29 March 2008

Leica M8


Well, I think I have finally found the happy medium between digital and film. The Leica has been in production since 1913, and was the first 35mm camera made for production. You can still get the best image from a Leica almost one hundred years later than the other leading camera manufacturers. I had a moving experience the other night. I was in my history of photography class and we were talking about the Leica and what it meant for photography. You could shoot faster, quieter, and more inconspicuously than before. 35mm film introduced the need to enlarge negatives to the same size as the 6x9cm format that was popular at the time. Rod showed us a couple of Leicas; one was a film model and the other was the new M8 10.3MP digital body. The lights were mostly off in the auditorium save for a few around the perimeter since we were looking at a video, but he snapped a picture and showed it to us. I was captivated. I didn't even get to touch the camera, but somehow I knew that something about this digital was different. I noticed the tonal range on the screen and the sharpness of focus even in such a low light condition. What makes focus in low light situations with the Leica is the rangefinder. It is a manual way of focusing (there is not autofocus on this camera whatsoever), and matches up a patch of the picture with a focus patch. So it looks like you are overlapping two images until they match perfectly. Autofocus would be hunting around and then, even if you did manual focus, you would have a hard time getting a standard SLR lens to focus accurately in the dark. So yesterday I went down to the store where Rod works and along with running into a classmate, I got to "try out" the M8. I had a life changing experience. I wanted to see what it would do in the sunlight, but sat mesmerized with the simplicity and cleanness of the whole camera. It is a piece of art. There are no crazy displays with a bunch of numbers and letters and codes. When I looked through the camera, I felt like I was going back to my old Minolta with the way the TTL light meter worked. Someone not savvy in camera models would not know that it was digital unless they looked at the back and say the rather large, juicy screen. The menus were well laid out and not too fussy or complex or overdone. It was the essentials and nothing more. Rod put a leather half-jacket on it and it fit me like a glove. I have found my match. I haven't told my family or friends (except one) that I am selling my 20D, all of the lenses that I have for it, and all of the accessories. I haven't told them that I am also selling the light kit that isn't working for me. And I haven't told them of my plans to own an M8. I would also like to own a Leica film body as well, just for versatility's sake and for re-inventability. Is that a word? I feel that you always have to be re-inventing the way you see and photograph in order to progress in your image making. I am thinking of everything else I can sell to put towards the camera and the lens. I haven't ever had a camera fit in my hand and feel so right in my life. Oh, happiness in photogging.... :^D

26 March 2008

Darkroom meditation...

No, I was not doing yoga in the darkroom! I printed more proof prints tonight and was so pleased with one that I made in an alleyway downtown. I'll include a scan of the fiber print here once it is dry and flat tomorrow. Oh, I LOVE fiber base paper. The tonal range totally blows the doors off of any RC paper that I have ever used. Who can complain about the longer processing time, when your images are ten times more beautiful?! I was the only one in the darkroom tonight for the longest time. The three o'clock class had been cancelled, so the lights were all off. At least the darkroom was set up, although I think I was getting the tail end of the chemicals. Everything printed fine but I could see the stop bath going dark by the time I left. It was nice to have the darkroom to myself. No one was there to blast annoying music on the radio, no waiting for an open tray, no ridiculous conversation about the most dumb and random things on the planet. It was just me, myself, and the smell of fix. Now, almost three hours later, my hands still reek of my rubber gloves and fix. I pretty much have to just outright take a shower to not smell like a darkroom. I wish I had a place to develop and print that was closer to home. I REALLY wish that I actually had my own darkroom, but that seems a little out of reach right now. I am still debating whether or not to sell my digital camera to put toward a large format. 

I feel like digital has got everyone thinking that it is invincible and that there is no other option for successful photography anymore. I want to get on top of my roof and shout that, "FILM STILL EXISTS!" and ditch any evidence that I ever owned a digital. Well, I would still like a simple little point and shoot for taking on my hikes with my sister and our friends so that we have proof of all the crazy stuff that we have done. When I talk about getting rid of the digital, people say, "Well, I don't think you really want to do that, do you?" My reply is "Yes, I sure do." I was talking to a friend just before I started this post and was telling him about the first paid project that I did, digital of course. It was not very fun. In fact, I really hated it. Here I was, a senior in high school taking college level classes and pretty much being cajoled into doing this thing. The job was to photograph about fifty people receiving some sort of certificate at this conference that my dad and a business partner were doing. There wasn't a lot of time to get things organized the way I would have liked them to be and there was a mixup on the date and it was just stressful all the way around. I had to have prints made in an hour and had to go back the next day since some of the people didn't show up. It did not go smoothly and left a bitter taste in my mouth for jobs that are "just for the money". After that job, I had a lot of pressure to shoot family portraits of people at church and stuff and they didn't expect me to charge them very much if anything at all. I was volunteered to shoot a church directory and should have just said no. It was an eight-week long, cat-herding, toenail-pulling ordeal. As things would have it, I learned the hard way about backing up your hard drive with that project. I lost the whole dang thing last fall. I don't know why I felt like I had to say all of that, but I feel better after saying something about it. I have never really talked about my failures in photography, mostly because they have been with my digital camera and it's almost sacrilegious to say anything against it. Now, I really admire some of the digital work that I have seen some people do, but I just do feel like it is what I need to be doing right now. I think I am a dying breed of small fish swimming in a very large ocean... 


Maybe I should become a master printer...

Stamp collage...


I got to thinking about the massive stash of stamps that I have from my Grandma. She has been ripping, cutting, and peeling the darn things off of envelopes for years now. She stuffs them in a Zip-lock baggy and brings them to me every time she visits. I took some pictures of some of them once and thought that I could work on a series of them again just with the large format. I mean, I have TONS of them! Some interesting things could result including a collage type work. The last time I shot them, I did so with color film and on top of the carpet. The hues were very blue because of the time of day, and I'm not sure that the carpet added the most interesting of detail. It seemed a little odd. They were also shot from an angle and not looking at them straight down. I think black and white could be very interesting indeed......

25 March 2008

Notes from the little black book...


I started writing down ideas and quotes and diagrams and just about everything that I found interesting about photography that I wanted to remember in a Moleskine notebook about two years ago. I am at the end of the little black book and am going to need to go get a new one this week. I like having all of the little tidbits of everything all in that little book. I don't know how I am going to deal with carrying additional ones with me once I have been writing in them for a while. It is just the right size to put in a pocket, or camera bag and has lines that are just right. I have always had a pet peeve with the lines in journals. Mostly they are too thick, too dark, and don't match up on the other page. My notebook has faint grey lines that match to the lines on the opposite page allowing me to write all the way across if I want to. It also has a little pocket at the very back. Nice for business cards, money, and other random scraps. Ok, I guess I'll actually include an excerpt from the little black book that I have been babbling about this whole time...
...
Barriers to Seeing:
-The greatest is preoccupation. 
-The mass stimuli around us. We create a sort of tunnel vision that keeps us from seeing.
-Labeling that results from familiarity. We must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.
A photographer who wants to see, to make fine images, must recognize the value of the familiar. Even the camera can become a barrier. The camera is a means of converting experiences into images. Making pictures can be a substitute for seeing and participating. The camera is also a slight barrier because it does not see as the human eye does. People are constantly abstracting, and do it without thinking. The camera does not. 
Except for the differences between the camera and the human eye, all barriers to seeing are related to the first one. Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, intellect, and emotions. Good seeing doesn't ensure good photographs, but good photographic expression is impossible without it. 
...
That is just one of the many pages of ideas and thoughts, either my own or another's, that inspire me and help me to discover the art of seeing and being passionate about making images. 

20 March 2008

Beautiful Silver


I am about to turn inside out with the negatives that I developed today. I have only looked at them once and still they have hold of my memory. I accidentally loaded two sheets of film into the same slot of the developing tank and when I pulled them out to do my hypo-clear, there was a white spot on one of them. I called Rod at Photomark to see what I should do and ended up just having to fix it again. It is the most beautiful, promising, and haunting negative I have developed so far. I don't know what it is, but the image of it is still right there in front of my face. I noticed details in the shadow areas that I could've never seen on a 35mm negative and was elated to find that a million more ideas of how to shoot the same place occurred to me. I think I could spend weeks exploring downtown and making images that capture the beauty in the things that people normally just walk right by. I made a couple of other photographs that are of the top edges of buildings made from street level. I looked up at this old place on Monroe being remodeled and saw that all of the windows were open and a bare flagpole sat atop the empty structure. It seemed very much abandoned even though it was being repurposed, as if it was loosing something. Maybe it looked like it was crying in a way, but I am still not really sure. If I had the resources, I would love to travel to various big cities and take photographs of the old buildings that have been forgotten, or are being remade into new things, or the pieces of old buildings that you find in the new ones. I should look into getting a grant from the arts commission. You have no idea what it means to me as an artist to find that deep rooted excitement about making something beautiful that is just silver on film taken with a complicated and bulky apparatus that is like playing with your own mind. You can get lost in moving inside the image and around it and under and in front of it. You can let your intuition take over and forget about why you ever wanted to impress people. You simply are in it for the ecstasy of the moment you make a good photograph.

19 March 2008

100

I am still thinking about the book idea that I want to do on people over 100 years old. I want to do some other projects as well, but I know that I'll get a little criticism. I think that it would be interesting to do a series on downtown, but I don't know if the people who are there are what I want to focus on, or the architecture, or the graffiti or what. When I talk about my ideas (to my family members, at least) I get reactions that I am sure a lot of people get from the people closest to them. My mom, for example, likes stuff that I shoot that is very straightforward, in focus, and not too odd. She likes pictures of trees and traditional portraits and things that are very easy to understand visually. Most of the time when I show her something that is out of the ordinary for what I have done traditionally in the past, her words are "It just doesn't do anything for me." It is frustrating to get the same reaction when trying to make photographs that I want to make. Another recent let-down was a Valentines Banquet that I shot at our church. It was just the usual of couples posed together, but I didn't have any connection with them and therefore the pictures just seem static and uninteresting. Which they are. Plus that, the place where I had them printed really messed up the contrast. That's what you get for going to Sam's Club in a pinch, I guess. So, I have ideas that I want to work on, but I can't really hash them out with members of my family and a lot of my friends don't really understand what I have in mind either. I suppose I just need to find other photographers who can lend unbiased objective and provide useful critique while understanding the technical side of things as well.  video

15 March 2008

Reading Material


I just bought a copy of "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" by Betty Smith. It is one of my all time favorites and I am so glad to have my own copy to be able to peruse and re-read at will. I love her writing voice, it is so descriptive. I also bought a book about the philosophy of photography and some social commentary by ordinary people (which was quite interesting by the way) and a darkroom handbook. I am itching to get at them and start reading. This week, my creativity has ranged from painting a "save polaroid" stencil on the back of my car to decorating a cake for a friend of mine (only to have the icing "melt" off the sides into drifts of icing) and shooting some digital out at one of the local lakes. My favorite photo is of my friend Heath's eye, in which you can see the reflection of me and the lovely blue sky in his intensely blue eyes. It was my favorite although I also got some others that were extreme close-ups of small plants under the trees. I am still in a quandry about whether or not to downsize or get rid of my digital camera all together so as to be able to more readily purchase a large format camera. I was thinking that I would like going back to shooting just a prime medium length lens like a 50mm or something like that. I don't know. I'll figure it out eventually...

11 March 2008

Save Polaroid


Somebody save Polaroid! The company who makes Polaroid film has quit production of the instant film and if another company fails to pick up the line, Polaroid will disappear. I do not use it that much, but I have found Polaroid to be useful in framing a shot and is nice to have as a reference while waiting to develop your negatives. Some use it for alternative processes and there are others who just like it for regular old snapshots. It's sad that it could disappear, and I would honestly be surprised if a company did not choose to buy Polaroid and continue production. I guess we'll see what the outcome is eventually. I spent my morning painting a stencil from www.savepolaroid.com onto the back of my car. If you go to the site, there is an "action pack" that you can download in PDF form that has some neat posters and the stencil in there as well as some open letters already addressed to some film companies. It was a nice way to spend a spring break morning. Tonight I am going on a picnic with my sis and a friend and will hopefully make some more photos tonight. Check this link out for a really nice photo essay with audio from Michael Blanchard. 

http://www.michaelblanchard.com/index.cfm?postID=184

I'll be photogging until later.....

05 March 2008

Large Format Bliss


I am in love..... with large format photography. I decided to give it a try this semester after really beginning to feel burned out and totally drained of all creativity. I feel like my digital camera is holding me back. Don't get me wrong, I like having it since the results are instant, but my images were too easy to make and I didn't like what I was getting. Shortly after the semester began, I was looking through some of my old photos and was remembering how exciting it as to get that one great image back from the lab. I wanted that feeling again. So, a couple of Sundays ago, I went on the field trip with the LF (large format, for future reference) class and had so much fun shooting what I wanted to shoot. It felt so good to pull the dark slide, expose my film, and replace the slide knowing in my mind the picture that I had. I was so excited to develop so that I could at least see my negatives and was ecstatic about what I saw. Then, when I printed my proof prints, I practically ran to my car giggling and didn't really even care that I was going to be a bit late for work. I had them. I had pictures that I was happy with, and that I cared about and that was all I cared about. I didn't think about making photos good enough to sell, I didn't care if anybody liked them, and I felt satisfied. To be honest, I haven't felt really satisfied with a picture of mine in a long time. Oh sure, there are a few that I like and catch my eye more than once, but the majority are just blips of digital information that takes up room on my hard drive. 
Just give me silver negatives and the smell of photo chemicals wafting down the art building hall any day of the week and I'm happy.