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Photography

 

There was a “dead” period where I didn’t even carry my camera. For awhile, I was taking tons of pictures of my growing child, but very few images of anything I wanted to display, to put my name on. I didn’t need my Nikkormat for that, and it was too heavy to schlep around, so I gave it to the local high school photo class.

 

Around 2006-07, I bought my daughter a compact digital camera, and for a few years, it was what I used to record our Kodak moments.

 

At the end of 2009, I had a reason to get out and take some photos that for a specific purpose. For a couple of years previous, my company had been commissioning a photographer to shoot local points of interest for a desk calendar that we then sent to our clients.

I know, that is all the world needs is another cheesy real estate agent calendar with a Hallmark Card landscape on it.

Fortunately, our marketing director had very good taste, and carefully chose both her photographers and the image used on the calendar.

 

But I didn’t think the 2010 calendar images lived up to the previous years, so I asked if I could use my own pics instead. Along with permission, I got a two week deadline to provide 13 images. There were only two small problems, I had nothing to offer, and I am not a prolific shooter-I normally don’t make 13 satisfactory images in a year.

 

But I did it.

I wanted to stay in the spirit of the “House” calendar, and I wanted it to be personal, so I decided to shoot East Bay landmarks that I cared about, or that I had found visually interesting. I carried that little camera everywhere, and because I had a goal, I shot more images that I had shot in years.

I narrowed it down to 13, and published this calendar. Doing so reignited my interest in photography, and I have been slowly crawling out of the mud ever since.

2010 calendar

PHOTOGRAPHY THEN AND NOW

Except for cell phone snaps, I have not been shooting at all during the past eight months.

Frankly, the cell phone snaps are intended for Instagram, which I don’t find engaging, so I hardly ever post to it.

However, I have continued to remain photographically engaged in all other ways, and now, I’m starting to get a sense of how photography has changed since I first became interested in it in the 1970s.

Or maybe I have changed.

Or maybe I haven’t, it’s hard to tell.

It is also possible I don’t have anything else to say. At least nothing I want to print and hang on a wall.

Part of this disorientation seems to be screen based photography, part it seems to be the

in current photographic trends.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL.

I enjoy digital photography, but have been disappointed with digital presentation. At first, coming from film and paper, digital seemed so liberating, but occasionally, when I had something printed, I realized the added value a finished print offered, something I could view in my own way.

Twice a month when I was in the Camera Club, we had opportunity to show work. One night was Projected Image Night, and as images came on the screen, there seemed to be minimal discussion, along with a tendency to keep moving. I think this tendency is a symptom of viewing (or even reading) on devices-we push buttons because we can.

Print Night, the alternate evening, was much more satisfying, we had to get involved. We had to assemble the portable “Gallery” walls, set up light stands for viewing, then hang the prints, oftentimes jostling for space, and seldom having enough of it. I believe there was significantly more engagement, and more discussion on print night. They even had to set a timer because the discussions kept going on,

and we would run out of time before we could discuss everybody’s work.

I wanted to learn more about printing, so I enrolled in a Berkeley Community College class which included print critiques as part of each class session, and also provided access to a very nice print lab. The Instructor had a thorough knowledge of photography, and photographic printing, and did a good job of managing the critiques. I greatly enjoyed viewing and discussing the work, it was very gratifying to walk right up to something that caught my attention and stick my nose in it.  And I loved the discussions.

Aside from seeing their iconic images, I think this form of viewing is what made the recent Walker Evans and Brassai exhibits at SF MOMA such rich experiences for me. A great deal of their work was printed no larger than 8×10, and close viewing was essential. I know this is a cell phone shot of a photograph, but you really had to get in there and study this in order to absorb it-at least I did.

Subsequent BCC classes were still about photography, but because that instructor approached it from an arty perspective, the sessions evolved into art classes where photography was part of a larger discussion of imagery. There were no critiques, and occasional assignment presentations were digitally projected. It was my sense that there was less group involvement while viewing the images, and once again, the “slideshow” moved pretty quickly.

It wasn’t for me.

In order to refine their eye, many photographers do look to the greater art world for education, but this doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to say that whatever (photographic) sensibilities I might possess were developed by looking at tens of thousands of photos over the years.

Because the customary method of viewing work in this class was digital projection, I decided to do a web site as a final class project. I had been thinking about one for quite a while, but frankly, I needed such a deadline in order to get it done.

Now maybe my work just isn’t that engaging, but when I hung many of these images as prints on the wall in the previous class, they generated conversation (sometimes quite spirited, sometimes critical), but as projected images, not so much. One thing I realized was the difficulty seeing details, which in many cases, brings out the texture that creates the story. Because it has big graphic shapes, this image had esthetic appeal, but no one could see that the crew members are all elderly Women.

However, once they get past the prettiness, everyone who has handled the actual print zooms in on the crew-this is the hook in this photograph they respond to.

This seems reinforced by the competitions that I entered-accepted entries had big strong elements that would be apparent on a screen-

After BCC, I joined a print based critique group, and had the same experience. The conversations were lively, and John Priola, the facilitator was very good at initiating thoughtful and intelligent dialog within the group. My first two print critiques were quite stimulating, but due to a schedule mixup, I was unable to bring in prints of my 123 Project

 

Since it is on my website, we rounded up a projector, and viewed it that way. The results were embarrassing-

“What is this, some kind of road trip?”

“I can’t tell what I am looking at!”

I think this

and this

came off as just roadside architecture, and neon.

Until I told them the nature of the number of prints it is composed of (35), and showed them the actual size of the Carquinez Bridge shot they were unimpressed, but then they were only impressed by the numbers, not the projected image.

 

 

 

But there is so much detail, along with deep perspective in this photo that the print gets some attention-people in the same room with it tend to like it.

I later printed, mounted, and exhibited this same series locally, and it was pretty well received- I even sold a few prints from it.

It is possible the series is too personal, and isn’t that interesting to the general public. I have an opportunity to bring prints to another critique session at SF Camerawork, and am considering using the 123 set.

We will see the response.

 

Until then, I’m

 

 

BRASSAI

We recently visited the Brassai exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and it opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of his work. Brassai is best known for his “Paris at Night” photos, but he was so much more than that. I read somewhere that he started out as a painter, but was inspired to take up photography by Andre’ Kertesz*, his contemporary in the Paris art scene of the 1920s. Kertesz seemed to have a knack for photographically noticing an element of everyday life that “would make a good picture”, and then capturing it-two very distinct activities.

Brassai also had this talent –

To me, this one seems particularly “Kertesz like”

 

Many of Brassai’s photos were of  tradespeople just doing their job

 

The photo adjacent to this one had this guy and his crew eating their lunch. I hope they had Hand Sanitizer with them.

I should note that the museum staff gave me permission to take pics of these pics with my phone.

Apparently, Brassai photographed many society functions, but he is most famous for his pics of the “other” Paris, the one that exists after dark. As depicted, this is the world of night clubs and bars, prostitutes and criminals, and for a photographer, it also was a world of visually interesting characters and situations that made good pictures.

Monastic Brothel?

 

Considering the speed of photographic emulsions at the time, this atmosphere must have presented constant lighting challenges, and aside from the necessary tripod, the cameras, glass plates and carriers must have required a fair amount of muscle to lug around.

 

These two were my favorites

 

 

 

 

“Brassai” is running through February 17th.  If you were raised on traditional photography, and have a chance to visit San Francisco between now and then, put this show on your list.

 

I’m going back for a second look.

 

 

 

 

 

*Who wasn’t inspired by Kertesz?

Currency Exchange

Yesterday, I was running errands, and a shopkeeper gave me a $2 bill as change. At my next stop, I received a Sacagawea dollar coin.

I had to ask myself if it had been declared Oddball Currency Day, and nobody sent me the memo.

I am no stranger to $2 Bills, but haven’t seen one used in circulation for a very long time. My Mother always had an interest in coin (and currency) collecting, and occasionally, when I was a kid, if she got one of these oddball currencies, she would give it to me. This included Indian Head Pennies, Buffalo Nickels,

 

Winged Mercury Head Dimes, and coins produced during WWII that, due to the War effort, were minted from alternate materials.

In Missouri, where I was raised, we also had .1 and .5 cent Mills  or fractional tax tokens-I think sales tax was 4 ½ %, so although a nuisance to carry around, they probably came in handy.

From time to time, she also gave me Silver Dollars, uncirculated coins, and in 1957, she gave me a U.S. Mint Proof Set-a full set of newly minted coins encased in a plastic container. ’57 pennies still had the Wheat Back design, which I still sort out of  my change jar.

The Proof Set was wrapped in a box decorated with miniature $100 bills.

 

But the $2 bill had a special place for her, for on my 50th Birthday, she gave me 50 of them.

 

 

It is curious that coins bearing the likeness of Native Americans and Women (including Susan B. Anthony) fall out of favor, and we are left with a bunch of White Guys.

 

Next Chapter

Photographically, these are not productive times for me. For a few years after my                   2010 Calendar stimulated me back into serious photographic activity, I got busy.                            I joined a camera club, discovered Vivian Maier and Garry Winogrand (along with others), and heard this term, “Street Photography” being used. I felt I could identify with Street Photography.

For the next few years, I carried a camera everywhere with me, and while I had done this in the past as well, I am happy to say that these last few years were were my most productive.               I don’t think my craft had improved, but I do believe that my sense of photography has matured.

I wanted to refresh my photographic experiences not by sticking my head in books, but getting out there and brushing up against real life photogs who were doing real work. I saw good work at the camera club, but their organizational model was so enveloped in formal judgings and accumulating competition points, that I didn’t attend any of those the meetings. The other meetings were open showings with member critiques, and though the work was very good, the members even used the same language as the judges, and to me it just didn’t have any soul.

I am not a technical photographer, but the camera club made me want to learn about printing, so I took some classes from the Art Department of a local community college. One  thing I learned is  that I am not good at printing, but I did find value in assignments and critiques. Assignments instilled discipline, and I loved the dialogue of a group critique, but as these classes transitioned from one instructor who used Photography to discuss Art, to another who used Art to discuss Photography, I found it no longer stimulating.

All of this time, I was carrying my camera, and shooting like crazy. I was also entering calls for judged exhibitions, got accepted for a few, and even sold some work. The money was nice, but the acceptance, the validation of my ideas, was the most satisfying part.

What I just described took place from about 2010 to 2017, then started to peter out. I had attended a couple of Street Photography exhibitions and lectures, and although the images were fresh, they didn’t look very different. It seemed as if Street Photography had evolved into a genre, and the practitioners were all using the same rule book.

I also unsuccessfully entered a few Arty competitions, but those applications were really just exhibition inertia.

As Terry Allen would say, “All that exhibiting was just too damned inhibiting for a beer drinkin’ regular guy like me.”.

I was already  pretty unproductive for awhile, then when I broke my camera, I lost all momentum. I already had a few projects on the back burner, and thought that since I was cameraless, I could shift my energy to finishing them up, but like Meier and Winogrand, shooting is much more fun than processing and editing.

I have always used my camera for visual note taking, but over time, this chore was transferred to my phone, as I realized it was more accessible. Now that I don’t have a camera with me, I use the phone for everything, but don’t find it satisfying for “serious” work-I am a viewfinder guy, and have difficulty composing and shooting with a touchscreen.

I haven’t given up on Photography, but I think I just need to find new direction. Daily, I still go to several photography web sites*, which take me in several directions. I visit galleries, have read a few books, and attend monthly member critiques at SF Camerawork. I believe something is stirring inside, and hopefully, it will soon bubble to the surface.

 

Stay tuned.

 

* The Online Photographer

* Shorpy

Petapixel 

* Shifter

 

 

 

I Broke My Camera

The triangle is the most stable structure- it’s a basic law addressing the strength of a form.

I was trying to squeeze some extra height out of my tripod by bringing the legs together, which raised the head, but also basically turned it into a monopod with three feet. I was distracted for a moment, and don’t know what happened next, but a crashing sound brought me back into the present. When I turned around, the tripod and camera were flat on the ground. When I powered the camera on, it would shut down after 7-8 seconds.

I take care of my tools, and although I am conscious of the cost to replace this camera, the object itself is not precious-it can be replaced. Every action has consequences, and I can accept the fact that I needed to make this tripod perform in a less than optimum way. I am a bit annoyed that, in the end, I chose a different photograph for my intended purpose, but that happens all the time anyway.

So what now?

Because I carry my camera everywhere, at first I felt the urge to replace it. But then I relaxed, saw this as an opportunity to not shoot for awhile, and put my photo energy to work on a few other projects.

Although I try to keep my photo library organized, bits and pieces get moved around, and duplicates in various file sizes and even formats get stored all over my computer and back up drive. When I need an image, sometimes it is difficult to determine which one is the final version, the one I intend to use, and which ones are just leftovers from the editing process. Here is one image stored in several locations, just on my laptop-

Here are more files of the same image, stored on my external hard drive-

Many of these folders each contain the many of the variations of individual images that are displayed below. they are the same image over and over again, hundreds of them, sometimes saved for only one purpose.

So many files, so little time.

I have developed a method of weeding our all of these duplicates, but it is mind numbing, and I can only clean up three or four at a time during my Friday night Blues show-

https://kcsm.org/jazzprograms/crazybouttheblues.php

2018 Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day

As always, the last Sunday in April is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Getting accepted in and participating in a couple of shows and exhibitions has been pretty intoxicating, so it was a pleasure to go out and take photos just for the joy of participation.

I didn’t make a new lens this year, I just re used the one from last year

I went out with one subject in mind, and fortunately, got distracted by all of the possibilities I found along the way.

How could I resist the Emeryville City Hall,  one of my favorite East Bay buildings?

As I was shooting, I notice this interesting Giraffe* out in front of a café’

I returned home, and shot a couple of our household friends, a wall shelf in the dining room

 

 

and this Cat head doll my daughter made

 

 

In the end, I chose to use the Giraffe, it was more fun.

 

You can see the post here-

http://www.pinholeday.org/gallery/2018/?id=1091

 

But the greatest pleasure of the WWPPD website is to just start anywhere, and start scrolling through all of the terrific images that have been submitted from all over the world. Because I am a Do it Yourselfer, my additional pleasure is seeing all of the really clever contraptions my colleagues have devised to capture their images.

This ingenuity is still one of the strongest elements of being humans-making our own tools.

 

*No animals were harmed in the shooting of this photo.