I use them to teach kids to shoot black and white film, to slow down and carefully compose images.  I give them the camera loaded and ready to shoot.  No excuses for lack of equipment.

If you do end up shooting some film, post the links here and let’s have a look!

Somehow, whenever I see a Canon QL17 for $10 or a Minolta A-5 for $20 or a Minox 35SE for $25, even a Leica IIIf for $100, I have to pick them up. (Those are real prices I’ve paid.)   I have Leica M bodies, and great lenses–I don’t need these.  But I feel like I’m rescuing some old friends when I do.  They are so well made and have lasted this long, I want them to have a future.  A reason to be.  I only buy them if their speeds all sound close to accurate and their glass and viewfinder are clean, and the rangefinder working.  These are beautiful works of art, even their leather cases are nicer than what’s being made today.

Leica IIIfSo, I have a little collection and I try to take them out at times and run a roll of Tri-x or HP5 through them.  I imagine how excited they are to be back in someone’s hands, documenting someone’s life.  Again.  There was a time when they were used constantly, probably.  But now shooting film is less than fashionable.   Folks think these gems are too expensive to shoot.

I think it’s rather inexpensive compared to shooting digital and buying new cameras every two years, computers, software and hard drives, but don’t get me started.   Film is my love and I am glad to be one of the photographers specializing in it, even if we are a minority.

Because when that image appears after developing the film, there’s nothing like that memory captured there forever.  That piece of film was present at our Grandpa’s last birthday or our son’s first steps.  That piece of film is a time capsule that will last generations if carefully treated.   When the hard drives are either corrupted or long misplaced and forgotten, this piece of film will hold the image of that day, that moment.

And that’s a bit of magic.  In a $10-$100 film camera with $5 film, hand-developed.

Do you rescue old beauties?

michaelaDigital is nothing magical.  It’s perfectly good at recording, but the magic is gone compared to the days of film.

There’s something about the waiting that made film photography more special.  The time created anticipation which allowed us to forget the details of the moment, and relive it when we finally saw the film and prints.

I was just talking to someone recently about this, as I was carrying a Leica IIIf around my neck, that in the analog days, film was magical, the photographer the magician, and getting a photo meant hiring a photographer to make that image.

Untitled-26_1Nowadays, shoot it any way with any camera, even a phone, drop a few filters on the shot, and it’s good enough.  There is no magic.  The art director can fine tune the shot in camera and see the finished image before the photographer even leaves the shoot.

Even when I shoot digital, if I shoot your portrait, I will never show you the photo right there.  Because, it’s not about seeing it yet, but waiting until it’s finished.  And digital photographs need finishing.

Right now, there is film with latent images in my Leica that I don’t remember, and I will be transported back to where they were taken once the roll is finished and developed.  And I’ll have that experience all over again.

I love film for that reason.  It’s not spray and pray.  It’s not ones and zeroes buried on a card, a phone, a hard-drive.  It’s a photograph.  Time captured in silver.  Light burnt from that unique moment onto that actual piece of film.

You realize that film was present at the event.  That frame saw your Grandpa in that long-lost roll of film, with the latent image still intact, awaiting processing all these years.

The magic is gone with digital.  The photographers lost out.  And we all did when “good enough” with a few filters replaced the masterful technique of recording light.