Posts Tagged ‘portraiture’

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.

 

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!

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.

Exercise in and of itself doesn’t excite me.  But I like riding my bike or going for a walk, but just don’t call it exercise.  I like to get active with a camera around my neck, walking up and down the Pearl St. Mall in Boulder, or the alleys behind it, or the 16th St. Mall in Denver or some of the other urban neighborhoods.

Some street photographers stand and wait for subjects to align with backgrounds.  I find that doesn’t work for me.  I need to be on the move.  And when I am, things are coming toward me, and I’m approaching other things, there’s a lot to watch for.  And life presents itself.  Little moments.  Ready to capture.

This one sort of tells a story I’m glad I caught.  I was following the guy with his arms around the two girls, and that was a fine capture, but the look on the face of they guy looking at them, walking alone, made it for me.

Must keep walking.  Must keep going.  The more I look, the more I see and find and create.  Anytime I’m out, there’s a chance for an image to present itself.  It never happens when I stay inside.  I know this.  And I get some exercise!

DSCF2478

bolex2This is what I saw one day walking on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, and I had to get a photo of her.  And the camera operator, too!

Carrying my Rolleiflex, I asked if I could take her portrait.  She immediately recognized the coolness of my picture machine, and said yes.

That’s a vintage Bolex 16mm film camera, probably a Rex4, she’s shooting.

It looks to me like it could be a still from 1968.

I have another love for motion picture film, too.  I shoot Super 8 and 16mm.  A similar unique look to those images!

Cameras reunited, and it feels so good!

couple1Carrying a Rolleiflex around, people come up to you to talk about it.  And you can approach people with the line, “Can I take your photo, I have this old camera I’m shooting,” which is the 100% complete truth, and people will let you.  It’s a great ice breaker.  That’s how the image at right was made.

I had just left a screening at the Boulder Theater of Finding Vivian Maier, a wonderful documentary of a woman/nanny/photographer who shot thousands of rolls of film, and whose work was only discovered after she had passed on.  Vivian shot with a Rolleiflex, so naturally, after the show, I brought out mine to show folks, and shot these two sitting on the Pearl Street Mall.

8-31-2014 12-52-17 PMI think because it’s a piece of art that you’re working with–the Rolleiflex is such a unique design, and a beautiful piece of gear–it draws attention.  And conversation.

It has another quality, it can make you business.  I shoot Senior Portraits in Colorado, and the woman I bought the camera from called me a year later and asked me to shoot her son’s senior portraits, including some with the Rolleiflex.  And we did just that.

This last photo was shot with the Rolleiflex just last week at the senior portrait shoot.  It’s a joy to be able to use these cameras both for personal and professional work.

Senior PortraitThere’s something about a square image that really works for me.  Maybe because it’s a little different than what most people are creating.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in the era of record covers.

In any case, the Rolleiflex, if you haven’t tried one, find one and give it a shoot.  You’ll find it’s very comfortable to work with, fits well in the hands and isn’t too heavy like many of the 6×6 SLRs, like Bronicas and RB67s are.

Yet it feels solid, like it’s quality engineering you’re shooting with.  Just like a Leica feels, if you’re familiar with them.

And one conversation leads to a portrait, and then another conversation, and another portrait, and on.

singerSo, while this blog is titled 6×6 Portraits, I have a variety of interests in different film formats, not just 6×6.  I have a love for Leica 35mm, too, and shoot regularly with an M3, M6 and IIIf.  The photo at left was the first shot made with my first Leica in 2010, an M6 with a 50mm f2 lens.

I think when you love film, you can’t not love many different formats.  Because they are all useful for different subjects.  I have a 4×5 Speed Graphic, and a 126 Kodak Instamatic 500 with a Schneider lens that I’ve loaded with 35mm to shoot sometime.

I started with film.  I was a staff photographer at a daily newspaper for 15 years starting in the late 80s.  Film is all I knew and it became very dependable.  People on assignment would ask, “Do you think they’ll turn out?”  And I’d say, “Yes, they always turn out.”  They better, it was my job to bring back a photograph for a story.  Failure was not an option.

Anyway, nowadays, I love my Rolleiflex.  I love the large negative.  I carry it everywhere I go, but I also carry 35mm cameras, so this blog will also feature photos shot 24mm x 36mm, despite being called 6×6 Portraits.  It will have a special emphasis on portraits on 6×6, but you never know when I’ll have a great 35mm or large format image I just have to share.

Thanks for following my blog, you film fans, all of you!  🙂